Skiing and Snowboarding in 5 Surprising Countries

The slopes of the U.S., Canada, Switzerland, and an elite handful of other nations are world-renowned. But as these five countries demonstrate, sometimes all you need is a snowy hill and some grooming equipment to serve the ski and snowboard crowd.

An island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea might seem like the last place to find a ski resort, but Mt. Olympus – the highest point in Cyprus – defies the odds. This mountain is home to the southernmost lifts in Europe, so it shouldn’t be shocking that the typical season only lasts from January to March (if that). Still, Mt. Olympus features seven runs (all named after Greek gods) that range from beginner to advanced, as well as some truly stunning eyefuls of the Cypriot countryside. 

Since 1981, Mt. Hermon – located near the Golan Heights on Israel’s border with Syria and Lebanon – has been a popular winter destination for skiers and snowboarders. The 6,000-foot mountain boasts more than 28 miles of runs, including two that have earned ‘Olympic-standard’ distinction from the International Ski Federation, as well as four lifts and five T-bars. Other amenities include equipment rentals, a ski school and lodging accommodations. Apparently it’s a pretty nice hiking spot in the summertime, too.

Few people can pronounce Kyrgyzstan (keer-guh-stan), let alone find it on a map – but international obscurity aside, this Central Asian nation boasts some truly wicked slopes. The nation’s most popular ski area, Karakol, was originally built as a training course for Soviet Olympic teams. Today, Karakol’s four lifts generally operate from November to April, and the array of runs will accommodate everyone from beginners to seasoned pros (all for a whopping $17 per pass). The resort also offers heli-ski packages.

In July 2012, the city of Marrakech reported a temperature of 121.3 degrees Fahrenheit – a national record for Morocco. So it’s a little strange that the country’s top ski resort, Oukaimeden, is located just 45 miles south of the sweltering city in the snowy Atlas Mountains. Despite the low lift ticket price (equivalent to roughly $11), a rustic ski hill Oukaimeden is not; according to Telegraph Travel, the resort boasts all the amenities of its European counterparts, including a ski school, rentals, restaurants and hotel accommodations. Other aspects of the resort are distinctly Moroccan, such as the donkeys that transport guests around the mountain in lieu of shuttle buses. 

South Africa
Tiffindell Ski Resort, a 5.6-acre resort nestled in the Drakensberg Mountains of western South Africa, is one of two ski resorts in sub-Saharan Africa (the other, the much smaller Afri-Ski, is located in Lesotho). Thanks to an army of snowmaking cannons, the resort can accommodate skiers and snowboarders for at least three months out of the year, while all the runs are groomed daily to ensure ideal slope conditions. The only drawback, according to many visitors, is the lack of lodging available on the mountain – but luckily, the town of Rhodes sits less than 20 miles away and public transportation (while sporadic) is available. And while the resort has been closed since it was sold at auction last year, new management recently announced that Tiffindell is scheduled to re-open in 2013.

Have you had an awesome skiing or snowboarding experience in a surprising country?

By Brad Nehring