BUTHA-BUTHE – While millions across Europe sweat through a summer of record-breaking heat, others are skiing in Africa.
Don't worry. This isn't another sign of climate change but rather the fascinating anomaly of Lesotho, a tiny mountain kingdom completely surrounded by South Africa. Lesotho has a geographical claim to fame: It's the only country on Earth where every inch of its territory sits more than 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) above sea level.
That gives Lesotho snow in the southern hemisphere's winters. And while cold winters aren't rare in southern Africa, snow is and ski resorts are even rarer. At an altitude of 3,000 meters (9,842 feet), Afriski in Lesotho's Maluti Mountains is Africa's only operating ski resort south of the equator.
“I've never seen snow in my life,” said Kafi Mojapelo, who traveled the short distance from South Africa for a skiing vacation she never thought she'd take. “So, this is a great experience.”
Bafana Nadida, who comes from the sprawling urban township of Soweto in Johannesburg, was delighted with putting ski boots on for the first time. He planned a day of ski lessons, taking pictures and just playing about in the snow.
Skiers and snowboarders lined up to rent the proper gear. Some were given pointers by Hope Ramokotjo, who is from Lesotho and has worked as a self-taught ski and snowboard instructor for 12 years. His wide smile and deep, reassuring voice put beginners at ease.
“Push your heels out. Don’t pull your shoulders," Ramokotjo called out to his class of keen yet inexperienced African skiers as they wobbled along on the snow. "Here you go! Nice!”
Afriski's Kapoko Snow Park is the only freestyle snow park on the continent. Competitors lined up last month for the annual Winter Whip Slopestyle snowboard and ski competition. Sekholo Ramonotsi, a 13-year-old from the Lesotho city of Butha-Buthe who practices regularly at Afriski, won the junior snowboard and ski divisions.
“I would really like to ski in Europe,” he said.
London-born Meka Lebohang Ejindu said he has taught skiing and snowboarding in Austria for more than a decade and this is his first season in the southern hemisphere. He has family roots in Lesotho.
“For a competition like this to happen in southern Africa is so heartwarming,” he said.
Afriski may not be at the level of Europe's vast Alpine resorts but a love of winter sports is catching.
At Afriski's Sky Restaurant and Gondola Cafe, happy hour starts at 10 a.m. and skiers and boarders show off their winter fashions and party to house music, beers in hand. Some claim the bar is the highest in Africa, although that's challenged by the Sani Mountain Lodge, 130 kilometers (80 miles) to the east on the Lesotho-South Africa border.
What no one can dispute is this crowd went skiing in Africa.