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  1. #1
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    High Atlas Antics - Oukaimeden

    The more the world changes, the more it stays the same in Northern Africa. Long trip report short, spent some time in Casablanca (skip it) and Marrakech (5 dusty days is good) with the family for some cultural Winter break fun.

    Made a day trip to Oukaimeden to check off continent #6 and see if the 10 year old trip reports posted here still applied. Bottom line, yes, still rugged, still unpredictable, still worth a trip.

    They got a big storm the weekend prior, reports were the roads were impassible until Monday and the lifts broke down but were open again by the time we had a chance to go Wednesday (or possibly travel uphill by mule was an option, even better). Website said open. Driver said open. Arrived to find not open. As in, the lifts weren’t turning, looked like they hadn’t turned in a while, and may not turn for a while more. At least we didn’t have to pay the $8 for a lift ticket.

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    Luckily, I have a hearty crew, our 11 and 14 year olds are used to hiking and skinning before our local resort opens, and my wife, while not the hugest fan of skiing, loves exercise so hiking we went.

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    Wish we brought touring gear, but the terrible reputation of Air Maroc for getting your checked baggage to you is very well deserved, so we brought our cheapest stuff with us and left some behind that was destined for the dumpster anyway.

    After around an hour, we topped out and had a nice descent through a couple inches of sun-softened hero snow.

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    After a while, our early departure and long drive caught up with us so we hit Cafe Juju at the base for some mid day après. Good French wine, great French food, a killer view, and a blue sky awaited and was one of our best decisions of the day. Choucroutte, tartiflette, and casoullet with fresh bread plus the beating sun and some good exercise helped the crew pass out en route back to Marrakech.

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    My wife told me over dinner later that it was one of her favorite days in her entire life. That’s saying something considering she skis only to humor me. I have to agree, in the end it was a unique day for certain that did not suck in the least. After getting skunked literally waiting on the runway for Antarctica a year ago, this was a win. More on that later when my rescheduled date comes up.

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    Some other notes, bringing skis into Morocco is easy. Getting them out, not so much. Had to wait in several lines that resembled the DMV in terms of length and speed of processing in order to pay (get extorted for) an additional $350 US to export excess weight/size baggage. Then had to follow them to a different room and even outside to make sure they got to the plane as the porters warned me if I did not, they would likely “go missing”. Almost missed the flight because of it. Give yourself an extra hour above the 3-4 you will need to be there before leaving Morocco at the airport. If you have the guts, bring some perforated edge paper with some dot matrix printing on it and a credit card receipt - staple it all together, and just carry it with you. Because NO ONE will check it once you SAY you have paid. Not the airline check in guy, not the porter, not the baggage handler, no one. Wish I had known. If they want to extort me, I can pull the wool over them. That seems to be the motto of the place.

    Or, you could take a chance and rent from one of the “shops” at the mountain! I ended up trading my old pair of boots that were destined for the trash at the end of the day for 3 sleds to rent for me and the kids to give that a go after we skied.

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    One of the best parts was seeing locals, many having ridden on scooters the 90 minutes from Marrakech, seeing snow for the first time. I don’t speak much Moroccan Arabic, but the squeals of joy were unmistakable. Many picked up second hand hats, mittens, and boots from the donkey carts lining the road for a few Dirham to stay warm as they had no idea what to expect. I’m glad the kids got to see how other parts of the world exist, that alone made it worth it.

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    I can detail out the rest of the non-skiing trip if anyone is interested, have good recommendations on lodging, activities, and rules of thumb to make your trip successful.

    Bsslama!
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    Last edited by BCR; 03-02-2023 at 11:24 AM.
    Quote Originally Posted by tromano View Post
    Apathy is harder for me to understand than passion.

  2. #2
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    Awesome. Skiing Morocco has been on my list for a while. I suspect there is also some great skiing to be had if you have time to explore the backcountry, too.

  3. #3
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    Awesome BCR! What a great crew, cool spot and Dad of the year award man!
    “I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you different.”
    ― Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

    www.mymountaincoop.ca

    This is OUR mountain - come join us!

