Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Desert Skiing - 30 Hours in Dubai

Ski Dubai?  Yes please.
In November, sitting in our Buenos Aires apartment, we were drawing up our plans for the beginning of 2011.  As is our custom we played around on Kayak, looking for cheap flights to the general regions of the world we hoped to visit. Because the primary goal was to visit Egypt the entire pre-revolution Middle-East was in play.  The best (read: cheapest) flight we could find had the interesting routing of Port Elizabeth, Johannesburg, Dubai, Amman, and then finally to Cairo.  Always ready for an adventure, we decided each of those places, save Johannesburg, was sufficient interesting for a visit, and we - actually Meri, thanks! - booked us two one-way tickets out of Africa and into the Middle East.

A delightful flight on Emirates Airlines - hello 250+ movies, entire seasons of television show, and believe it or not, delicious food - landed us in Dubai for a 30 hour stop-over.  Although aware of the gulf state's wealth, its extent became apparent when we arrived in the glittering, casino-like marble palace that was the Dubai international airport.  The city-state held many promising activities for us: the most important, obviously, was the opportunity to ski, indoors, in the desert, the others were to take a dhow (a rickety, semi sea-worthy boat) to the old gold souk (market), have a drink at the Burj al Arab, the world's only (self-designated) seven star hotel, check out the world's tallest building at the Dubai Mall, and of course, meet the Slomaks for a delightful thai buffet dinner (we coincidentally overlapped with the Slomaks for one night in Dubai, how fun!)  Pretty much your typical 30 hour Dubai layover.

As is the Meshkov custom, we selected our hotel based on its proximity to the slopes. Because the slopes in Dubai are in the Mall of the Emirates, that is where we stayed.  So, at ten AM, when the doors of Ski Dubai opened, we were there.  Because it was not a powder morning, when the doors opened we were actually having a (mediocre) coffee, but as soon as we finished our coffees we strolled in to buy a two-hour lift pass, that included: skis, poles, boots, socks, ski jacket, and ski pants.  The pass did not include hats, gloves, or underwear. Thankfully, we had recently done all our wash, so underwear was not something we needed to rent...

Look at those handsome matching his & hers outfits.
If you look closely you can see that the entire suit closes with snaps, which lack both warmth and strength.

After donning our matching Ski Dubai uniforms we collected our low-performance skis and boots and (taking a move from the Beaver Creek playbook) headed up the escalators to the actual slopes.  At the top of the escalators is a staging area and a large revolving door to the "snow area."  Remember, everything is inside, so the dressing and ski rental area is nice and warm.  As we shuffled through the revolving door, however, the cold air hit us with a blast.  And just like that, in the middle of the desert, we were standing at the base of Ski Dubai.  two hundred and seventy eight vertical feet of skiing - including a beginner, intermediate, and expert run - accessed by chair-lift or poma. The ceiling was lined with industrial-sized air conditioners and gymnasium-style lighting, but it was fairly quiet and the overall setting was that blue-gray sky of a slightly overcast ski day.

The view of the slopes
from the Emirates Mall.
Who doesn't love escalators
to the ski slopes?
The staging area.  The revolving door leads to the slopes.

This was exciting.

Chairlift self-portrait.
First, we had the on-mountain photographer take a few shots of us in our Ski Dubai gear.  Tip: whether you are skiing indoors or outside, in the Rockies, Alps, or Gulf Coast, its always best to get the pictures taken first thing, and then you can focus on skiing.  Next we headed for the chair lift for the the quick ride to the top.  There, we tightened our boots, cinched our Ski Dubai pants, and away we went.

The structure of the building is such that from the skiers perspective, the run is gentle on the left side (i.e. for beginners) and more challenging on the right. This also means that there is a slight double fall-line. At the mid-mountain lodge, that's right, there is a full service mid-mountain lodge on the run, the trial splits and remains intermediate on the skier's left, but drops into a steeper "advanced" run on the right.  This is where spent most of our time.

Me "resting" halfway down the run.
The skiing itself was fun, each run took about 30 seconds to get down and the ride up either 3-4 minutes on the chair or 2 minutes on the poma. The poma interestedly, was built to go up the expert side of the run, and  it was steep!  In places deep ruts had formed so you would basically come to a complete stop, and only when the poma was fully stretched out would you lurch forward and continue up the hill.  Riding the poma was the only place any Meshkov fell while skiing in Dubai.

After an hour and a half of our two hours of skiing we were getting a bit cold, a perfect opportunity to try the hot choco in the mid-mountain lodge. Taking another play from the Vail/BC book, the hot chocolate cost $6, but at least it had heaps of whipped cream and M&M's on it.

