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Culture

European Adventurers Trek African Desert on Skis

If you're looking for a skiing destination, the red-sand Namib Desert in south-western Africa is probably not the first place you'd think of, but a German-Austrian duo is hoping to change that.

A man skis down the side of a sand dune in Namibia

Hitting the snowless slopes has been a pasttime in Nambia for quite some time

If the worldwide economic recession or global warming has made your favorite ski resort less desirable, a German-Austrian duo might just have the answer for you.

Germany's Henrik May and his Austrian business partner Herbert Koessner are hoping to turn dune skiing into a viable business in the arid African nation of Namibia.

The two set out last weekend on a cross-country ski trip covering 90 kilometers (56 miles) over a span of six days in an attempt to become the first people to cross part of the vast Namib Desert, which stretches along the Atlantic coast of Namibia and southern Angola.

The two are carrying their own food and water, and are being followed by an escort vehicle carrying the rest of the supplies, including their tents.

Sand slalom

A ski-lift and a small patch of snow

If global warming continues, skiing on sand might become more commonplace

May, who grew up in Germany's Black Forest told DPA news agency that skiing across the desert is far easier than walking because one doesn't sink into the sand.

If the trek goes well, the pair plans to turn sand trekking into a full-time business, which will open to tourists starting in August 2009.

Many tourists have already taken to descending the sand dunes in the Namib Desert on skis or surfboards. Riding down the dunes has been a popular sport in the former German colony, and May has been running a ski rental shop here since 2004.

Both May and Koessner say that skiing down a 300-meter (nearly 1,000-foot) desert dune is as exciting, in its own way, as taking to an Alpine slope.

Modified skis

Sand dunes in Namibia

Goodbye, Sankt Moritz! And hello, Namibia!

May has had to fit cross-country skis with special bindings that work in the sand to make his journey. He has also developed a special type of wax that enables the skis to slide over the sand. His wax recipe is a closely-guarded secret, however.

May says that anyone considering a ski trek needs to be in good shape, have some skiing experience and be able to live for a week without luxuries like a hot shower.

Sand skiing differs from the snow version in another way: There are no apres-ski parties or other mass-tourism features.

Instead of quaffing spiked cocoa at the bottom of the slope, tourists get to drink in a crimson Namibian sunset and watch the world -- as well as the antelope, rhinos and ostriches -- go by.

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