Dubai's Desert Snowstorm
Author: rob ingram
Photography: ROSS HONEYSETT
Despite my best intentions, I'm back on the piste … And I must say it all seems remarkably familiar. In the St Moritz Café, halfway up the slopes, the bitey fondue of Cantal, Emmental and Gruyère hits the spot, proving that you don't have to drop your culinary standards at altitude. But it's difficult to concentrate on the menu when only metres away zig-zagging snowboarders seem intent on letting no down-hiller reach the bottom intact. I'm thinking this could become the new thing in sadistic video games. No need for another hot chocolate because I had one earlier at the Avalanche Café before I got on the chairlift and, anyway, it's nearly time for lunch in one of the chalets where they serve one of the best Gemüsesuppe (vegetable soup) mit Bratwurst and Speck dishes in all of Dubai. Hang on, Dubai? Yes, Dubai. That makes this piste a bit different. Dubai - virtual reality capital of the world. Dubai, with its harsh desert surrounds and 40C temperatures. Dubai of the 'coming soon' underwater luxury hotel and opera house. Ski Dubai is the world's third-largest indoor ski resort and the biggest enclosed snow park. If you thought skiing in Dubai impossible, you're damned nearly correct because the third-largest indoor ski resort is inside the largest shopping centre outside the US - Mall of the Emirates. To reach the snow park's doors, you have to negotiate however many of the mega-mall's 500,000 shoppers a week who turn up on that day. This at least prepares you for the slalom.
The mall has more than 460 retail outlets, a hyper-market, two levels of Magic Planet family entertainment, a 14-screen cinema complex and 70 restaurants and cafés, but the 'alpine experience' can't be far away when shop names begin changing from Oryx Carpet Bazaar and Sphinx Gifts to include key words such as Aspen, St Moritz, Whistler, Colorado and Zermatt. Mall of the Emirates is the vision of developer Majid Al Futtaim, presumably after a night on strong Arab coffee and neuro-stimulants. His 604,000sqm centre also embraces Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates - a five-star hotel property comprising 393 deluxe rooms, including 15 ski chalets with views over Ski Dubai's slopes. Kempinski is Europe's oldest luxury hotel group. The final syllable in its name is purely coincidental.
At the entrance to Ski Dubai, future stars of the Dubai Olympic ski team queue to hire their equipment. Operators charge rental for jackets, trousers, boots, skis and snowboards (incorporated into ski pass fees), as well as selling gloves and goggles from an exclusive retail outlet in the 'mountain-themed resort'. The somewhat newer Emirates curse of 'image ego', however, has come into play and regulars have taken to turning up with their own top-of-the-line equipment and extreme fashions. Traditional Arab garb is not in evidence on the slopes, though it could be argued that a burqua and balaclava serve pretty much the same purpose.
My guide, herself in line to represent that other great ski nation, Morocco, at the Winter Olympics, remarks that competence appears to exist in inverse relation to ego. She shrugs at a skier approaching us in a high-speed rotating crucifix, and promises that the best accidents are to be seen on freestyle night.
The slopes cover an area equivalent to three football fields with five runs of varying difficulty and length. At its highest point, skiers are at a giddy altitude of nearly 85 metres, but there have been no reports of altitude sickness. Ski nazis patrol the runs and persuasively suggest where your talents will feel most at home.
A team of professional instructors can guide you through a program at any ski level, and there is a separate teaching area for beginners. It has also become the party venue with private kids' party rooms and an ice bar looking out onto the slopes.
Over at the Kempinski Hotel chalets, we huddle around a fake fireplace in air-conditioned comfort as executive chef Eudoxios Doxis Bekris - Greek as it turns out - digs himself deeper into Mittenwald madness with Schweinshax'n mit Apfeln (pork hock with apples) and Sauerbraten mit Bratkartoffeln (marinated roast beef with roast potatoes). The chalet menu is clearly intended to become a powerful weapon in the authenticity of the 'alpine experience'.
My chalet brochure comes with three interim slogans - Alpine Style, Desert Nights; European Après Ski Chic; and Alpine Sleek in the Desert Heat. It promises "commanding views over the wintry pistes of Ski Dubai for desert-weary travellers with all the trimmings of an authentic mountain-side sanctuary".