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by goldenboy View Post
    Awesome. Skiing Morocco has been on my list for a while. I suspect there is also some great skiing to be had if you have time to explore the backcountry, too.
    Absolutely. We hiked the approach to to Toubkal a different day (in the clouds above my son in the second pic and to the right behind the closer peak in the last pic - highest peak in Northern Africa) one of the days and that's where some multi day hut tours would be awesome. If this was a different kind of trip (without the family), that's where I would have focused. Watch Seven Years in Tibet - the first half was filmed there. Beautiful place one valley over from Oukaimeden.

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    Last edited by BCR; 03-02-2023 at 01:22 PM.
    Quote Originally Posted by tromano View Post
    Apathy is harder for me to understand than passion.

  5. #5
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    Love it! We're headed to Marrakesh and Essaouira in two weeks for a family trip and are hoping to pop up to the mountains for a day trip. Not sure if we'll ski, but we did miss "skiing Africa" in Kenya and Lesotho, so maybe this is our chance??

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by alpinevibes View Post
    Love it! We're headed to Marrakesh and Essaouira in two weeks for a family trip and are hoping to pop up to the mountains for a day trip. Not sure if we'll ski, but we did miss "skiing Africa" in Kenya and Lesotho, so maybe this is our chance??
    Absolutely should! They got more snow when we were leaving last weekend. Can get tricky as the season goes on, but would look into it for sure.

    If you need other Marrakech recommendations, etc hit me up.
    Quote Originally Posted by tromano View Post
    Apathy is harder for me to understand than passion.

  7. #7
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    Wow. Fkin impressive! Thx!

  8. #8
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    this is amazing - thanks for posting. Dad/husband of the year award to you and it's only early March!

  9. #9
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    Fantastic

    Cheers

  10. #10
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    Awesome! Thx!


    Sent from my iPhone using TGR Forums

  11. #11
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    Good stuff, thanks for posting. Full trip tr would be interesting if you have time.

  12. #12
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    I was on the 2011 Ice Axe Antarctic trip, so this is the continent I haven't skied.

    While a cool experience, I'll have to say this report is a deterrent. Did you know before you arrived in Morocco that Oukaimeden had snow? Is there ANY source of information about its status and snow conditions outside the country? At latitude 31 I'd guess there are some seasons with almost no snow like Mt. Lemmon and Ski Apache.

    The airport ski situation is scary. I'd be inclined to rent skis and poles. That's what we intend to do in Lesotho July 2014 after a safari trip to Namibia in June.
    http://bestsnow.net
    "The most complete, comprehensive and objective guide to snowfall--and both prevailing and expected snow conditions--at North America's ski resorts ever published"- Powder Magazine.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by 406 View Post
    Good stuff, thanks for posting. Full trip tr would be interesting if you have time.
    406, happy to put up some other non-ski stuff from the trip, give me a couple days.

    Quote Originally Posted by TonyC View Post
    I was on the 2011 Ice Axe Antarctic trip, so this is the continent I haven't skied.

    While a cool experience, I'll have to say this report is a deterrent. Did you know before you arrived in Morocco that Oukaimeden had snow? Is there ANY source of information about its status and snow conditions outside the country? At latitude 31 I'd guess there are some seasons with almost no snow like Mt. Lemmon and Ski Apache.

    The airport ski situation is scary. I'd be inclined to rent skis and poles. That's what we intend to do in Lesotho July 2014 after a safari trip to Namibia in June.
    On the contrary, I chose the week with historically the greatest snowpack, went in with zero expectations, and enjoyed the cultural aspects of it all. I've been stuck on a different continent that my gear, so I planned for that by bringing the cheapest, oldest stuff and the backup plan was to rent some 1980's stuff at the hill worst case. And if it got stolen, I bought some cheap insurance for the stuff we did care about.

    I've had several trips with 7 feet of fresh dump overnight (Cham and Cervinia) and several trips of warm temps, bluebird skies, and not a snowflake in sight (Portillo and NZ). I'm a "happy to have my skis on the snow" kind of guy, even if that is patch skiing at it's finest. Better than workin'!
    Quote Originally Posted by tromano View Post
    Apathy is harder for me to understand than passion.

