(Kingston, Ontario, Canada)
I’m going way back for this one! Until now, I haven’t shared any flashbacks that predate my acquisition of a digital camera in 2008. However, I’ve decided to take the plunge and scan some old-fashioned prints to go along with this post.
I was invited to visit Morocco by friends who had recently taken up teaching positions in the resort town of Ifrane. However, before we went to Ifrane, they took me on a unique road trip through El-Jadida, Safi and Marrakech. Knowing that I loved to ski, they then took me to the Moroccan ski resort of Oukaïmeden. It is Africa’s highest ski resort and is located about 80 km south of Marrakech in the Atlas Mountains.
The drive from Marrakech to Oukaïmeden on December 30, 1996, was unforgettable. We passed camels shortly after leaving the big city; we then wound our way up the valley and eventually to the resort’s base elevation of about 2600m. Here, it was definitely winter. We checked in excitedly to Chez Juju, our home for the next two nights.
While we went to the top of the ski area on the 30th for some photographs on the windswept summit, we only went skiing on the 31st. It was like stepping back into the earliest days of alpine skiing. Donkeys (see photo at the top of this post) transported skiers to and from the village. Our rental skis probably qualified as antiques. The lifts were all old, slow, decommissioned lifts from France that had little in the way of safety features. There was no trail grooming and little trail signage; the fierce Atlas Mountain winds quickly dispersed any powder that managed to accumulate.
Despite this, the snow cover was adequate and skiing here brought with it a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Some of the slopes were rather difficult and we felt like pioneers of a sort. By now, we had become used to the fact that it can get cold in Africa (as I’m sure many people initially find it hard to believe that it can get hot in Canada) but it was still exhilarating to think that we were actually skiing on a continent rarely associated with winter sports.
While spending more than one day on these slopes might have been overkill, we were still quite exhausted by the end of the day. We returned to Chez Juju for dinner and, eventually, some relatively muted New Year’s Eve celebrations.
While our room was exceptionally cold and I had to sleep with my ski jacket on, it was necessarily one of those experiences where you just had to laugh and accept the situation. We were heading back to lower altitudes the next day, so there would be plenty of opportunities to warm up.
Here is a British article from 2008 that more or less reflects my experience in Oukaïmeden: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/snowandski/3446834/Oukaimeden-In-Morocco-the-skis-the-limit.html. It looks like not much had changed over the intervening 12 years! If anybody has been skiing there in the past few years, I’d love to hear if the planned upgrading has taken place.
Coming soon – more adventures from my pre-digital travel archives!