Words: Greg Gearing | Photos: Greg Gearing & Sam Bradley | Video: Greg Gearing
There are certain things you don’t normally associate with one another; for example, England winning the Soccer World Cup, Australia and good sportsmanship or South Africa and snow sports. However, a trip to Tiffindell Ski Resort in the Eastern Cape Highlands will force you to reconsider the latter.
Photo credit: Greg Gearing & Sam Bradley
I recently had the opportunity to visit Tiffindell for three nights, with my good friend Sam Bradley. Our timing could not have been better as one of South Africa’s notorious cold fronts gripped the country in the week leading up to our trip. This ensured that there would at least be some natural snow to go along with that created by the snowmakers.
Knowing that we had a fair way to travel, approximately 650 km, we left Hilton early on Sunday morning hoping to get to the resort in time for an afternoon ski. As we drove, we watched the temperature gradually drop from a 'scorching' 5°C to a rather chilly -5°C.
There are a few of ways to get to Tiffindell, depending on where you are approaching from and how adventurous you're feeling. The recommended route to the resort is to drive to Barkley East and then follow the signs to Rhodes Village. The other option is to go via New England/Wartrail, but this is strictly a 4x4 route and neither supported or recommended by the resort. The final option, if you are approaching from KwaZulu-Natal, is to travel to Rhodes via Naude’s Nek Pass (the highest pass in South Africa at 2,587 m above sea level), the route we chose to take.
The road via Naude’s Nek is twisty with a couple of rather steep sections, but if you have a vehicle with decent ground clearance you should not have any problems. The views along this road are spectacular and thanks to a tyre blowout, we had a chance to admire them for a little longer than usual. Although some may say the blowout was a result of us taking the more adventurous route, I think this had more to do with state of my tyres, which was confirmed by a second puncture on our arrival at Tiffindell.
The first thing that strikes you as you approach is the white blotch on the side of the mountain that makes up the main ski slope of the resort. As you drive into the resort, you feel as if you have been teleported to a European ski village, with the log-cabin-style buildings draped in snow, creating a unique atmosphere.
We arrived a little early for the 2 p.m. check in and decided not to waste any time and headed for the ski shop. Tiffindell is well equipped to cater for all your skiing/snowboarding needs and you can rent all the gear you require, including the appropriate clothing from the ski shop. Having got all our necessary equipment, we made our way to the beginners' slope to brush up on our skiing skills. After crashing into a fence pole on my first run down, it was clear that I needed a bit of time to get into the groove of things! A couple more runs on the beginners' slope and some helpful tips from the instructors and we were ready to head to the main ski slope. The main slope is steep and long enough (1 km long with a 270 m vertical decent) to gather a fair amount of speed and this coupled with our rustiness made for some rather spectacular crashes on our first day.
Photo credit: Greg Gearing & Sam Bradley
As the sun dropped behind the 2,720 m peak of Ben McDhui (the mountain Tiffindell is built on), we could feel the effects of an early start, which indicated that it was a good time to get acquainted with our chalet. There are various options available depending on your specific needs, all of which are centrally heated and within 100 m of slope. Our chalet was fitted with all the modern amenities, including a well-equipped kitchen that allowed for self-catering, should you not choose to take advantage of the dinner, bed and breakfast (DB&B) option. I would highly recommend the DB&B option, as the food is great and you get more time to enjoy all the activities on offer.
Tiffindell has a large group of local and international staff who are all experienced, energetic and extremely helpful. Each night they provided us with some sort of entertainment, including a flame-torch ski demonstration that sees the instructors literally ski right into the Ice Station 2720 (Tiffindell’s legendary pub). The Ice Station is also home to a few other interesting activities, such as the upside downers, where you strap yourself into a pair of skis bolted to the roof and down a shot of your preferred drink.
Although skiing is the main attraction of Tiffindell, the resort is also a great place to relax, unwind and enjoy the spectacular scenery that surrounds the area. During summer, guests can go mountain biking, fly fishing, grass skiing, quad biking, and alpine hiking.The great advantage of Tiffindell is the easy accessibility that it provides to South Africans, particularly when compared to overseas trips that require vast amounts of time and money. Although your options in terms of slopes are limited, it's still a fantastic place to learn how to ski and become more comfortable with the sport. There is also something quite surreal about skiing in Africa.
Tiffindell Skiing Academy
Tiffindell is also where you will find South Africa’s first-ever Winter Sports Academy, which is headed by three-time Winter Olympian Alex Heath. Extremely passionate about the sport, Alex has a vision to see South African skiers competing on the world stage. Already, the academy has produced the first black South African Champion, Tsotane Dywili, an instructor at the academy, and earlier this year, Sive Speelman went to the Youth Olympics and qualified for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Currently, there are ten pupils who attend the academy for three months of the year. The pupils have daily access to the slopes, with formal classroom lessons in the afternoon.
The Tiffindell Development Programme, the Ikhepu Ski Pups, also provides lessons for kids from the local schools in the area on a weekly basis, thus introducing these children to the joys of skiing and giving them the opportunity to enjoy a sport that few other South African kids will ever get to do. •
For more information on the ski academy, contact Alex Heath on
What you need to know
Getting there: Tiffindell Ski Resort is located 650 km (7.5 hours) from Durban, 520 km (6 hours) from East London and 420 km (4.5 hours) 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 per person and includes accommodation, breakfast and dinner, ski pass and ski equipment hire (it excludes lunch, drinks and ski clothes hire). Self-catering options are also available.
Contact details: Visit www.tiffindell.co.za or email