Skiing in the Desert

Here is the blog you have all been waiting for. OK, that is probably an exaggeration, but there is a particular subset of my friends back in Canada who insisted that I visit Ski Dubai while I was here. I found their curiosity to be odd, because they are all very good skiers who have done hundreds of run on mountains like Whistler and Blackcomb. They have outrun avalanches on mountains in Europe, and yet they still wanted a detailed ski report the slopes that have been built inside a mall in the desert.

Entrance to Ski DubaiOn Saturday morning I headed to the Mall of the Emirates to go skiing. I dressed in the warmest clothes I had here which were a pair of Adidas track pants and a golf shirt. There were five of us in total going to ski: my colleague Giovanni, his daughter Cristina, and another colleague’s children, Ulkar and Sanan. Giovanni had been skiing once in his life, Cristina had been twice, and Ulkar and Sanan had never skied before. I have been skiing since I was three years old, but I have not been on skis much in the past 14 years. However, I did go skiing twice last Christmas with my 3 1/2 year old nephew. I grew up skiing on small hills in central Ontario, but I have taken trips to several mountains in British Columbia, including Blackcomb, Lake Louise, Red Mountain, and Fernie. However, driving to the ski hill in 30 degree weather – 30 degrees Celsius, not Fahrenheit – was just a bit surreal.

I had been warned that although you are given snow pants and a ski jacket to wear, you are not provided with gloves or a hat. Of course, there is a shop beside the ticket booth that sells hats and gloves with the Ski Dubai logo. Ski Dubai beanies and gloves signI knew I would definitely need gloves for going up the tow, and I bought a hat because I thought it would be a nice souvenir. As a group we scattered a bit when we first arrived because everyone was looking for hats and gloves. I had two coupons that were 2-for-1 tickets. We all got our tickets which were actually plastic RFID cards, and we headed into the clothing and equipment area.

We had to line up and get the ski pants and ski jackets. They did not ask our sizes, but just handed us each our clothing. I had to go back to get a larger size of pants, but everyone else seemed to be ok. The next stop was to get our boots; they also supplied socks here. All of the sizes here are European, but fortunately with my rampant shoe shopping experience here in Dubai, I knew my size. We all went back to the bench area where we had been getting dressed and put on our pants, jackets, and boots. The next step was to get our skis. Of course they needed one of our boots to set the binding properly. I felt silly not realizing that before I had put on my boots – my father used to run a ski hill and I had seen him set up people in equipment hundreds of times. We all took off one of our boots and handed it to the person who would fit our skis. We had to stand on a scale (thank goodness it was in kilograms so the number doesn’t look as big) and the attendant asked if I was a good skier. I knew that he was asking to determine how long my skis should be. He picked out a pair of skis and set the bindings. Each of the other people in our group went up to get their skis too. They all said they were beginners, and they were definitely given shorter skis (relatively speaking). We were told that the poles were upstairs, which meant we were almost ready to ski.

This whole process had taken about an hour from the time we bought the ticket. Our ticket was for two hours, which I assumed (or desperately hoped) did not include the time it took to get dressed. Once we had everything gathered, we headed through a turnstile that read the RFID card we had been given when we bought the tickets. There was a zippered pocket in the arm of the jacket where the card could be stored while you were skiing. We took the escalator up one floor to where the poles were, and then we headed through the door to the slopes of Ski Dubai.

The first thing that I noticed is that it was cold. The second thing that I noticed is that it was dark. It was like skiing in very flat light, late in the afternoon of a day that had a cloud-filled sky. View from the top of Ski Dubai When I had peeked through the window from the mall, I saw a pomalift near the left wall. I thought this was probably where the beginner hill was. It took a few minutes for everyone to get in the door and get their skis on. I headed towards the chairlift because the pomalift was on the other side. There was a line of scanners, similar to what you would see at an airport, that checked the RFID card in your jacket as you tried to get to the chairlift. If you still had time, you could go through the turnstile and get to the lift. Each time you were scanned, it displayed how much time you had left on the card. When I went through the turnstile, I saw a sign at the bottom of the pomalift which said “Expert Run”. I realized that I was wrong about the beginner hill being there.

I asked an attendant where the beginner hill was. He pointed by the wall that was adjacent to the door where we entered. In the meantime, Cristina, Sanan, and Ulkar had gone through the turnstile. I told them to come back through to the beginner hill so I could teach them how to snowplow. I thought they heard me, and I turned to go back towards the entrance. I told Giovanni that the beginner hill was where we entered, and then looked back for the other three. At that point, I saw that they were lined up for the chair lift. I rushed back over, and Giovanni followed me. I told them to get out of the line, because Sanan and Ulkar had never been on skis before. Unfortunately, it was too late; they were in the process of sitting down on the chairlift. Giovanni and I got in line to get on the lift ourselves. I was hoping that at least they would get off at the halfway point of the hill, which was an option. Unfortunately, they did not, and they continued up to the very top. The good news was, that I could see people riding the chair lift down the hill. I hoped they would realize that they should ride down. As I approached the top, I could see that they had stayed on the chair lift as it turned around at the top. I told Giovanni that I would get off at the top, ski down, and meet them all at the bottom. Then we could go to the beginner hill.