  14. #14
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    Yes, I agree that exotic locations may not have reliable snow. Snow was good by North American standards on only one of my 4 ski trips to New Zealand and my Chile ski trip was "warm temps, bluebird skies, and not a snowflake in sight." Still, I suspect Morocco is a place where some seasons are complete wipeouts, so I view you trip as a success.

    On most of our trips to the Alps, we compensate with flexibility. We buy air tickets and a car rental for about 2 1/2 weeks, then start deciding where to go about a week in advance. This been overall a poor season. We went to the southern Alps due to the heavy rain that hit the usually reliable NW at Christmas. We got lucky with an 18-inch storm just before we arrived in the Via Lattea and so got 3 powder days there. The other 11 days in various southern French resorts were mostly groomer skiing but still worthwhile.
    http://bestsnow.net
    "The most complete, comprehensive and objective guide to snowfall--and both prevailing and expected snow conditions--at North America's ski resorts ever published"- Powder Magazine.

  15. #15
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    As requested, here’s the rest of the non-skiing trip report/beta:

    We arrived in Casablanca, as I mentioned before, we heard horror stories about baggage not making the transfer to Marrakech and never being seen again. I’m still waiting on a callback from Air Maroc about something from 6 months ago, so there would be no possible recourse. They just don’t respond.

    Since we were there, we wanted to see the Mohammed V mosque. It cost about $700M to build and looked like it. The level of detail and different kinds of decoration and adornment was unlike anything I’ve seen anywhere else. Worth the small entry fee.

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    From there, we went to Rick’s Cafe for lunch. Casablanca is my favorite movie of all time, and while I knew it was a tourist trap, it was actually really nice. Good steak/shrimp, an overpriced bottle of champagne, but well worth it before diving into the local cuisine the rest of the week.

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    From there, our driver took us the 2-1/2 hours to Marrakech. We used Linaya Transport, they were reliable and our driver was nice, even if he barely spoke English. Gave the kids a chance to practice their Moroccan Arabic. The drive doesn’t have much to see. The olive groves look a little like Tuscany as they pass by, but not much between the two cities.

    Upon entering the Medina (inner city of Marrekech) walls through one of the several gates, it was a whole different experience. While Casablanca was very city-like, the center of the old city looked like it could have still been the year 1070 when it was built. Other than the motorized vehicles, it felt like an Eastern version of an old West town. We were greeted by the sound of blacksmiths hammering iron bars into farm and construction tools. Every section of the old city has a particular trade (leather work, wool dying, lamp making, spices, olives, etc) and our section was blacksmithing. We were greeted by Neil the donkey, who took our luggage by cart down narrow alleyways about 1/3 of a mile to our Riad (enclosed home in the Medina).

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    Every Riad has only a non-descript single door marking it’s existence, and no matter how ornate the inside, there is nothing decorative outside whatsoever. Back in the 11th century, if you showed your wealth, it was likely to get plundered. Our door was down a small back alley populated by dozens of happy kids playing soccer with a ball made of hundreds of rubber bands tied together. Our son gladly joined in for a bit before we pulled him away to get checked in. Our Riad’s entrance still had the traditional two knockers with different sounds, one for men and one for women so they knew who in the home should answer.

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    Once inside, the plain exterior disappeared and we were in awe. I can’t recommend Riad AnaYela enough. It’s on the Marriott program, so you can use points, and if not, rooms were in the $200 range which is about the most affordable luxury I’ve encountered. There are only 5 rooms total and you will feel like you have it all to yourself.

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    We spent time in the pool, enjoyed the rooftop terrace, and ate in the courtyard after a long day of travel. We ended up eating there 3 nights during the week as the food was so good, wine was easily accessible, and the staff became like friends we would hang out and talk with about their background and the country and Marrakech in particular. There is someone ready to help you 24/7, and as we are early risers, they would grab us our coffee order and have it ready on the rooftop when we woke up. Again, I can’t say enough about the place.
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    Last edited by BCR; 03-13-2023 at 12:55 PM.
    Quote Originally Posted by tromano View Post
    Apathy is harder for me to understand than passion.

