Why Morocco has One of the Best Ski Resorts in Africa
With temperatures regularly reaching over 35 degrees, Africa is the last place you may think of as a skiing destination. However, high up in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, is one of the best ski resorts in the country, Oukaimeden.
A Glimpse of Oukaimeden
Just 80 kilometres from the hot and dusty city of Marrakech lies a wilderness of white, snow-capped mountains where the atmosphere couldn’t be any more different. Oukaimeden is Africa’s highest ski resort, ranging from 2,600 meters to the highest peak of Jebel Attar at 3,258 meters.
As skiers ascend, the crisp cool breeze biting at their cheeks, the panoramic views of the surrounding countryside are simply spectacular. The buzz of the resort below forgotten and replaced with an eerie silence as the precipice rises up like a titan from a mythological era.
A Ski Resort with a Moroccan Touch
Oukaimeden has all the amenities that European or Canadian resorts enjoy, hotels, accommodation, and restaurants, but the manner in which things are done is most definitely Moroccan. For one, the way to the resort’s main chair lift is either a ten-minute walk or, a more traditional way, a leisurely ride gently rocking back and forth on a donkey, skis balancing across the beast’s back.
There are also rental shops where out of date boots and skis can be hired from as little as $20 a day, although, in typical Moroccan fashion, there are plenty of touts willing to offer equipment at more than half that price. Although cheap, it may be prudent to take your own equipment if raking through a pile of boots and skis looking for, quite frankly, less than perfect kit doesn’t appeal.
The ski resort is busiest during the winter months, between January and March, when the snow coverage is at its best and the slopes are busy with well to do Moroccans and international holidaymakers who come to take advantage of the short ski season. And a whole day in this winter wonderland is a steal at just under $30, not much for the experience of skiing in such an unexpected part of the world.
Oukaimeden has a range of slopes for skiers of mixed abilities. Beginners can use the drag lifts to reach the top of the nursery slopes and descend over a relatively smooth surface. These slopes are in better condition than the ones higher up the mountain which make them ideal for visitors who are learning to ski. As with more established resorts, there are ski lessons available from as little as $6 an hour.
Skiing for Thrill Seekers
Intermediate and advanced skiers can attempt one of the 5 runs possible from the peak of Jebel Attar, the longest of which is 3 kilometres. Not for the faint hearted because once off the chair lift at the top of the peak, a 1000 vertical drop greets as the preparations for the leap of faith are made. Then, down the mountain, over a series of bumps which jar and jolt the body, muscles tense as the thrill of the ride permeates from head to toe.
From the dizzy heights of the summit, the runs are challenging to say the least and, rather frustratingly, directions are somewhat haphazard and with no clear way of knowing what’s on piste and off> It’s sure to test even the most ardent of thrill seekers.
Not forgetting this is Morocco, be prepared for the onslaught as guides rush forward to offer their services but they may be less than adequately experienced, so it may be more desirable to hire a qualified ski instructor to show the way.
In total, there are 14 ski resorts in Africa, including 2 indoor and 1 sand skiing resort. Afriski Mountain Resort, in Lesotho, stands at 3,222 meters which are just short of Oukaimeden, but Lesotho’s ski resort pales in comparison due to it only having 1.8 kilometres of runs available. Indeed, Oukaimeden far exceeds all 14 resorts in terms of how many runs there are, difficulty of runs, and the number of lifts available, even when its lifts have limited operating hours.
Of the 7 ski resorts dotted around Morocco, 3 of which are not graded, Oukaimeden is the biggest and highest and it offers 20 kilometres of runs. It may be smaller than its Western compares and with out of date equipment, limited lift access at certain times, and guides that are less than experienced, visitors may wonder what all the fuss is about.
The sheer number of people that take to the slopes of Oukaimeden at the beginning of each year is an indication of just how popular it is. There is no doubt that Oukaimeden is the best ski resort in Africa and what a tale to tell, not many people can say they have been skiing in Africa.