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S’now is the winter of our discontent

By Jennifer Stern

, |

Wherever in South Africa you live, it’s probably freezing, so you’ll be thinking of escaping to somewhere warm – possibly with turquoise water, waving palm trees and snow-white sand. But then, come summer, you may head north to go skiing. It just shows how out of touch we can be with the seasons. But we don’t have to be.

Take a winter holiday, and go skiing now (or snowboarding, or sledding), or just build a politically correct snow-hominin.

Local is lekker

It’s surprising how few South Africans know that we have a world-class ski resort right here in Mzansi. Tiffindell, South Africa’s first – and so far only – all-year Alpine resort guarantees snow for the three winter months of June, July and August.

If you’re a seasoned skier, and you have consistently turned your nose up at the very thought of skiing in South Africa because of prejudice, think again. Tiffindell was voted number 19 in CNN Travel’s ‘World’s 100 best ski runs’ in 2014. As well as the beginner and intermediate slopes, the top section of the run is classed as a black slope, which means it’s pretty darn challenging. Since 2014, Tiffindell has hosted FIS (International Ski Federation) competitions and, in 2016, there were competitors from 20 different countries (many in the northern hemisphere).

And what you save in airfares, visas and paying in euros or US dollars can go a long way to making a ski holiday easy on the pocket. That means you can stay longer, go more often, or just be more indulgent and buy better equipment.

Baby steps

Unlike many countries in the northern hemisphere where kids learn to ski soon after they learn to walk, South Africa does not have a ski culture, so the concept of flinging yourself down a slippery, slidey, icy slope for the first time at the age of 30, 40, 50 or 60 can be downright terrifying. But that’s why you invest in a course of lessons when you arrive. Tiffindell’s Ski Academy is run by three-time Olympic skier and South African National Ski Coach, Alex Heath, but it does also cater for mere mortals who’ve never even seen snow. Most beginners on a three- or four-day package manage to become comfortable on the beginner slopes, and quite a number who start skiing at the beginning of a seven-day package end up tackling the red (somewhat more challenging) slope. Everyone is different but people of all ages, shapes and sizes have successfully learned to ski. While strength and fitness are obviously important, balance is the real defining factor.

Of course, the best time to learn to ski is when you’re young, and you tend to bounce when you fall (and – more importantly – you know you are invincible, and that you will live for ever). Tiffindell has a number of instructors who specialise in running fun-filled ski courses for the littlies. Most kids five and up are more than capable of learning to ski, and even younger ones have managed – it depends pretty much on the child. Even better, you can invest in a course of lessons before you leave home. Tiffindell has a ‘feeder school’ in Ferndale – The Ski Deck – where you can learn the basics on a state-of-the-art simulator ski run, so you don’t waste valuable snow time falling on your guava.

Skiing or snowboarding

If you’re a trend-slave, you may be under the misguided impression that skiing is old hat, and that it’s far more hip to snowboard. Well, in some ways that is sort of true. Snowboarding is newer than skiing, but it’s also significantly more difficult to learn as a beginner. So, unless you are a surfer or skateboarder, rather learn to ski first, and then switch to snowboarding next season. And – hey – skiing has most definitely not gone out of fashion, or lost its cool appeal – it’s a timeless classic.

Take it easy

While skiing and snowboarding are challenging activities that require some skill, a snow holiday does not have to be an exercise in macho-ness, strength, courage and endurance. There are other alternatives. For snow virgins of all ages there’s the far more accessible downhill rush of bumboarding. It’s not elegant and it’s not stylish, but it’s a huge amount of fun – and an adrenaline rush. (And, yes, sometimes there are as many adults hurtling down ‘Bumboard Alley’ as there are kids.) And then, of course, there’s also the creative side – snow sculpture. Okay, let’s face it, most snow sculptures end up being somewhat amorphous homunculi that have – for a very long time – been called snowmen but research indicates that ‘snowmen’ are actually snowwomen. They’ve been around since for ever, and the classic ‘snowman’ shape is very, very, similar to Neolithic female fertility sculptures, so it’s not a huge stretch to imagine that Stone Age artists would have sculpted snow fertility images to keep the metaphorical fires burning through the long, cold, lonely winters. In fact, it’s quite likely that Neanderthals, and perhaps even earlier hominins, created anthropomorphic snow sculptures, but – hardly surprisingly – there are no surviving fossils of snow-hominins.

And, speaking of keeping the ‘fires burning’, there’s nothing like a high-altitude vista of gorgeous snow-covered mountains and below-freezing temperatures to encourage your significant other to snuggle a little closer. Outside of school holidays, Tiffindell is a magnet for couples – honeymooners, second honeymooners, anniversaries, proposals and, of course, simple romantic getaways. If you inform them in advance, they’ll even do the flowers and bubbly package.

Après-ski

The fun does not stop when the sun goes down. The sociable restaurant and pub is a great place to relive any successes, near-successes and spectacular failures, and there are fun events like quiz evenings, cabaret shows and more.

Make it happen

Tiffindell offers both self-catering and catered packages, but most people choose catered because – if you’ve forgotten something – the nearest shop is a challenging two-hour drive away. Packages can include skiing and/or lessons, and you can rent or buy any equipment you need – either at The Ski Deck before you leave Jozi, or at Tiffindell. Best of all, it’s not a lottery. There’s usually natural snow between June and August but, if Mother Nature doesn’t oblige, a state-of-the-art snow machine will ensure that you have something white and fluffy to play on or with.
So, whatever your preferred activity – hectic downhill rush, artistic Stone Age snow art, fun-filled frolicking with the kids, or romantic chilling in a warm chalet on a cold mountain – don’t fight winter. Embrace it.

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