Jesse savors every sip of her
most expensive hot choco ever.
The mid-mountain Avalanche Cafe.
As our minutes ticked away (each time you passed through the lift line it flashed your remaining minutes), the urgency to squeeze in as many final runs grew stronger and stronger, or at least, this was the case for one of us....  With 12 minutes to go we should have been able to get three more runs on the poma.   We raced down the expert slope and flew through the gates for a second to last run.  I was first on the poma, with Jesse close behind.  As we were pulled up the hill, I was busily calculating whether in fact, I might be able to somehow get one more run, if I skied extra fast.  At the top, however, Jesse was nowhere to been seen!  In the pressure to make the final runs she had never fully situated herself properly on the poma, and rather than being pulled up by the seat, she was valiantly, but ultimately unsuccessfully, holding on with only one hand!  After a good fight, she let go and drifted back to the base where she had to wait to re-enter the line.  Seeing that we had separated I raced to bottom to make my last run.  As I entered the queue for the final time my pass read 1 minute remaining, and Jesse was only halfway up the poma, not knowing whether she would have enough time to get her 3 final runs.  Because she is a Meshkov she did not wait for me at the top, but instead bombed down in an effort to get one more run!!!  It was such a proud moment for me.  Thirty seconds later she was at the bottom, blocked behind an unmoving turnstile that flashed, TIME EXPIRED, TIME EXPIRED.  Back at the top, I also knew I was on my last run.  With large carving turns I covered the entire width of the trail on my final run, drinking in the first, and possibly last time I ski indoors in the desert.

Racing down for one more run.  Although all the skiers wore the same outfit,
it was always easy for Jesse to spot me amongst all the other Middle-Eastern skiers...
I mean, look at that form.  
With expired passes we head back to the revolving doors and left the winter wonderland, dropped our skis, boots and ski suits and headed back to the mall, where we checked out the gold vending machine - it sells bars of gold like vending machines in the States sell bars of candy - and headed to one of the four Starbucks for some free wi-fi.

What do you do if a gold vending machine malfunctions?

From the mall we took the Metro to the creek where we cruised the gold souk and took a traditional dhow (pre-oil-wealth means of transportation).

Dhow on the Dubai creek.

In the old Gold Souk.

After that we headed to the Burj al Arab for our cocktail.  Because you need a reservation at a bar or restaurant to even get on the hotel grounds (and there are many people standing at the gate just looking at the hotel), we booked their most modest cocktail package - $80 per person for two drinks and two apps.  Once we got in, however, we deemed the bar where we had a reservation did not justify the price, and canceled. Thankfully, they did not levy any cancellation charge on us, and since we were in the hotel, we were free to go about as we like. The hotel, as expected, was over the top.  Everything was big, gold and gaudy. 

Burj al Arab from the outside.

Burj al Arab from the inside

Nonetheless, we sat and watched the excellent fountain show, and then made our way back to the Dubai Mall, to see another spectacular fountain show, the tallest building in the world, and a truly ridiculous mall that included, among other things: an aquarium and underwater zoo, ice skating rink, sega adventure park, kid zone adventure park, 22-screen movie theater, gold souk, over 150 restaurants, over 1000 shops, and 5 department stores. According to the Dubai Mall, "The Dubai Mall is the world's largest shopping, leisure and entertainment destination."  Whatever that means.

A acquarium in the Dubai Mall where you can dive with all sorts of
marine life, including eels, sting rays, and big sharks!
The most cool.  Wish we could have done that.
Also, fun fact: The aquarium is in the Guinness Book of World Records for
"the largest single acrylic panel in the world."

Most of our time in the mall was spent surreptitiousness emailing with the Slomaks from various electronic stores to see 1) had they landed, 2) did they want to meet, and 3) when. The conversations in the stores went like this:

JLM to Salesman: Oh does this computer do email?  Can I look at my email on it?
Salesman: Sure (opening up an Internet browser).  What other questions do you have?
JLM: What other colors does it come in?  Which do you have in stock, in the back?
Salesman: Hold on, I will have to check
JLM: Take your time, I will just see how well this computer can handle gmail...

Tallest building in the world.
Pretty cool.
Light & fountain show in front of the tallest building in the world, set to Thriller.
Even cooler.
From there we headed to the Hyatt to meet the Slomaks for a delightful dinner.
And after that, back to our mall hotel before an early morning flight to Amman, Jordan.

Dubai by night.

You can see the rest of our Duabi photos by clicking here.

Highly recommended.

Stay closer the airport, Ski Dubai is slightly away from the main part of town, but easily reached on the metro.

The light show at the Dubai Mall was great, 100% worth seeing


  1. were those christmas trees i spotted in the mall photo?

  2. Not a powder morning huh? Bummer, maybe you were there at the wrong time of year. They need to take more cues from the BC/Vail ski-book and have fresh choco chip cookies at the base.

  3. People who don't travel cannot have a global view, all they see is what's in front of them. Flights to delhi

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