About 50 miles from Marrakech, about 8,500 feet up in a small, shallow High Atlas valley, sits the ski resort of Oukaimeden.
Developed by the French when France exercised political and economic control of Morocco, Oukaimeden appears to have languished despite a dramatic setting and special assets.
Part of the problem may be that it is a little too far from the major population centers, and its trails too challenging.
Only an hour from Fes and Meknes, and only about four hours from Rabat, the Middle Atlas resort of Michliffen and Jbel Henri offer convenience as well as easy trails in a stately, old-growth cedar forest populated year-round by monkeys.
The Middle Atlas is the popular choice for Moroccan skiers. Only in Casablanca, about midway between the two resorts, might the question arise which way one should go.
Bouiblane, also in the Middle Atlas, offers more downhill possibilities and snow, but hasn’t really been developed.
Access to Bouiblane, whether through Sefrou or Taza, remains difficult, however.
In fact, much of the foreign interest in skiing centers on touring in the high mountains, a sport for those who are very fit and know what they are doing.
I don’t know the exact state of Oukaimeden today. An internet site reported that a Gulf company had proposed a major renovation, with better accommodations, better trails and snow-making equipment, and more lifts. That would certainly improve it, but the question remains: from where would the skiers come?
When I visited Oukaimeden for the first time in 1973, it was early spring. I was traveling with a Binghamton University professor, Dick Moench, who was a skier, and he did not hesitate to take the chair lift to the 10,500-foot-high summit. He made his way down on old, rented equipment, which was a tribute to his athletic ability. It was late in the season, and the trails were rocky.
At that time, the main lodging there was the 160-room Club Alpin Français facility which had been built by the Casablanca section of CAF during the Protectorate. Oukaimeden offers challenging skiing. The 10,500-foot-high chair lift was and still is, I believe, the highest in Africa.
A few years later I came back a few times to hike. Directly facing the resort rises Jbel Angour. Angour is a walk up, and the easy descent via the west ridge offers great views. The standard route, when there is not too much snow, uses a diagonally ascending ledge as opposed to one of the gullies.