Ski Dubai

This hospitality and banking center of the Middle East continues to astound By: Jim Calio
The beginners' slope at Ski Dubai  // © 2010
The beginners' slope at Ski Dubai  // © 2010

The Details

Outside, it’s a sun-baked 90 degrees, and even the palm trees that line the parking lot aren’t moving. Inside, however, it’s a different story: People are bundled up in black parkas, skiing down a 437-yard-long slope (four football fields, plus) at Ski Dubai, the city’s monster indoor ski park.

“If you close your eyes and imagine you are in Switzerland or even Aspen, you wouldn’t be too far off the mark,” says one visitor from the U.S. “This is simply amazing.”

“Amazing” is what Dubai seems to specialize in, from the size of its buildings to the scope of its ambitions. Once a sleepy backwater, one of seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Dubai, with a population of 1.8 million, has become a financial and celebrity oasis on the horn of the Arabian Peninsula — a place where the rich and famous come to live and play.

It’s also one of the world’s most important banking centers, with its sister emirate, Abu Dhabi, providing much of the capital in the form of oil revenues, despite the recent downturn in the world economy.

But the look of Dubai is nothing if not stunning. From the air, you can see the collision of sand and sea under a usually cloudless sky; the signature Burj Al Arab Hotel, with its sail-like structure, stands out along the coastline; and the artificial archipelago that juts out into the ocean in the shape of a palm tree, with the “fronds” the site of some of Dubai’s most expensive real estate.

This city-state also boasts one of the world’s largest malls, appropriately named the Mall of the Emirates, and in January the 160-story, needle-like Burj Dubai, the world’s tallest building, opened amid a huge display of fireworks. It will house both commercial and residential tenants.

But nothing quite matches the audacity of building a ski slope in the middle of the desert.

Ski Dubai, which cost $275 million to construct, opened in 2005. It boasts five ski runs of varying steepness and a chairlift that reaches to the top, 25 stories above ground. (Developers claim that it’s the first indoor ski slope with a “black diamond” run.) There’s even a quarter-pipe for snowboarders, sledding runs for the less daring and a play area for kids with a snowball shooting gallery, ice cave and 3-D theater.

The complex covers 5½ acres and can accommodate up to 1500 visitors at a time. The temperature inside it kept at a chilly 28 degrees, but at night it’s lowered even further to allow artificial snow machines to do their work.

From the bottom, if you look up the slopes, it appears to be a paradise for night skiers, the white snow stretching up and out of sight and the lights in the huge canopied ceiling spread out like stars.

The price of admission is reasonable, at least by Dubai standards: $27 for admission to the facility ($24 for children). Access to the ski slopes is more: $49 for adults and $40 for children for a two-hour pass during peak times.

But a lot of visitors and locals, some dressed in sandals and traditional Arab robes and head coverings, choose instead to sit in one of the faux-Swiss cafes outside the ski runs where a glass partition makes the temperatures a bit more moderate. Sipping hot chocolate and looking at posters of Gstaad may not be the best way to enjoy the slopes, but it’s all part of the experience.

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