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Ski trip in South Africa - Tiffindell

Posted in Cape Town City on Jul 20, 2016

Lets’ go skiing for my 40th Birthday in Austria a friend said at the beginning of the year. So the planning started. As planning went on, so the local currency declined more and more. Eventually it was decided that the trip was over everyone’s budget and needed to be cancelled. Our friend was very upset at having to ditch the whole idea of a great winter ski trip for her birthday. So a new adventure was born: A ski trip in South Africa. This initially sounded like a joke, but after a little homework we found that South Africa in fact has 2 ski resorts and after some initial inquiries we chose Tiffindell as our resort to celebrate in. On sharing our plans, we heard a number of negative comments about the resort, but I can tell you from personal experience these are all made by people who have not been there lately (and by lately I mean the last 4 years since ownership has changed hands). In our experience Tiffindell is run by the best people in the business.

We needed to travel from Cape Town to Tiffindell and back. After some more investigation we felt the easiest and best way to do this, was a road trip. More homework resulted in our plan to make the drive a 2 day adventure each way and to drive longer stretches on the first with smaller distances to cover the following day. We thus settled on Cape Town to Colesberg (780 km) for the first day and Colesberg to Tiffindell (360 km) on the second day, to get there. In Colesberg we chose a quaint, well-kept and really comfortable guest house called Toverberg Guest House to stay in which was well heated, as the winter nights are really cold in Colesberg. The following morning, we travelled about 45KM north on the N1 and then headed off on the R701 which joins onto the N6 at Smithfield and takes one to Aliwal North. The reason for this route is that we wanted to stick to the tar road as long as possible. From Aliwal North the road deteriorates a little, but is still tar, on the R58 to Barkley East. From there on it is dirt road, on the R396, to Rhodes, where we suggest you order a shuttle to Tiffindell. Your vehicle will remain parked at 1 of 2 guest houses in Rhodes. The trip to Tiffindell takes you from an altitude 1800m to almost 2800m in a short 10 km distance, so it is steep and not for the light hearted driver. If you have balls of steel and a reliable 4X4 you can give it a go. It amazed me that some folks made it up there in really small cars, but we were glad we got the professional shuttle drivers to take us up in their very comfortable 9 seater shuttle.

We booked a 7-day package. Tiffindell has 3-day and 4-day packages, but we felt since we were not spending dollars, 7 days was very affordable and allowed us to have a far more leisurely time learning how to ski from scratch. We were met spot-on the arranged time at Rhodes by a friendly shuttle driver, who zipped us up to the reception area where we were welcomed with a welcome shooter and then guided to our rooms. We had booked a private chalet which comprises 2 bedrooms (one with a bunk bed for the kids and one with a double bed for the folks), a lounge and separate bathroom and toilet. The chalet was very well heated with radiator heaters that made it feel like shorts and t-shirt weather inside. Once you stepped outside the temperature varied from a rather warm 10C to -6C which necessitated extreme outdoor wear to deal with.

How does one prepare for this? So, we ridiculously over packed for this trip. What you need is really good socks, a thermal base layer which we bought at Cape Union Mart, ski pants, a ski jacket that we bought very affordably at Rapid Sport, but could be hired at the resort, gloves, a neck covering of sorts and a beanie. You will also need some kind of eye protection like ski goggles, but polarised sunglasses go just as well. Finally, do not forget the sunblock and lip ice. It may seem silly, but you get very burnt without this protection. Really that is all you need. No jeans or fancy tops required. Oops almost forgot, one pair of waterproof shoes. These are imperative if you want to hike up to the highest pub in South Africa.

Tiffindell showed off its amazing vistas through our stay. Every day you would see the absolute beauty of the Lesotho mountains. The blue sky meets the green mountains interspersed with white snow. There are very few places as pretty as this.

After our luggage arrived in our room we were invited on a tour of the establishment with our guide Nico. He showed us where everything was and then helped us rent our skis and ski boots and arrange our beginner ski lessons for the following morning. The rest of the day was spent watching others in their lessons and in the evening we attended a staff meet and greet where Lew (one of the owners of Tiffindell) shared some history, safety aspects and then introduced some of the people we would deal with in the following 7 days.  

The following morning, we attended our training with Kieran who took us through the basics to help us up our first hill and get us to ‘snow plough’ (snow language for learning to stop), turn and use the ski rope to get up the hill. As we arranged the 7-day package there was less stress to arrange a lesson the following day, so we spent that day perfecting all we had learnt in our first lesson. The following day we attempted the next lesson, where Conrad, our next instructor, went through everything to make sure we were up to scratch and then started the ones who were ready, on the next hill which, if you could steer down it, allowed you to qualify to attempt the main slope. The instructors are both very professional in making sure one met the standard required to ski the main slope while having allot of fun at the same time. My abilities meant I could not pass to the main slope, which then required a third lesson another day later with Filip who got me up to the standard required. I was immensely impressed with the way in which Tiffindell has a massive passion for this sport which they love share with their guests. It is dangerous and they make sure you are well prepared and understand the ins and outs, so you are prepared for skiing the main slope.

At night Tiffindell has a bunch of PR people lead by Ashley and Brandon, arranging amazing events for all the guests to attend. In the time we were there, there was a cabaret evening, a lip syncing evening, a ski burn evening, which included the prize giving for the best performers and a laid back evening where we attempted to do upside downers, which is a tradition that you need experience when you get there, rather than have me explain it to you. A lot of fun is had by all in these events and includes the kids. The lip syncing evening was particularly good for the children with them being able to select a song they know and then lip sync the words and do some dancing. The kids loved it.

Chef Warren prepared sumptuous meals every day and the table service by Colin and Antonio always left you feeling that you had become part of the Tiffindell family. They joked and quickly found out what we drank and what our first names were, which was an awesome and unexpected touch. A buffet breakfast and buffet dinner is included in the stay price. The quality of the meals here is excellent. Lunch is not included in the pre-booked stay price, but there is a menu with burgers, tramizinis, pizzas and a really good Prego roll to fill up the tummy after a morning on the slopes.

All in all, I would have to say the Tiffindell is an excellent local option for those who want to ski. I hasten to add that even if you have never considered a ski holiday before, try this experience. Bring the kids, family and friends. The bigger the group the better. We were a group of 16 (4 families) which made it allot of fun at night. A big plus for skiers is that the queue at the ski lift is short and the runs are quick which means many runs are fit into the day. For non-skiers the hiking and cycling options are plenty as well as stunning picture taking opportunities for both amateur and professional photographers.  South Africans tend to think that international destinations are the be all and end all, but I can tell you that this is something special. Tiffindell is a national treasure and will give you back way more than it costs for you to be there.

In closing the shuttle brought us back down the mountain and dropped us safely back at our vehicles in Rhodes. We again chose a longer drive the first day, which took us from leaving Tiffindell at 10H00 to arriving in Beauford West at 19H30 that evening. Here we stayed at a very special place called the Herehuis. The family that runs this guest house truly does an amazing job. It is spotlessly clean and they continuously asked us about our preferences for meals to make sure that our needs were taken care of. The rooms are very tastefully decorated and you cannot find a single fault in the entire place. I would highly recommend a night here. The following day it was a short 4 hours’ drive back home to Cape Town.

This trip really was special. I cannot recommend visiting local enough. Our country is special and has gems like Tiffindell that give back way more than they take. Visit them and you will not be disappointed.