Sure Leonardo DiCaprio cleaned up this past awards season for his brave on-screen portrayal of Hugh Glass in The Revenant, but after being invited to spend nine hours in -8ºC at Ski Dubai, my respect for the man has escalated tenfold. Leo was paid crisp Hollywood dollars for shooting his gory scenes in sub-zero conditions. I, on the other hand, got I-hope-you-survive texts from well-wishers. Taking one for the team nonetheless, I agree to camp overnight at Ski Dubai.
Soon to be made available to Dubai's summer-stricken public, this new camping experience at the world’s largest indoor ski slope lets visitors spend the night in below-freezing temperatures. With all camping gear and snow equipment provided, the only thing you’re asked to bring is your willpower.
After sending my mum an “I-love-you-and-if-you-don’t-hear-from-me-in-the-morning-know-that-I’m-frozen-somewhere-in-a-mall-in-Dubai” text, I pack three pairs of thick socks, two woollen jogging bottoms, three jumpers, a pair of leather gloves, two pashminas and a beanie into my overnight bag. Prepared? Am I ever.
I arrive at Ski Dubai with two colleagues and a photography crew (because apparently frostbite makes for great clickbait) at 10pm, while people ski down the slopes for the last time, before finding solace in the warmth of their own homes, unlike us, who will be hiking up the ski slope to pitch a tent to sleep in…
The first tip we get from Shiva, our overnight duty manager, is, “The temperature drops to -8ºC at night because that’s when we make fresh snow and prepare the slopes for the next day. So wear everything you’ve brought with you and we will give you a few more layers to wrap up in.” On hearing that, my immediate response is, “Where is the emergency exit?” and “Can you get cabs outside MoE in the middle of the night, when I decide to bail?” Ignored on both counts, I’m taken to the VIP suite to sign release forms and put on layer upon layer of warm clothes. Thoroughly swaddled, we waddle over to the slopes to indulge in a bit of playtime.
Possibly the greatest time of the day (or rather, night) to do these activities since there is no waiting time, we try zip-lining, zorbing and tubing. We’re also given a walking tour of the penguin lair where there are no penguins in sight as it’s well past their bedtime. Fun fact: all penguins at Ski Dubai are put to bed by 9.30pm and not woken up until 8am. Oh, and their bedrooms are soundproof. Cute.
The clock strikes midnight and the lights go off, aside from the spotlight on our campsite. We’re taken to our base camp where we must pitch three tents, and where a stack of sleeping bags await us. On the plus, there is a hot chocolate fountain swirling at the Avalanche Café, which is now in our backyard and serving up unlimited nachos and hot cheese for us to snack on. As I pitch my refuge for the night, massive piste bashers and snowploughs take over the slopes with a sound and light show. Even though we’re warned that this will be noisy (after being given earplugs), as the slopes need to be prepared for the next day, the beeping of these machines is a little too loud.
Four hot chocolates later, at 2am, I’m tucked under three sleeping bags and five layers of clothes, and I’m wide awake. The piste bashers’ headlights keep flashing at my tent and the on-site construction sounds from the penguin lair startle me awake every time I drift off.
At 4am – apparently the coldest hour – I envy the penguins and their soundproof situation. The noise is impossible to sleep through (they'll need to fix this before rolling out the camping to all), but at least you’ll peer out of your tent to smooth-as-silk slopes in the morning.
The cold hasn’t been an issue so far, but the noise definitely has. After getting two solid hours of shut-eye, I’m woken up at 7am to be taken to warmer climes, as our time is up. Outside, 40°C has never felt better, and while I thaw for the rest of the day, I remind myself and my ten perfect toes to never complain about the heat again.
It’s an experience, but maybe next time I can sleep with the penguins?
Dhs750, including all equipment, refreshments and two-hour access to the slopes beforehand. Ski Dubai, Mall of the Emirates, www.booking.skidxb.com (800 386).