There are about 6,000 or so places on Planet Earth where you can hop on a lift and up a slope. Most are located in classic destinations where the snow is plenty (i.e. France, Switzerland, Canada, etc), but what about those in unexpected places?
If you can cope without the snow and are able to ski on dryland or artificial slopes, you’ll find hundreds of unlikely opportunities – Dubai; Singapore; the hot Spanish capital of Madrid; Mexico; the very flat and largely snowless European nation of The Netherlands (which is home to seven indoor snow centres); the beloved Mt Aggie at A&M University in Texas; and, most recently, Brazil.
And if you’re very determined and willing to hike up 12,000 feet of snow to find a patch of often years-old snow, you can even find snowfields in countries close to the equator like Kenya, Uganda or Tanzania.
It’s a big world out there with plenty of opportunities to get your fix. Here’s a look at five of the world’s most unusual places to ski.
1. Afri-Ski, Lesotho
Excluding Antarctica, Africa is the continent with the fewest ski areas – you can pretty much count them on one hand. And while they’re few in number, they do exist in the North and South.
In the South, snow cover can be problematic. The two small areas that operate here, Tiffindell in South Africa and Afri-ski in the small land-locked kingdom of Lesotho, are sometimes 100% reliant on machine-made snow. On the other hand, they’re sometimes buried and cut off by big natural falls.
The ski areas are small with just a few lifts and about a mile of runs in total, but hey, you’re skiing in South Africa in June, July or August, so who cares!
2. Malam Jaba, Pakistan
Pakistan (situated in the Himalayas and best known as a country with very hot temperatures) has a number of small, basic ski areas. In the late 1980s, the country’s government worked with Austrian specialists to build a commercial area in the picturesque Swat Valley. The centre, Malam Jaba, finally opened in the late 1990s, equipped with two chair lifts, a hotel, restaurants, and a coffee shop. Unfortunately, in 2007 the region was taken over by the Taliban, who destroyed most of the facilities. They set fire to the hotel and damaged the lifts beyond repair. The Taliban was driven out in 2009 and there has been a lot of talk about rebuilding the resort. In the meantime, the locals are hiking up the slopes to slide down the six to ten feet of snow that falls here every Winter.
3. Riksgränsen, Sweden
Riksgränsen is located high up in Northern Sweden, right inside the Arctic Circle. Well-known in the global freeriding community, it is one big, natural terrain park.
Riksgränsen doesn’t open until most resorts start to close in February because its position on the globe makes it so cold and dark during mid-Winter. On some days in the Summer months when the area sees 24 hours of daylight, the lifts stay open after midnight, allowing visitors to ski under the midnight sun. Riksgränsen tends to sell out, so you’ll need to book early if you want to experience it.
4. Villa Las Estrellas, Chile, Antarctica
Even with the skills of Google and Siri, it’s hard to know how many lifts there are in Antarctica. The last attempt to count them (some 25 years ago by the author of a book on skiing in South America) reckoned there were three temporary tows available to scientists stationed in the various national bases. At least a decade back, it was even reported that skiing in Antarctica had been banned for U.S. staff members due to concerns about being able to find medical help if anyone twisted a knee… or worse.
However, in 1988, the Chilean Ski Federation donated Antarctica’s only known fixed lift to residents of Villa Las Estrellas – a 700-foot long Doppelmayr drag lift. I’ve tried to find out if it’s still operating, without any luck. But it was, and hopefully still is, the world’s most Southernly ski lift.
5. Etna Nord and Etna Sud, Italy
Mount Etna is located in Sicily, a Mediterranean island in Southern Europe that is known for its hot, sunny weather. Mount Etna is also one of the world’s most active volcanoes, almost constantly erupting.
So what better place to build not one, but two ski areas, on the North and South sides of this vast, generally snow-capped volcano? Lava flows and boulders have repeatedly taken out ski lifts, but the determined Sicilians keep rebuilding them and skiing when deemed temporarily safe to do so. Some reports indicate that the biggest danger is not volcanic activity (including avalanches triggered by earth tremors), but the danger of lightning strikes caused by the turbulent air above.
Hero Image Photo Credit- Riksgransen, Fredrik Schenholm