Ski Dubai is a formidable engineering feat, an incongruous 25-storey structure rising from the Gulf emirate's sands as some 1000 labourers work round the clock building the Middle East's only indoor ski resort and the world's third largest.

The brainchild of Majid al-Futtaim, the mountain-themed resort is being built within his group's billion-dollar Mall of the Emirates, partly to lure people to what will be the third largest shopping centre in the world, and to make it different.

 

In September, the state-of-the-art resort, boasting a slope with an overall length of 400 metres, will allow enthusiasts, beginners or those merely curious, to experience real snow, complete with falling snow flakes and a log fire under sky blue panels to give the ideal outdoor effect.

 

And all this as temperatures outside soar.

 

Winter activities

 

"This isn't just about skiing but an opportunity to introduce winter activities and snow play to a lot of people that have never seen snow before in their lives," said Phil Taylor, Ski Dubai's chief executive.

 

The resort will feature five trails
of varying gradients

"We're really trying to introduce people to winter sports and fun in a way they have never had an opportunity to experience before in the region", he told AFP.

 

The resort will feature five different trails of varying gradients. The slope itself is not straight but with a 60-degree bend.

 

Steep areas necessitated building sections of the slope in steps, compared to the majority of it being built on a smooth profile, "because there's actually a risk of an avalanche if we weren't careful," he said.

 

"It's quite amazing to be tackling these sorts of problems and challenges here in Dubai," said Taylor, no stranger to huge projects, including the London Eye observation wheel.

 

Tourist attraction

 

The resort will feature a midway cafe while the space underneath the slope will be used for the changing rooms and an outdoor play area, with hills for sliding and tobogganing, as well as an ice cavern. There will also be a snowboard stunt park and 90-metre-long quarter-pipe.

 

"We're hoping that for people familiar with skiing it's a novelty factor to have been able to go skiing in the morning and sunbathing in the afternoon"

Phil Taylor,
Ski Dubai chief executive

"Dubai is growing rapidly which is really creating an opportunity for an attraction like this," said Taylor, adding that Ski Dubai will target an equal mix of residents and tourists, some five million of whom visited the bustling emirate in 2004.

 

"We're hoping that for people familiar with skiing it's a novelty factor to have been able to go skiing in the morning and sunbathing in the afternoon," he said.

 

"It's a great place to polish your skills if you're going on a winter holiday or planning one, or if you want to learn to ski, because we control the conditions and have a team of professional instructors, it's perfect for learners.

 

"We really have got this opportunity to be both a sports facility at one end of the scale and pure play and fun at the other," Taylor said.

 

Real snow

 

Ski Dubai, covering an area of 22,500 square metres, or the equivalent of three football fields, will use 6000 tons of real snow settling 50 centimetres thick. It will have a capacity of 1500 people at any one time while the objective is to try and attract 500,000 visitors a year, Taylor said.

 

Thirty tons of fresh snow will be made every night to replenish the slope when the indoor temperature will be reduced from minus one Celsius throughout the day to about minus seven.

 

The slope will be visible from two levels of the mall and four floors of the adjoining Kempinski Hotel.

 

A professional team of instructors and staff will be on hand from countries including France, Lebanon, the Netherlands, South Africa and the United States.

 

"One of the things that we've really tried to put quite a lot of emphasis on is that ... coming inside is an experience. Ski Dubai has got so much more to offer than just skiing," said Taylor.