It took very little time to get down the hill. It is not steep, probably between a green run and a blue run, and not long. The chair lift on the other hand was very slow. I had to wait for several minutes for everyone to arrive at the bottom. When I did finally see them, I saw Cristina, Sanan, and Ulkar walking towards me in their boots. I asked them what happened to their skis. They told me that the attendant at the top of the lift took them off before they were allowed to ride down. Giovanni showed up a minute later in the same situation. I asked them how their skis were going to get to the bottom of the hill, and they didn’t know. I asked an attendant to help us recover the skis. He asked what had happened and I told him that these were new skiers, and they accidentally got on the chair lift. I was planning to teach them on the beginner hill before we tried the bigger hill. He told me that he would get the skis from the top, but that I was not allowed to teach new skiers – they had to take lessons from Ski Dubai instructors.

By this time, there were about 15 people and two instructors at the beginner hill. I am not sure if you are supposed to pay for lessons, but the attendant said that we could join in without paying. We retrieved the skis from a ski-patroller who brought them from the top. Cristina, Sanan, and Ulkar joined the lesson. Giovanni decided to wait outside the fenced in beginner hill area, and I said that I would do a few runs while they were taking lessons. I went up to the top again on the chair lift. I could see that they were running skiers through a race course on the pomalift hill. It sounded a bit icy. The ski conditions were fair, not great. The snow had a bit of a strange consistency – very granular. There were no bare spots that I could see, and it was hard packed but not icy. On the edges of the hills, there was a bit more accumulation, and the snow was a bit heavy as you turned through that part of the hill. The people who were skiing on the hill were all beginner or intermediate skiers. There were quite a few people, who were clearly first time skiers, and definitely out of control. Again I was annoyed that I had been prevented from helping the new skiers in our group.

I stopped at the top of the beginner hill to see how the lessons were progressing. Cristina was in one group and Sanan and Ulkar were together in the other group. I had not seen it at first, but there was a magic carpet ski lift alongside the wall. This was the first time I had seen one of these. They are a great idea for a beginner hill. The instructors were only letting one skier down the hill at a time. I watched Cristina go down the hill, and she could snowplow, turn, and stop. I yelled at her that she could go on the main hill, and she left the lesson. The lesson with Sanan and Ulkar was tough to watch. The instructor would go down the hill with one skier, and then climb up the hill for the next skier. This made things really slow. I was annoyed that I wasn’t allowed to teach the new skiers in our group myself. After they went down the hill once, Ulkar and Sanan were just standing at the bottom, without any direction from the instructor. They stood there for a few minutes, and I told them to come out with me. I decided that I would try to teach them myself on the chair lift hill.

I told them to get off at the midpoint of the hill. We all went up the chairlift and everyone got off midway, with their skis on. I took them to the far edge, which had the most gentle slope. I told Ulkar and Sanan that if they got out of control, they just needed to sit down, and they would stop. Cristina and Giovanni skied down the hill without any difficulty. Sanan went next, and he got out of control pretty quickly. I yelled for him to sit down, but all he did was squat down, his body wasn’t touching the snow. Eventually, he crashed about halfway to the bottom. I stayed with Ulkar. I tried to show her a snowplow, and get her to follow me down the hill. She lost control pretty quickly, but ran into the snow fence. That stopped her from going too far down the hill. She took off her skis and was ready to give up. I told her that we could go up to the middle part of the hill and work on a snow plow from there. We climbed back to the middle section of the hill where it flattened out. From there we side-stepped up a bit of the top section of the hill, near the wall. I showed Ulkar how to snowplow, and after a few runs like this she was starting to get it. I asked her if she wanted to try skiing down again, and she said yes. Unfortunately, she headed right for the snow fence again. I got her back up, and then held the tips of her skis while I skied backwards. We did this to the next plateau in the hill. That was the steepest part of the bottom half. Once she had the feel of the snowplow, she was able to get to the bottom herself. We went back up together, and did the same thing down the hill again.

In the meantime, I could see Cristina having a great time going down the hill as we were on the chairlift. I saw Giovanni as well, and he seemed to be doing ok. Sanan was still really struggling, but our paths hadn’t crossed in the last few runs. By the third run with Ulkar, we ended up at the top of the hill with Sanan. Ulkar was ready to try going down the hill herself, so I started to help Sanan. I skied down backwards, and controlled his speed for the first part of the hill. He started to get a feeling for the snowplow as well. Unfortunately, by this time I could see we were only going to get two more runs in. I did one more run with Ulkar and Sanan, and then left them to do my final run from the top of the hill. At this point we ran into Giovanni at the base of the hill, and the two of us went to the top together. Me at  the top of Ski Dubai

Giovanni said that he had really enjoyed the time on the slopes. He had been a bit hesitant in the morning, but he said that the hill was a good size and difficulty for him. I could see that Cristina had been having lots of fun skiing as well. I know that Ulkar felt pretty good about her first skiing experience. I felt a little bit badly for Sanan. I think he was just starting to get it, when we had to leave. We all met at the bottom of the hill and left the slopes. We dropped off our poles at the top of the escalator and the skis at the bottom. Then we went back to the benches area to take off our ski boots, pants, and jackets. I told everyone that one of the best things about skiing was the feeling of taking off your boots. I took off my boots and put on my sandals. I had never done that after skiing. We put the boots on a shelf and our jackets and pants in a big bin. I was getting ready to leave, when I realized I had left my RFID card and some money in my jacket pocket. I rifled through the bin looking for my jacket. I finally found it and recovered the money. You had to take your card back to a machine near the entrance that would give you a deposit refund if you inserted the card. We all got our refunds, and then headed into the mall for lunch.

Overall, I was glad that I went. I can’t say that it was great skiing, but I had fun. If I ever went with beginners again, I would be better prepared. I guess now I have some bragging rights over my friends at home who are all great skiers, and have skied may more adventurous runs than I have, but have never skied in the desert.

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