December 1, 2010 / 4:17 PM / in 7 years

Ghana's "Snow Leopard" to bring the piste to Africa

<p>Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong clears a gate during the first run of the men's alpine skiing slalom event at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics in Whistler, British Columbia, February 27, 2010. REUTERS/Mike Segar</p>

MAMFE, Ghana (Reuters Life!) - In the shade of vaunting mangrove trees, surrounded by the perfume of decaying leaves and wild pineapple trees, Ghana’s “Snow Leopard” stands poised on a log straddling a stream.

Gesturing toward thick undergrowth that conceals a cascading waterfall, Ghana skiing champion Kwame Nkrumah Acheampong explains that the site will form the top of West Africa’s first dry ski slope, which he hopes will one day produce the continent’s first winter Olympic medal-winner.

“We are starting from scratch in the depths of the equatorial jungle. We are going to get it done,” says Nkrumah, who earned his moniker and a cult following ahead of competing in the Vancouver Winter Olympic games earlier this year.

Having learned to ski on a dry ski slope in Britain just six years ago, Nkrumah came second-to-last in the slalom event in January. Undeterred he now wants to build a ski team that can carry on his legacy as he retires from Olympic competition.

“I didn’t want to see my dream die. The only way to keep it alive is to have a facility in Ghana -- something to inspire the youth and get them into skiing,” he said, pulling ants out of his trousers on a hill near the sprawling capital Accra.

Mobius Architects, a local firm that designed the slope on a pro bono contract, said the project could be complete by 2013. Excluding the carpet-like material for the faux-piste, Mobius partner Augustus Richardson wants to use locally sourced materials and make it as eco-friendly as possible.

“Years ago you would never have heard of a Ghanaian on the ski slopes. Dubai has made ski slopes and nobody has to tell you about the weather there,” Richardson says over the murmur of the waterfall behind him.

Nkrumah has already begun scouting for a suitable apprentice, employing some curious recruitment techniques.

“We took all the fish out of a cold store, chucked the recruits in and took the temperature down,” he says. He then took the best conscripts to a gently sloping fairway at a nearby golf course and strapped grass skis to their feet.

“There were lots of falls, but it gave us the opportunity to see those who have the will to keep going,” he said. To speed up the screening process, he’s also planning to draft in a few of the roller skaters that ply Accra’s traffic-choked streets.

According to Nkrumah, Africans and people of African descent dominate the short distance running races at the summer Olympics for the same reasons that make them poor swimmers, and potentially great skiers - dense bones and short muscle fibers.

“Our power-to-size ratio is higher,” he says. “I‘m taking that natural power into skiing which is a power sport, and getting people acclimatized to the conditions of skiing at an early stage. We could get some really good skiers.”

Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Paul Casciato

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