First Published: 2005-11-28

Snow is falling on Dubai desert

Under scorching desert sun of Arabian city of Dubai, new indoor Alpine ski resort risen up.


Middle East Online

By Nayla Razzouk – DUBAI

Black coats made intentionally long to cover Arab dishdasha

Under the scorching desert sun of the Arabian city of Dubai, a new indoor Alpine ski resort has risen up complete with the world's first indoor black-run, glacial winds, icicles and not an avalanche in sight.

The powdery snow slopes have been intentionally laid in terraces to avoid the risk of avalanches at the Ski Dubai dome due to hold 6,000 tonnes of real snow when fully operational next month.

Tourists tan on nearby furnace-like beaches as children giggle in glacial caverns and hide behind fir trees -- made of plastic -- at the ski dome nestled inside the brand-new, gigantic Mall of the Emirates.

In the insulated dome, jets pulverize real snow onto the slopes, much to the pleasure of the first visitors, many of whom are Gulf Arabs touching snow for the first time.

The 272-million-dollar resort is but the latest extravagant project in the Gulf emirate seeking to become a major tourism hub, following on from the world's tallest tower and only undersea hotel.

Ski Dubai, a manmade mountainous scene as big as three football fields that can hold up to 1,500 visitors, will have five slopes of different degrees of difficulty, the longest being 400 meters (yards) with a fall of 62 meters.

The lower level slopes will start welcoming skiers on December 2, and the upper runs -- including the world's first indoor black run -- on December 14, said the resort's chief executive, Phil Taylor.

Snowboarders can also test their skills on a 90-meter-long quarter pipe, as well as jumps and rails.

The resort includes a snow park of ice caverns complete with howling wind where the young and less young can daub graffiti with their fingers on a frosted wall or play on a wall of acrylic icicles.

Apres-ski pleasures are also catered for, whether it be drinking a hot chocolate or savoring a fondue by a crackling fireplace at either the Avalanche or St Moritz cafes, perched on the slopes.

Teenagers with thick coats, woolly hats and warm gloves throw snow balls at each other under the bemused eye of shoppers standing on the other side of large window panels.

Wearing sandals and light summer clothes, a group of curious onlookers cool their palates on ice creams while using their mobiles to shoot pictures of teenagers sliding down bobsled rides.

Foreign tourists also snap souvenir pictures of Gulf nationals walking on snow with their Arab headdresses dangling on rented black coats made intentionally long to cover their dishdasha traditional white robes.

"I may get married in the next few months and move to Europe. I am hoping this experience will help me get accustomed to the cold weather," said 28-year-old Emirati banker Alia.

Snow here is made the same way as in nature, with water atomized to create a cloud of tiny ice particles that allow snow crystals to form and fall on the slopes, lodges and trees.

"It looks like a Christmas postcard, a rather surreal feel especially with people in the mall looking in from behind the glass as if it is an aquarium," said German tourist Hans.

"Snow in the desert is such a unique experience for locals who have never seen snow" and for the nearly six million tourists who flock annually to Dubai and want more than just beaches and malls, Taylor said.

"Ski Dubai is a good school for Gulf nationals and others, so that they learn skiing in order to really enjoy skiing holidays abroad afterward," he said, admitting he would be the first to take up lessons.

Taylor may not know how to ski, but he surely knows how to do everything else thanks to a long career of "creating fun" at France's Eurodisney park and the London Eye.

Ski Dubai even has a clear blue sky.

"In the region, Lebanon and Iran have skiing resorts, but our point of strength is that we have perfect snow and weather conditions all year round," he said.

Taylor may be proud to control all the elements, but several giant glass panels have already cracked, raising concern in the local media and forcing his team to import new panes from Switzerland.

"The only thing I fear now is a desert storm hitting the snow dome," joked Saudi national Ahmad Mohamad, gazing through one of the panels.


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