Skiing in Morocco is more novelty than sport, but I couldn't pass up the chance to investigate. There are two resorts: Mischliffen, near Fès, and Oukaïmden, near Marrakesh. Mischliffen is little more than a sledding hill, with unreliable snow coverage and two surface lifts, neither of which was operating on my visit. The ski rentals were ludicrous – stacks of 20-year-old straight skis, many with broken bindings and rusting edges, splayed across the parking lot by vendors desperate to earn some cash. I found a pair of too-large boots and passable skis, but after I climbed the bunny hill and began my descent, the bindings instantly popped. Better to sled, using one of the makeshift sledges of screwed-together wooden boards atop recycled skis. A word to the wise: Make sure the ski bottoms on your sled lay flat against the snow. Mine canted, and the sledge couldn't hold its line. But what fun I had – until the blizzard arrived.
In contrast Oukaïmden, Morocco's only true ski resort, has super-steeps, a whopping 1000m vertical drop, and North Africa's highest lift – a fixed-grip double chair to the mountain's rocky, treeless, wind-whipped summit, 3,265m (10,711ft) above sea level. At the base area, there's a proper rental shop with good boots, skis and winter clothing, but that doesn't stop hucksters from rushing your car on arrival, all eager to rent equipment of questionable merit.
Warm up on the beginner slope, where J-bar surface lifts haul you up the hill old-school style. Once you've got your ski legs, pop your bindings and head for the donkeys at the base of the slopes to hitch a ride to the chairlift. You could walk it in 10 minutes, but why would you with a donkey waiting to carry you? (Plan to pay 10 to 20 dirhams for the ride).
You might have to carry your skis in your lap on the chair, because there may not be enough snow to ski off the mid-mountain or summit lift ramps. Intermediates beware: runs aren't machine groomed, and conditions can be dodgy. I'm an advanced skier, but on my December visit, the snow was unforgiving – dense and wet, like mashed potatoes – and I instantly wiped out as I descended from the mid-mountain station. I made it down – but very slowly.
On my second run, I ascended to the summit, but a storm had blown in, reducing visibility to zero – a major disappointment, since on a (rare) clear day there's a 360º panoramic view. I didn't risk the descent on skis, but instead hung out with the lift operators in their tiny hut, laughing and drinking hot thyme tea brewed on a camp stove, then rode the lift back down. Remember, skiing in Morocco is strictly DIY. There's no ski patrol to bail you out if you get into trouble. You're on your own – and that's exactly why I love it.
Word has it that Dubai-based developers plan to install snow-making machinery at Oukaïmden, but I pray the plan falls through. Water and electricity are scarce commodities in Morocco.
The best snow coverage is from January to March. Weekends are busiest; weekdays lift operations are limited. For information on conditions and lift ops, contact the rental shop, Univers Glisse, at +212 (0) 66 39 51 16.
John Vlahides travelled to Morocco on assignment for Lonely Planet. You can follow his adventures on Lonely Planet: Roads Less Travelled, screening internationally on National Geographic.