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Skiing, Dubai-style

Paul Andersen

If you’re a ski instructor who speaks Arabic, Ski Dubai could erase seasonal layoffs and provide year-round employment. An article describing the miracle of indoor skiing in the United Arab Emirates creates quite an enticement.”When this city’s furnace-like summer gets too hot to bear, folks will cool off at a local resort with tumbling snowflakes, skiing and snowboarding on five trails, and, for those who need a break from the cold, mugs of hot chocolate by the fireplace.”How ironic to be sipping hot chocolate by the fireplace when just beyond the concrete walls is 100 degrees of desert heat. Skiing in the desert may be laughable, but the snow in Dubai is so real that designers stepped down the “expert” run, just in case of avalanche.The technology behind this winter mountain madness is 23 massive air-conditioners and rooftop snowmaking machines in an enormous steel and concrete structure 25 stories high. They charge guests $40 for two hours of sliding over “powdery snow.”Ski Dubai is the brainchild of Majid al-Futtaim, who conceived this mountain-themed resort as the crown jewel of his group’s billion-dollar Mall of the Emirates. What better lure to the third-largest shopping center in the world than indoor skiing!Ski Dubai features a 200-foot vertical drop and trails as long as 1,300 feet, making it the only indoor ski resort in the Middle East. There are four dozen of these enterprises worldwide, and only two are larger: one in Holland, the other in Germany.The Emirates Mall, of which Ski Dubai will cover about a fifth of the floor plan, will reign only briefly, alas, as the world’s third-largest shopping mall. Larger malls, already in the works for Dubai, will soon eclipse it in a frenzy of commercial construction.Though Emiratis are reputedly averse to cold weather, Ski Dubai will rent coats, gloves, boots, etc. The idea, according to developers, is to create a winter sporting base in one of the hottest countries in the world. The need is so obvious!”For those who want to start slowly,” extols a promotion, “there are places to sled, toss snowballs or lurk in glacial caverns with ice sculptures and icicle stalactites. For the rest, there are gentle slopes and a ski school.”There are Disneyesque frozen waterfalls, rope bridges and rocky outcrops, along with an ‘outdoor’ observation deck and cafe near the summit, where hot-chocolate drinkers can relax at tables with a view over the ‘valley.’ There is also a snowboard stunt park and 90-meter-long quarter-pipe.”The cavernous building encompasses an area equivalent to three football fields. It is packed with 6,000 tons of snow and has a capacity of 1,500 people. For a romantic winter mood, fresh snow can be made to drift lazily beneath the lights. The objective is to attract 500,000 visitors a year to the mall, which seems manageable given that 5 million people visited the Emirate in 2004. The attraction is shopping, where malls are described as “part of the culture.”What does this mean for Aspen, Vail and Deer Valley? Obviously there will be competition from indoor, controlled environments where skiers ply the slopes for a couple of hours, sip hot cocoa by the fire, then shop ’til they drop.At the least, we can feel envy for a country that has so much oil that they can thumb their noses at global warming by simply turning down the thermostat. No matter how hot the planet becomes, prosperous Arabs may enjoy snowball fights, sucking on icicles, and riding a quad chairlift in an enormous walk-in cooler.Paul Andersen hopes the good people of Dubai know not to eat yellow snow. His column appears on Mondays.


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