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Last Updated: Friday, 29 July 2005, 09:19 GMT 10:19 UK
Skiing without snow in South Africa
Barnaby Phillips
BBC News, South Africa

Thousands of enthusiasts travel to the remote resort each year
Downhill skiing is a sport that requires strength, skill and guts - all prized qualities for South Africans.

In the few weeks of the southern hemisphere winter, thousands of ski enthusiasts make the long journey up into South Africa's Drakensberg mountains.

Their destination is the remote ski resort of Tiffindell, in the Eastern Cape, on the border with Lesotho.

At an altitude of 3,000 metres, Tiffindell is certainly cold. But the problem for skiers is the lack of snow.

Maybe we are a little mad, but it just gets in your blood
Peter Pilz, Snowsport South Africa
It's true that there is often some snow in the Drakensberg during winter, but not nearly enough to guarantee skiing.

So Tiffindell makes its own; snow machines line the 600 metre-long piste, shooting out compressed air and water particles, which freeze before hitting the ground.

White streak

The result, from a distance, is very strange. Tiffindell is a single streak of white, amid the vast brown expanses of rock and grass on a dry Drakensberg hillside.

"Maybe we are a little mad, but it just gets in your blood", admits Peter Pilz, the president of Snowsport South Africa, which promotes skiing and snowboarding in the country.

Tiffindell bar
The apres-ski ranks with the best
"Lack of snow is a problem, and to make snow is costly and difficult. And with global warming, we are seeing less natural snow".

But Mr Pilz still has big dreams. "I want to see more and more South Africans - black and white - competing at international level".


For now, South Africa has only one Olympic skier. But South Africa is investing in its skiing future.

The tiny village of Rhodes is tucked away at the bottom of the valley, beneath Tiffindell.

Here, many of the poorer black children live in shacks without electricity. Most of their parents are unemployed.

But, once a week, a group of these children drive up the steep mountain track to Tiffindell, and take to the slopes.

The resort supplies them with equipment. The headmaster of the local school, Pieter Steyn, is also a keen skier, and accompanies the children.

He says learning to ski has built their confidence, and broadened their horizons.

"You see how their self-esteem grows. My dream is that some of these children will become competitive skiers, or else they will get good jobs here at Tiffindell".

This development programme is certainly winning over new, unlikely converts to the sport. Learning to ski is an experience beyond the imagination of almost every poor African child.


But the children from Rhodes school are all confident skiers, and hurtle down the mountain, apparently without any fear.

Funeka Booysen, 12 years old, says "I love skiing and I want to ski abroad. When I grow up I would like a job involved in skiing".

Child skiers
Children from a nearby village are learning to ski
Meanwhile, Tiffendell is planning an ambitious expansion programme, with more runs, more snow-making machines, and even a cable-car.

Perhaps it is being spurred on by the threat of competition; a rival resort has just opened in Lesotho, much closer to the lucrative Johannesburg market.

But for now, Tiffindell is the place to be for South Africa's skiers. At night, they pack into the resort's pub, and party with ferocious energy.

The drinks flow freely, and the music gets louder.

In truth, South African skiing is a little limited for those who have experienced the Alps or the Rockies. But the apres-ski is up there with the best.

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