  16. #16
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    Day 1 to get to know our way around the twisty back alleys of the Medina, we hired a guide for a walking tour. Was a great day and after that we could navigate fairly well so it was worth it. Booked through Trip Advisor using “Marrakech Guided Adventures” and Youssef took us around for a full day.

    Highlights were the Ben Youssef School:

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    The Secret Garden:

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    And the Bahia Palace, which was a fascinating walk through the rooms of the head of Marrakech’s multiple wives living quarters and the courtyard that housed his dozens of concubines. The king at the time was too young to rule, so they appointed this guy and he leveraged his power into taking over 7 blocks of the city to make his palace and filling it with two dozen women to satisfy his needs. Ambitious to say the least.

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    As I mentioned, each section of the city has a specialty, and we saw where each type of item is made. No cheap imported stuff here - everything inside the Medina walls is hand made here. Construction on the shops and Riads was all being done by hand as we walked around. Tools made here are shipped out to the countryside to farm and build roads and homes. As someone who does a lot of projects myself. I really appreciated all the handiwork, carvings in plaster and wood, detailed tile in even the humblest of shops and stalls. 1000 individual craftsmen worked to restore our Riad. 100,000 worked on the Mohammed V Mosque.

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    We spent time in the Souks (alleyway markets) looking at every type of product. Rugs, lamps, food, spices, etc. there are a million articles about negotiating in the Souks, I’ll just say it is undoubtedly the National past time. They will go back and forth unhurriedly as long as you can take it. Be patient, be prepared to walk away if you don’t like the price, and be courteous, even if they are asking an unrealistic price for something. If you shake on it, you better buy it. Be ready to pay if you throw out a price. Shops are more expensive than stalls or little tables, but may have better quality and more reliability if you are shipping something home. Spend a lot of time looking before deciding to get into a negotiation. The same types of things are available in so many different places it’s worth a day just poking around. If someone tries to direct you down an alley to “get to the square”, it is inevitably to go toward a set of shops. No one is voluntarily helpful without something to gain. Thankfully GPS exists, I can’t imagine what it was like to navigate prior. All the tales of getting held hostage for directions and all that seem to be a thing of the past with cell phones. We had no issues other than people trying to misdirect us.

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    The kids favorite (and my least favorite) part of the day was our arrival in Jemma El Fnaa square, the original center of trade from the 11th century. What was once the land in front of the palace entrance where Berber farmers would travel 6 hours by camel to trade Olive and Argan oil for items they needed, is now snake charmers, guys with monkeys, water bearers purely for photos, aggressive food vendors, and everyone else who wants a few Dirham from you. I humored a couple of photos and then made them all move on. Locals used to line the square at night for dinner and socializing, and now it’s mostly tourists and street performers. They pressure you for 200 Dirham for a photo ($20 USD) but 20 Dirham will send them on their way. Moroccan currency is a closed system, you can’t buy it outside the country, so you’ll have to swap at the airport when you get there.

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    We had lunch at Mythe near the square, which was great food plus the rooftop gave us a view of the square. I had my first Marrakech Tajina, which, unlike Tagine (baked in a clay cone), which you’ll find all over Morocco, is a Marrakech specific dish. Tajina is meat and spices in a clay pot, covered, and cooked for 6-8 hours in a community oven. Most Riads don’t have an oven, a bath, or some still don’t have indoor plumbing, so in each neighborhood there is a community oven, a community bath, a community bathroom, and a mosque. People drop their food off in the morning to be cooked for dinner and tip the fire tender for baking their bread or firing their Tajina all day. They recognize their food by colorful cookware or strips of cloth that are color coded for their home.

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    Last edited by BCR; 03-13-2023 at 08:01 AM.
    Quote Originally Posted by tromano View Post
    Apathy is harder for me to understand than passion.

  17. #17
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    We finished with dinner at Nomad - make your reservation way in advance and ask for the roof terrace at sunset. Amazing food (get the Lamb burger) and view as the city goes from day to night. They do not serve alcohol, just a note. Most of the enclosed restaurants do at dinner time, this one does not but is worth the food anyway.

