The last leg of the twelve-hour drive from Cape Town started with a strong cup of coffee in the small town of Rhodes as we tried to get our heads around the final stretch of dirt road, described by one local as simply "very scary."
But, with the dry weather, our small car was easily up to the task and we were soon approaching the resort nestled against the slopes of the Ben McDhui, the highest mountain peak in the Cape at 3001m.
We heard later that these hills have been skied by local farmers since the 1950s, while the resort itself started out with just one hut and four beds. Today, the Swiss-style wooden chalets can sleep up to 140 guests.
Basic, but comfortable
After a glass of port and a quick tour, we headed for our hostel-style room above the main lodge. Bunkbeds are the order of the day here, but there are also family and private chalets on offer and even one self-catering chalet that sleeps 12. The self-catering option is part of Tiffendell's massive expansion plan which involves chalets being sold to private buyers and syndicates, with the profits being used to fund the development of more ski runs, lifts and restaurant facilities.
The family chalets have four rooms ? two doubles and two with single beds. The shower and separate toilet are shared by all chalet-dwellers, as is the entrance area that doubles as a mini-lounge with couch and table, and a kettle for your hot chocolate after a hard day's skiing.
The private chalets have two bedrooms, one with a double bed and the other with two single beds. The 'lounge' area also has a sleeper couch so you can squeeze in a few extras if necessary. All of the accommodation is simple, but very comfortable.
After arriving we headed straight for the ski shop to get kitted up with our ski and snowboarding gear. First-time skiers shouldn't be put off by the boots; they may look and feel like medieval torture devices, but you get used to them eventually. There are also ski suits and jackets for hire if you decided against buying an outfit, and while I was expecting to be blinded by some pretty outdated lumo numbers, there wasn't an embarrassing suit in sight.
With a ski holiday or two under our belts, we headed straight for the slopes. There are only three ski runs at Tiffindell ? an expanded incline for beginners and two longer slopes that can still offer a gentle ride for novices. Just our luck, we managed to time our trip well after the last dump of snow and right in the middle of a heat wave, so only two slopes were open ? one of which was the beginner slope. When the conditions are right though the snow-making machines work overtime to ensure that the slopes are well decked.
The more experienced snowboarders on the slopes with us spent their days lining up jumps, while the rest of us raced up and down. It's hard work though, as unlike overseas ski resorts where you can hop onto a chair lift and rest your weary limbs every now and again; Tiffindell has a button/drag lift at this stage, which took its toll on my not-so-fit legs.
Geared for beginners
The resort is extremely beginner-friendly and most of the guests seemed to fit into this category. They spent hours going up and down the beginner slope and their efforts kept us entertained during long, lazy lunches on the sun-drenched deck.
A family affair
Tiffindell is very family friendly with a day-care centre, child-minders and plenty of kids-oriented activities. So if the skiing doesn't exhaust them you can pack the kids off to play while you head to the Ice Station bar, the highest pub in SA.
Tiffindell is a great place for first timers to learn the basics and, while not cheap by any stretch of the imagination, it will definitely work out cheaper than a packaged overseas trip, especially if you are planning on taking the kids as well.
Experienced skiers looking to improve their skills may get frustrated with the comparatively small number of runs available at Tiffindell, but this will hopefully change once new slopes are built. That said, while the slopes at Tiffendell weren't particularly challenging, overseas holidays are an expensive luxury, so a few days at Tiffindell are an excellent, cost-effective fix if I'm to keep my skiing addiction under control. The familiar South African accents and super-friendly Tiffendell staff also make a welcome change from the surly Swiss you're likely to find overseas.
Snow skiing at Tiffindell is only possible from May to September, but summer offers a range of other activities including fly-fishing, grass skiing, mountain boarding and hiking.
For more information on what the ski resort has to offer, visit the Tiffindell website, which also has details on their packages. You can also call 0861 787 909 for more information or send an email to email@example.com.
Click here for detailed directions to Tiffindell from wherever you are in SA.
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