Of all the ludicrous things you can find in Dubai – and there are many – few manage to be simultaneously preposterous and a good time. Ski Dubai is one of these rare few. Jutting out of the side of the Mall of the Emirates like a felled spacecraft, the Ski Dubai slope is one of the most arresting sites the city has to offer.
The interior is equally impressive. Get through the slightly bewildering equipment collection process (don’t forget to have your skis or snowboard fitted before you put on your boots – and buy gloves and a hat at the nearby shop; everything else is provided) and find yourself stepping into a winter wonderland full of ‘real’ snow, separated from the desert heat by just five metres of metal. That every flake of snow made for the slopes helps contribute to global warming is a bitter irony, of course, but Dubai – with its house-sized cars and man-made islands – is hardly the spiritual home of eco-awareness anyway.
While it’ll never beat the Swiss Alps, Ski Dubai does provide a surprisingly varied series of options across its 22,500 sq m space. The two-stop chairlift drops off intermediate snow-lovers halfway up the run, allowing them to acclimatise to the indoor slope and – if they’re snowboarding – show off their skills on a series of specially designed ramps, jumps and rails (helmets are mandatory for anyone who wants to try snowboard tricks). The first stop also features Avalanche Café, an ‘on-piste’ coffee shop serving drinks and food to hungry punters. The hot chocolate with cream and marshmallows here is a must.
Advanced skiers, meanwhile, can head up to the top slope, which offers two runs – a wider one for intermediates and a short ‘black run’ for those with slightly more chops. Neither will prove particularly challenging to very experienced skiers, and many will feel that the two-hour limit is more than enough for one visit, but hey, it’s skiing on snow in a desert. The novelty alone makes it worth a visit.
Absolute beginners, meanwhile, are served by a team of excellent instructors, some of whom are professional skiers and snowboarders, on smaller learner slopes. If you have even the slightest bit of experience under your belt – that is, you can slow yourself down and stop – then you might want to skip the discovery lessons, which are aimed at people who have genuinely never worn a ski boot before. Granted, if you’re only in Dubai for a short time then learning how to ski is probably pretty low on your list of things to do. Still, imagine the kudos when you tell your friends that you learned how to ski in a desert.
One can only cover the same snowy ground so long before madness sets in, so the management have invested in a number of alternative attractions, including tyre-like inflatable hoops for use on the shallower slopes; snowscoots, which are like BMX bikes, with chopped-up snowboards for wheels, and the snowball, an inflatable ball that rolls down slopes with people inside. But our favourite is the BigAirBag, which has the most perfectly descriptive name of anything ever. Designed to let daredevils practise their art without risking months in hospital, this, er, big bag of air, provides a massive, safe cushion for airborne boarders. But be warned: quirky items such as these aren’t available all the time, so phone ahead or check the website to find out what’s on.
And even if you have no intention of learning to ski, you can still take a look at the Snow Park, which features ice sculptures, a mini toboggan run and even a ice café. Or you can pay a nominal amount to go up in the chairlift and come down again. But where’s the adventure in that?
Ski Dubai by numbers
• 22,500 Total size of Ski Dubai in sq m
• 11 Total length of coolant pipes in km
• 2 Number of years to build
• 21 Number of cooling fans
• 12,000 Amount of snow in tonnes
• 2,200 Average number of visitors per day
• 400 Total length of slopes in metres