I think I first saw an article about skiing in Morocco in a KLM in flight magazine, it is certainly not the sort of place that would spring to mind when thinking about winter sports. If, however, you fancy a ski break with something a little different I can’t recommend it highly enough.
I visited Marrakech in February 2012 and stayed in the wonderful family run Riad Eden just to the South West of the Jemaa el Fna, the famous square in the centre of old Marrakech (a riad is a traditional Morrocan style house built around a cool, shady central courtyard). I’d spend the mornings sat on the roof enjoying a Morrocan style breakfast with mint tea and admiring the view. Far off in the distance you could see the snow capped peaks of the Atlas mountains.
I had come with the intention fo taking a trip up to the mountains and through the owner of the Riad I organised a hire car from a local company. It was pretty a beat up old thing, but it was cheap and the owner wasn’t too bothered about it getting scratched, which when you are trying to drive for the first time in Marrakech is definitely a good thing! It is about 75km by road south of Marrakech to the village of Oukaimeden which provides access to the highest ski lift in Africa and pistes at altitudes of around 3,200m to 2,600m. The road journey from Marrakech is an adventure in itself. The first stretch out of Marrakech is pancake flat, passing dusty fields and orchards, all the while in the distance the mountains loom large above you.
The pictures above show some of the views on the route from Marrakech to Oukaimeden which snakes up into the High Atlas Mountains. Along the way I stopped to take some pictures of the valley below where I met the old man leading his young camel along the side of the road (see below), they seemed to get on rather well! As my old banger climbed higher into the mountains the road became steeper and started to pass through switchbacks, eventually passing into the clouds where the visbility along with the temperature dropped dramatically. Then, as quick as the cloud had arrived it disappeared and I had reached Oukaimeden.
At the bottom of the piste there is a large car park and I was surprised to find it was absolutely packed with cars (I later found out it was a local holiday). There are no rental shops as such, just local men renting equipment out the boot of their cars. Geting skis was no problem but getting boots for my flipper sized feet proved a little bit more problematic and involved a couple of phone calls and a bit of running about on the part of one of the local vendors, though he was very keen to help. I would say that if you don’t speak any Arabic or French this whole process could prove pretty difficult.
For locals the main attraction seems to be renting ski boots and then clunking around in them at the bottom of the piste, completely ignoring the “Area forbidden to non-skiers” signs. But while there were plenty of people hanging about the lifts and the upper sections of the piste were actually really quiet other than a few fearless local youngsters hurtling about. As I was there in February it was nearing the end of the season so the snow was thin in some areas, the great news is rather than having to take your skis of and walk between lifts you can hop on a donkey and be ferried from one area to another. Don’t get that in Val d’Isere!
A man and his young camel on the road to Oukaimeden
The lower pistes at Oukaimeden showing two of the seven lifts. The longer runs are over to the left of the picture, only a short donkey ride away. At the top of the mountain there is an observation station with views across the mountains. From here you can see all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. It is amazing to be standing in the brilliant white snow, looking down the slopes to the arid, hazy yellow desert plains below and then further to the blue ocean beyond.