The Pass and The Top

If there's a huge amount of snow around then consider skiing the south slopes of Bulwer Mountain. For reasons to be explained below it may be the best you can make of your day. It is, as far as we know, untried at present but there is access from the road that the paragliders use to drive up the back and the mountain's aspect is very favourable for preserving the natural snowfall. It anyone gets to try it, let us know.

Remember your Passport

Sani Pass Neck
[Click here for LEGEND]    [Click here for big pic]
And don't forget water, Hanepoort, Old Brown, chocolate and spades. The paradox of Sani is that the good skiing is not in the pass; it's on top. In fact about 25 minute's drive from the the Lesotho border pass at Sani Top on the road to Mohotlong. The road drops down the flat plain after the escarpment and then winds up the base of Black Mountain in a wide bowl which hooks to the left at the top before turning right through a saddle to drop into a long valley which goes to God knows where. But who cares. 'Cos just along the section that hooks to the left before the saddle is where the best snowfield will be found.

It drops off straight from the road for up to a kilometer or more depending on your luck. And if you've had the foresight to pack some rope and a pulley you can rig up a working drag lift by using a vehicle to drive along the road and pull everyone up. The snow's usually been around for some time so it has frozen base and a hard top; not unlike corn snow on a groomed piste.

But this picture should be classified under "ideal, and rare". There's a Catch-22 with Sani; one usually heads up there lured by the promise of fresh snowfalls, but that means that the throat of the pass, especially from icefall corner on, is either iced up or under snow. Either way, if you do get through you'll have had your fill of adrenalin for the day. It is ALWAYS ADVISABLE TO TAKE CHAINS and it is stupid to take chances with your life if you don't have to. The swingback in the catch is that if the top of the pass isn't in poor shape then it means temperatures up there have been high and the snow quality at Black Mountain is likely to be poor.

Pull into the Sani Top Chalet just after the border post. The visitor's book and the atmosphere of the smokey little lounge alone are worth the visit. And the view down the pass is something you have to experience; then YOU try and explain it to someone.

The Piste in The Pass

If the dump has been big, and it happens more often than one hears about, then neither you nor anyone else is going to get up through the throat to the top. The snow up on the escarpement gets blown into the pass by the south-westerly and this is particulary true at the higher points. Chains again become an issue as your objective now is to drive as far as possible to get to the first viewsite. From here you can ski the road back to the U.N. Bridge or, if there's enough snowpack on the southern valley wall, hike on up. The road swings left into a valley and then out to the right to round a spur; some 1,5 kilometers further on. The ridge to the left is usually quite skiable and, if the crust is fragile, staying close to the ridge will always yield up hardpack. And the trip back to the viewsite on the road will be a good adrenalin pump; guaranteed. Especially if you're in the chute that the up-hikers have tramped in metre deep snow.

Try not to Spend the Night

The South African gate at the bottom of the pass closes at 4:00pm. And they don't enjoy you honking your horn on the other side demanding re- entry. If you don't make the gate by four you can expect to be delayed for at least several hours, but we havn't heard of anyone yet who has not been let through eventually.

and Don't Skip the Himeville Arms

It might not be the the Krazy Kangaru or The Londoner, but it is the finest little pub in the area with a permanent log fire of note. A good place to warm the bones and fantasise about how good the snow was. This is also an excellent spot to pick p a mean breakfast on the way through in the morning - just make sure you get your orders in before 8:45am or so

Sani Pass Tours website

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