By Molly Loomis
Forgetting socks usually isn’t an issue when going skiing—they’re on when I leave the house. But I’m wearing sandals. It’s 90 degrees outside. Thank God I’m skiing in a shopping mall. Buying socks shouldn’t be a problem.
Shopping mall skiing is nothing new. Since 1987 when the world’s first indoor ski area opened in Australia, thirty-seven indoor resorts have been built and another twenty-one are slated for construction. But Ski Dubai is the first of its kind.
In a city addicted to superlatives, like the world’s tallest building and biggest shopping mall, Ski Dubai boasts the world’s first indoor black diamond ski run. Inside Ski Dubai’s lobby, women in long black robes, headscarves and henna painted hands size skiers up for their rental uniforms. (I’m handed a pair of thick black socks. Apparently I’m not the first.)
A massive revolving door transports us fifteen degrees north. Twenty-three air conditioners that keep Ski Dubai’s 22,500 square feet of snow a cool 28 degrees, are all part of a multi-million dollar mirage that’s surprisingly convincing— persuasive enough that the women’s German National Team even trained here. A mid-mountain chalet surrounded by plastic pines, a terrain park and ski photographer waiting at the base, all add to the illusion for marooned ex-pats longing for their beloved Alps and Rockies; tourists from parts of Arabia that really don’t have snow and Dubaian kids bored with the beach. (Sidenote: This winter, the U.S.’s first indoor ski area will open in New Jersey—a state where it actually snows—and four more are slated for construction.)
“It’s crazy to think about riding when you are surrounded by camels, sand and 50 degree Celcius [temperatures], but I’m just super stoked that I’m able to ride as much as I want, even though we are in the middle of the desert,” says Tobias Illeris. Born in Denmark, Illeris has lived in Dubai for four years. He’s been working on perfecting his backflip and visits Ski Dubai almost every day. K2 took note and last year started sponsoring a team.
Despite its location in a 6.5 million square foot shopping mall, Ski Dubai does its best to meet industry standards. Many of the ski instructors are certified in Europe. Ski patrollers must have Outdoor Emergency Care certification, and of course they practice chairlift evacuations. Tartar Tampubolon, who is among the world’s few Indonesian patrollers, says most of the injuries are dislocations—young guys trying to do tricks.
Artimity, a former Russian Junior National Ski Champion, weaves across the slope practicing “French fries” and “pizza” with a herd of ex-pats’ kids. Once Artimity worked all night on the Piston Bully sculpting a section of cruiser corduroy into moguls.
“It didn’t work so well,” he says. “The snow didn’t hold up and the skiers destroyed them. They really aren’t good enough.”
Despite the lack of challenging terrain (the token “black diamond” is about 100 feet long), Artimity likes Ski Dubai’s consistency. He works year round and is paid a decent wage regardless if he has clients. Plus, the ski instructors are regularly sent to Austria to train. What Artimity doesn’t mention is the consistency of everything else—the florescent lights’ green glare, the temperature, the conditions, the soundtrack.
But even so, watching groms practice rail slides, Mighty Mites speeding out of control, feeling my cheeks turn pink from the cold—for a second Ski Dubai makes sense. Maybe something is better than nothing, even if it’s just a smidge.
We approach the top of the lift. A vigilant liftie whistles at us as we raise the safety bar a second too soon. A giant mural of smiling skiers carving down a powder slope CMH-style, greets us with the reassuring slogan: “This Is All You Need.”
“This would just depress me,” says my lift-mate Andy, who, like me, is from the Tetons.
I push off the lift and onto a centimeter of dust that feels like crushed Styrofoam. Below that it’s hard, more like plastic than ice. I stare down the piste, still not convinced it’s an expert run. Shoppers smacking on ice cream cones watch us through the windows down slope. Suddenly, I’m homesick.
Back in the lobby, I strip to my street clothes and toss my ski suit in a laundry bin. I hold up my rental socks. The attendant points to a trash can. Apparently, when you’re consuming 3,500 barrels of oil each day, socks are inconsequential.
Outside, the après options are overwhelming—everything from slope side, five-star dining to food-court fare. Slurping green curry, I wonder how the growing popularity of these carbon hogs is helping create a future where indoor skiing may increasingly become the only option. Then the shopping mall’s imam answers, sounding the call to prayer.