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    We finished again at the square, where everyone seemed to have gotten even more aggressive. Do not walk near the pop-up restaurants unless you plan to eat. I got into it with one guy who wouldn’t let my wife pass until she came in. They mean no harm but their livelihood depends on them getting people to sit down. Once challenged, they will eventually back off.

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    The next day was skiing (more on that above), so we made our way to one of the city wall gates to get picked up with ski stuff in hand just as the blacksmiths were starting their day. Got a few chuckles for sure.

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    Our last day was spent on an excursion to the Toubkal waterfall, a Berber village, the Agafay desert and a camel ride. Paying $20 a person (again on Trip Advisor through “Ibrahim Ismail”) we expected a touristy bus full of obnoxious sightseers. It was anything but. A native Berber gentleman took us through his village, showed us the hiking trails and views, have us a lovely spot to eat lunch, and took us to the desert. The others in a small sprinter van were mostly European and lovely to spend time and have lunch with. And the $20 got us 10 hours of activities. What I expected to be my least favorite day was one of the best.

    Bread, fresh olive oil, argan oil, and honey/peanut spread with fresh baked bread and the requisite hot mint tea for breakfast in his village.

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    Hiking the mule trail through the village to the waterfall. More pics were already posted above of the surrounding mountains and hike.

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    Lunch tagine below the village.

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    Desert and camels.

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    After that last adventure, it was time to go home. One final meal at the Riad and then one more trip with Neil the donkey and back to Casablanca and home.

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    Last edited by BCR; 03-13-2023 at 01:01 PM.
    Quote Originally Posted by tromano View Post
    Apathy is harder for me to understand than passion.

  18. #18
    Join Date
    Aug 2005
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    A few additional notes to address some of the questions I have gotten by PM. It is a smoggy city. 5-6 days there and I could feel it in my lungs.

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    We found it to be generally safe. Covid hit tourism and everyone seems to be very happy to have it back. I asked the ladies to dress conservatively to prevent any confrontation, but the rules seemed generally lax and forgiving. We felt safe walking the alleys at night and had to, really, as our lodgings were buried deep in a non-tourist area. That said, we used common sense and wouldn’t hesitate to encourage everyone to do the same. When they went out running in the early mornings, I begrudgingly went with them. We went around the outside of the Medina wall where there was more space and fewer people.

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    Be prepared to have abdominal discomfort while there and for weeks after. We used only bottled water but ate the fruits and vegetables plentifully at our Riad and good restaurants only. And we were all still a wreck. I've been all over remote parts of Asia, South America, etc. I eat adventurously and am usually beyond good. I was most certainly not. But I wouldn’t change a thing, the food tasted amazing and was worth it.

    Wine and alcohol are easy to get, but only in a few places. Stock up at the airport or at the mall outside town as it’s not readily available in the Medina. Try the Moroccan wines, many start at under $4 USD and everything else is pricey as imports. We didn’t have a single bad one, they were all the common varietals you would see back home, order your favorite grape and enjoy. When planning the trip, it’s a good idea to look at the religious holiday weeks and avoid them. Besides alcohol sales being eliminated during those times, many places you’ll want to see might be closed as well.

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    The 6am wake up calls from the speakers in the mosques and the regular calls to prayer during the day became more normal as the week went on. Even missed them when we got back. It seems like they now accommodate service workers, they don’t have to stop work when the call comes. Our guide had to leave but the waiters did not. We’d be fine either way, obviously, but it speaks to the modernization of the country.



    Don't take pictures of people you haven't bought something from or tipped without asking. They are happy to accommodate if you have done business with them, but otherwise might cause a confrontation.

    Several people recommended Palais Jad Mahal for the belly dancers and fire jugglers. It was overpriced and our worst meal of the trip. Entertainment didn't start until 10pm, it felt like a low end Vegas restaurant, and the staff was very brusque. Of course, the kids loved it in retrospect, but was torture at the time being exhausted from our day and waiting around several hours for the festivities. It's a scene for sure, just know that it will be a long evening.



