East London - It’s said that life is always more adventurous in Africa, and this certainly proved to be true for our getaway to Tiffendell Ski Resort. Set in the rural Eastern Cape, among majestic mountains that could easily be mistaken for the Scottish Highlands, we enjoyed some amazing scenery and a few troublesome flat tyres en route to our destination.
Once there, holiday mode kicked in: the chalets are comfortable, luxurious and most importantly warm, the staff are friendly and welcoming and the meals are deliciously decadent.
Who could ask for more?
It wasn’t long before we were kitted up and on the slope. A few warm-up runs down the beginner slope got rid of the rustiness and reminded us how the sport worked, so with reckless abandon we decided we were ready for the main slope.
Another factor in this decision was the rather strenuous pulley system on the beginner slope, which provided good motivation to advance to the main slope with its less tiring T-bar seat lifts. A few twists and turns on the main slope rekindled my joy of skiing and reminded me why I loved this sport so much, a feeling that even my first couple of wipe-outs and crashes couldn’t take away.
Once fully open, the main slope is quite a monster: a full 270m descent over its 1km length, which leaves plenty of opportunity to pick up some speed and get the adrenalin going. While it’s true that the number of slopes and quantity of snow don’t compare with the Swiss Alps, being able to ski in South Africa (and at South African prices) is pretty appealing.
The instructors, a diverse group of Slovakians, Brits, Czechs and a few home-grown South Africans, are all passionate about their profession and always more than happy to help out with some tips – much needed in the case of my rather unusual skiing style.
Tired and stiff at the end of the day, I found the activities off the slope are just as much fun as the skiing. Breakfast and dinners are included in the rates, and after a long, cold and energy-sapping day outside they hit the spot perfectly.
Dinners are themed to suit different cuisines, with the candle-lit Italian night proving to be one of the favourites. The bar (Ice Station 2720) is not only the highest pub in the country but also the scene of the evening entertainment activities.
On our first evening we were initiated into Tiffindell culture by being tied to the ceiling in ski boots to down a shot, and on the last evening we had a fun awards ceremony for all the guests.
In between, we also got to witness and be part of pub games, cabaret shows and concerts (one of which memorably involved staff skiing down the stairs and into the pub wearing only ski pants and carrying fire torches).
Most of the festivities are driven by the ski instructors, whose enthusiasm on the slopes also extends to making sure guests have fun evenings to remember.
However, to view Tiffendell solely as a ski resort would be a mistake. While skiing one morning we noticed a few youngsters whizzing past us at a great pace.
Intrigued, I found out they were part of the Winter Sports Academy. Coached by Alex Heath (three-times Olympian), the academy aims to promote skiing among local schoolchildren.
For Alex, this is his labour of love – a chance to give back to the sport he is so passionate about, and provide an opportunity for the youngsters in the area to create a future for themselves.
So far the academy has an enviable record – last year Tiffindell produced South Africa’s first black champion, Tsotsane Dywili, who is now working at Tiffendell as a qualified instructor.
In addition, Sive Speelman went to the 2012 Youth Olympics and also qualified for the Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Watching the children enjoying their skiing lesson definitely provided the amusement for the day, as well as the heart-warming glow of seeing a really great project contributing to the bright future of our country.
A few facts about Tiffindell Ski Resort:
l Tiffindell is South Africa’s only ski resort. The main slope is 1km long with a vertical height of 270m.
l Snow guns blast water into the air and it then freezes and falls to the ground as snow – guaranteeing snow at the resort for at least 100 days a year.
l The SA Ski Championships are held at the resort in July/August each year.
l During the summer, guests can pursue activities such as mountain biking, fly fishing, hiking and grass skiing.
l Tiffindell employs 140 staff during the season, and all supplies are transported from Barkly East, two hours away.
If You Go...
Getting there: Tiffindell Ski Resort is 650km from Durban, 520km from East London and 420km from Bloemfontein.
Accommodation and pricing: Tiffindell has 152 beds, which are either in family chalets, leisure chalets or mountain suites. Guests can book three-night packages (Sunday to Wednesday) or four-night packages (Wednesday to Sunday). Prices for a three-day package range from R4 195 to R5 770 a person. Price includes accommodation, breakfast and dinner, ski passes and ski equipment hire (excludes lunch, drinks and ski clothes hire). Self-catering options are also available.
Contact: www.tiffindell.co.za or [email protected] or 011 781 2620.
GPS co-ordinates: 30° 39' 3.6” S 27° 55' 34.68” E. - Sam Bradley, The Mercury