This desert-weary traveller who entered the country in a 5-series BMW, stepped onto a red carpet at the Kempinski Hotel and hasn't stepped off polished marble ever since, is shown the range of four chalets. Single-level chalets are "designed as a cosy getaway for up to two guests and offer a boutique alpine living experience with inspirational views over the ski slope". There is a generous living area, spacious bedroom, luxurious marble bathroom and service pantry. Internet access, of course, flat-screen TV and DVD. All the trimmings, in fact, of an authentic mountain-side sanctuary.
Duplex ski chalets have views of the slopes extending over two floors, an entry foyer plus all the previous features, and a master bedroom containing a free-standing bathtub, so big that it presumably wouldn't fit into the bathroom.
Two-bedroom grand ski chalets boast an entry foyer leading to a split staircase, butler's pantry, dining table for up to eight and a split-level living area. The two bedrooms each have a free-standing bathtub.
The three-bedroom grand ski chalets are extra quirky. Built over three levels, the first two offer views over the ski slopes; the third has views over the scorching pool deck, Dubai, and the desert skyline - a visual contradiction guaranteed to trigger circadian dysrythmia (jet-lag) in the comfort of your own alpine experience. Again there's dining for eight, but this time three free-standing bathtubs plus three double vanities, separate shower stalls and bidets.
Remember the 1976 movie Logan's Run or, for that matter, Peter Weir's The Truman Show? A world of entire dystopian societies trapped inside enclosed cities of high technology and self-indulgence; the inhabitants believe they live in a world of futuristic convenience whereas … But I digress.
Individually, modesty remains an admirable quality in the personality of most Emirates inhabitants. But the surfeit of investment money and the absence of planning restraint means Dubai has become the embodiment of architectural one-upmanship.
Ski Dubai just happens to be the Emirate state's latest no-expense-spared project. It already has man-made islands shaped like a map of the world and it's building the world's tallest tower. By early next year it will have the world's first underwater luxury hotel with an underwater opera auditorium.
No one is indifferent towards Dubai. Expatriate Australian real estate ace Damien Carew is part of the cosmic - or maybe just comic - energy. "If you are in real estate, this is the place to be," he says.
More than a quarter of the world's construction cranes - around 40,000 - stick out of Dubai's skyline like a porcupine's quills. Biggest development among the big is the Burj Dubai - 166 floors of apartments with a potential population of 35,000 people. They are going to need all the virtual reality they can get.
Carew says that within two years, another 60 tower blocks will open providing housing for 350,000 people. As for the tax-free benefits, he says the economy and cost of living rises are so vigorous, they rub out the tax advantage.
Where does Dubai's lunacy end? Somewhere around the world's highest flagpole, I suspect. So tall, they made the world's biggest flag. The flag was so heavy, it hung limply beside the pole. The answer was a wind turbine to make the flag fly stiffly horizontal. But always in the same direction.
THE FINE PRINT
Etihad Airwaysflies Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from Sydney to Abu Dhabi. The airline offers limousine transfers to Dubai for business and first-class passengers. To book, contact (02) 9231 8644 or visit www.etihadairways.com.
Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates
Double deluxe rooms from $720, or if you're bringing the whole family (and money is not a problem), then go for the three-bedroom grand ski chalets, which sleep up to seven adults and a child, from $14,720. Sheikh Zayed Rd, Al Barsha, Dubai, +971 4 341 0000, www.kempinski-dubai.com.
Ski DubaiRates from $20 for a snow park pass to $90 for an all-day slope pass. Mall of the Emirates, Dubai, +971 4 409 4000, www.skidxb.com.
Al Maz by MomoMoroccan fine dining. Harvey Nichols, Mall of the Emirates, Sheikh Zayed Rd, Dubai, +971 4 409 8877.
Conveniently located inside Ski Dubai (see above) for a quick
coffee between runs.
For hot chocolates and casual European fare stop in at St Moritz
Café in Ski Dubai (see above). There are views over the slopes from
the first floor.
St Moritz Café