    And to bring it back to skiing in the end, man I wish I found these to rent when we discovered the lifts were closed! They were in a shop on the other side of the pass from Oukaimeden where some people rented jackets for the hike as the temperature dropped overnight.

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    Last edited by BCR; 03-13-2023 at 09:13 AM.
    Quote Originally Posted by tromano View Post
    Apathy is harder for me to understand than passion.

  19. #19
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
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    Squaw valley
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    4,729
    Great tr. I spent a couple of weeks in Morocco, climbed Mt atlas went to the Atlantic, then rock climbed someplace near the desert.
    Really enjoyed it.

    Sent from my moto g 5G using Tapatalk

  20. #20
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    Nice!

  21. #21
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
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    That was great, thanks for sharing!
    "fuck off you asshat gaper shit for brains fucktard wanker." - Jesus Christ
    "She was tossing her bean salad with the vigor of a Drunken Pop princess so I walked out of the corner and said.... "need a hand?"" - Odin
    "everybody's got their hooks into you, fuck em....forge on motherfuckers, drag all those bitches across the goal line with you." - (not so) ill-advised strategy

  22. #22
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
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    San Francisco
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    This is great, thanks for this. Planning a trip in early April with the family. Probably a bit too late for a day skiing but one can hope.

    If the resort is closed for the year any idea how easy would it be to rent everything in the village and hike up for some turns?

    Previously skied in Lebanon and skiing in Morocco has always been on the bucket list.


    Sent from my iPhone using TGR Forums

  23. #23
    Join Date
    May 2002
    Location
    right behind you!
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    5,201
    This is great! Your pics brought back a lot of memories.

    My first trip to Morocco was in 1994 and I absolutely loved it. In 2019 I was lucky enough to spend 11 weeks traveling all over the country, well off the beaten path. Then COVID hit and the entire country was shut down until March 2021 when I was with one of the first tour groups to return. Spent another four weeks exploring some new-to-me areas as well as the old standards. I've become really comfortable traveling there and look forward to returning. Happy to share recommendations for guides, restaurants, lodging etc.

    Incidentally, for "real" Atlas skiing, look up Kris Erickson. He did a monster Atlas ski traverse a few years ago. He also just finished building a brand new via feratta near his home in Zawiya Ahansal.

  24. #24
    Join Date
    Aug 2005
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    Too far East, far too often.
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    Quote Originally Posted by CaliKid View Post
    This is great, thanks for this. Planning a trip in early April with the family. Probably a bit too late for a day skiing but one can hope.

    If the resort is closed for the year any idea how easy would it be to rent everything in the village and hike up for some turns?

    Previously skied in Lebanon and skiing in Morocco has always been on the bucket list.


    Sent from my iPhone using TGR Forums
    The ski and boot rentals on the mountain are circa 1977-1982 but would work for a few turns. They have jackets and mittens too for rent. Just guys on the mountain with the stuff out on blankets.
    Quote Originally Posted by tromano View Post
    Apathy is harder for me to understand than passion.

  25. #25
    Join Date
    Aug 2005
    Location
    Too far East, far too often.
    Posts
    805
    Quote Originally Posted by Pinner View Post
    This is great! Your pics brought back a lot of memories.

    My first trip to Morocco was in 1994 and I absolutely loved it. In 2019 I was lucky enough to spend 11 weeks traveling all over the country, well off the beaten path. Then COVID hit and the entire country was shut down until March 2021 when I was with one of the first tour groups to return. Spent another four weeks exploring some new-to-me areas as well as the old standards. I've become really comfortable traveling there and look forward to returning. Happy to share recommendations for guides, restaurants, lodging etc.

    Incidentally, for "real" Atlas skiing, look up Kris Erickson. He did a monster Atlas ski traverse a few years ago. He also just finished building a brand new via feratta near his home in Zawiya Ahansal.
    Awesome, yes, I'd definitely like to go back. I didn't do one of the bigger ski tours just based on time and people there with me, but would be great, I'm sure. Would like to climb Toubkal too!
    Quote Originally Posted by tromano View Post
    Apathy is harder for me to understand than passion.

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