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South Africa is typically associated with sun, safari and sea, however, over the last few years, the country has become a popular destination for professional skiers who aim to compete in the European summer.
During the South African winter months, the slopes of the Ben Macdui in the Eastern Cape have become renowned for international-quality competition, attracting more and more professional skiers, all of which is having a positive knock-on effect for tourism.
The Tiffindell Ski Resort in the Eastern Cape opened in 1994 and is South Africa’s only Alpine Ski Resort. Since its opening, annual national competitions and championships have been held at Tiffindell.
Peter Pilz, President of Snow Sports South Africa, told Tourism Update that a major milestone was reached when the International Ski Federation (FIS) approved the main slope at Tiffindell for international ski competitions in 2012, and in 2014 Snow Sports South Africa organised the first series of international FIS Slalom competitions at the resort.
“Being in the same time zone as Europe gives us a big advantage and offers an attractive alternative to ski resorts in South America, Australia and New Zealand,” said Pilz.
The competition at Tiffindell has grown significantly from four FIS Slalom competitions, with 14 participants from four nations in 2014, to last year’s 2017 Ski Festival, which comprised 20 international FIS competitions, with over 80 entries from 19 different nations.
Each overseas skier brought along a coach, manager and often family, all of which increased SA’s tourism revenue, said Pilz, who added that they often then extended their trip post skiing, to include a safari at one of the national parks and often then headed off to Durban or Cape Town, all in all, boosting the country’s tourism, economy and creating much-needed jobs.
“They are thinking about building a small airport in the Eastern Cape close to Tiffindell due to the growing demand, especially since international skiing has taken off,” said Pilz. “This would open up the whole area, not just for skiing but for tourism alike.”
He said the main objectives were, firstly to offer South African athletes an opportunity to gain FIS world ranking points at home without having to travel overseas, and secondly, to put SA on the international map as a skiing destination for international ski racers who train and compete during the European summer.
All competitions were held over a ten-day period, making it a record number of FIS Slalom races over that period in the world. Pilz said the future aim was to add FIS Giant Slalom competitions to the calendar as well.
The skiing season in SA is from the beginning of June until the end of August; however the safest skiing period, according to Pilz, is from the start of July until the end of August.