Luxist Visits Ski Dubai, The World's Largest Indoor Ski Area
Sipping a cup of hot chocolate beneath a heat lamp on the deck of the cozy mountainside Avalanche Café, it's easy to forget that you're in the middle of the desert in Dubai. That is, until you see a pack of bearded men gleefully whizzing down the slope, white tunics billowing like sails behind them.
Any excursion to Ski Dubai, which purports to be the world's largest indoor ski area, is filled with this sort of incongruity. Though the air outside routinely tops 110 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, the temperature inside the 22,500 square meter facility remains just below freezing all year round. The structure that encloses the ski slope is as tall as a 25-story building; its flagship trail, the first indoor black diamond ever built, is longer than three football fields. There are four other runs of varying difficulty, as well as a chairlift, a freestyle snowboarding zone, and of course, the aforementioned café.
Gallery: Ski Dubai
Opened in 2005, the slope is located in the Mall of the Emirates, about ten minutes by car from downtown Dubai. The city is known for its absurdity-for example, the Burj al Arab, a 1,000-foot hotel designed to look like a sail, is less than half the height of the nearby Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, home to the first hotel designed by Giorgio Armani.
From the outset, Ski Dubai is equally outlandish. Mall trappings give way to faux-stone walls adorned with pictures of European ski destinations. Paper flames flutter in a fake fireplace. Two plush polar bears stare down bemusedly from a souvenir kiosk. At the front desk 180 Dirhams, or about $50, you can get an afternoon lift ticket, a set of skis, a pair of poles and a loaner snowsuit.
There's a communal area with benches where you can slide the suit on over your clothes, which is what most visitors seem to do, or you can retire to the locker room in the back to change (if you'd rather pray, there's a room for that as well). Then stroll through a set of turnstiles, board an escalator and try to remember that you're about to go skiing, visual cues be damned.
Once you walk out onto the slope itself, it's a bit easier to take your surroundings easier. But only a bit. The snow crunches uncertainly beneath your feet, the frosty air smells less like Aspen and more like the coldest movie theater in the world-and then there's the ceiling, painted light blue and illuminated by bright white lights. It's sort of like skiing down the aisles of a diagonally-tilted Wal-Mart.
To get to the top of the mountain, you have to ride a real chair-lift, complete with the safety bar that never seems to come down in the right place before it hoists you up into the air. The cables creak over the din of the Rihanna and Taylor Swift songs piped into the enclosure along with the freezing gusts. Some twenty feet below you, packs of teenaged Emirati snowboarders speeding down the slope, practicing tricks doubtlessly cribbed from American video games.
By this time, you're probably wondering how much energy it takes to power a man-made ski slope in the middle of the desert. Gliding over the Avalanche Café with its heat lamps and hot chocolate, a small yellow sign with a familiar logo offers a lonely and misguided attempt at solace: "Shell is helping us keep the environment clean."