Sandboarding and snowboarding in the same day!
That was the plan for Dubai, the United Arab Emirates' hyper growth metropolis. Where else in the world can one accomplish such a feat?
The Mall of the Emirates proudly boasts the city's world famous indoor ski hill, 'Ski Dubai'. We could easily sort out the snowboarding half; it was the sandboarding that would be a challenge.
It is very hot in the city of Dubai. It's even hotter in the desert. We would need to sandboard in the evening when the sand was cooler, or at least not scalding hot. We found a tour that would take us to the desert and included a camel ride and barbeque dinner… but like most things in Dubai it was very expensive. Nevertheless, we were onboard and keen to accomplish this once-in-a-lifetime goal.
Then a curveball was thrown at us… Ramadan.
Ramadan is the Islamic month of fasting in which Muslims abstain from eating, drinking and smoking from dusk until dawn. Translation - everything in the UAE was basically closed and we were not able to eat or drink in public. Poor timing on our part, but that's just a part of traveling around the globe.
Ramadan threw a big kink into our plans because the indoor ski hill did not open until 2:00 pm. The tour that would take us to the desert departed at 3:30pm.
It would not be possible to do both activities in one day during this Muslim holy month. A new plan was needed.
We were disappointed that we wouldn't be able to do both board sports in one day, but we were in the luxurious city of Dubai so we got over it very quickly. We had already gone sandboarding in Peru earlier in the journey, so we decided that the indoor snowboarding would take priority. After all, when would we ever get an opportunity to snowboard in the desert again?
Eventually we ended up chopping the sandboarding and camel riding altogether because we visit Jordan and Egypt later in the journey.
We made the choice to go snowboarding while we were visiting the flamboyant Mall of the Emirates. While cruising through this spectacular mall we visited Ski Dubai, intending to only do a price check and inquire about gear rentals (obviously we hadn't packed our full snowboard equipment). But when we learned of the Ramadan limitations we called an audible and changed the day's agenda. It was almost 2:00 pm and we were literally standing behind the glass looking at the ski hill… why not just go right now?
We were getting very hungry and knew that we would need food before an afternoon of snowboarding. This was going to be a problem. Nothing was open.
We saw two men walking in the mall with McDonald's bags… and their French fries smelled really good. We approached them and asked, "Where did you find the McDonalds?" They were expats living in Dubai.
They replied, "You can buy the food over there, but if you are caught eating in public you can get a hefty fine. It is highly frowned upon and disrespectful during Ramadan".
Then they asked, "Do you have a car or hotel nearby?" We did not.
Apparently it's okay to eat in your car because it's not considered the general public. The whole situation seemed so odd to us, but we were in the United Arab Emirates and needed to follow its rules… no matter how strange it seemed.
We didn't want to offend anyone, but we needed food. Taking the train all the way to our apartment just to turn around and come back again seemed redundant and unnecessary.
So we came up with a plan. We would hide.
We found the McDonald's easily enough. It was thankfully open to take-out orders only. Cameron ordered a Chicken Big Mac, a burger not on the North American menu (we enjoy trying McD's in foreign countries… don't judge us). We were handed a large bag with everything in it, including our drinks. This was to hide the contents from fasting Muslims so that we didn't tempt them.
We quickly walked to the most logical hiding place… the mall's massive multi-level parking lot!
We hid behind a few large vehicles and sat on the concrete curb. We proceeded to shovel the food into our mouths and slurped our Coke as fast as we could without choking, peaking up and down periodically. We didn't want anyone to see us. The whole incident was hilarious and had us giggling. It felt like we were teenagers in high school, sneaking behind the portable to smoke a joint. Who does this at 31 years old?
We felt like criminals… hiding in a dirty mall parking lot eating a Big Mac!
After wolfing down our food we were ready to crank it up and hit the ski hill. It had been a long time since we went snowboarding in British Columbia and we were excited to sample this truly unique 'mountain terrain'. Luckily Ski Dubai has everything covered. We showed up in shorts (Nicole had a skirt), T-shirts and open-toed flip flops. We entered the hill fully geared and ready to ride.
The process was simple. We were given jackets, pants, socks, boots and helmets before getting our adjusted snowboards (although we had to buy our own gloves, about US $3 from the attached retail store).
After gearing up we eagerly headed to the… escalator? Yes, you heard correctly… an escalator. We had one of those "this is so bizarre" moments. There we were, dressed in full winter apparel and ready to snowboard… standing on an escalator as it slowly lifted us to a revolving door, the entrance to an extravagant manmade winter wonderland. Only in Dubai!
We entered the ski hill and were immediately greeted by a gust of cold air. The building was set at minus four degrees, a drastic change in temperature from the 42 degrees outside.
The hill was pretty empty, likely because of Ramadan. We were given three hours of chair lift time instead of the usual two hours (a Ramadan promotion). You pay for the amount of time spent on the hill. Everything is monitored by an electronic card that each customer is given. You swipe the card before boarding the chair lift and it allows you to pass through a gate, also displaying how much time you have remaining on the account… a very high tech and efficient system.
The ski hill wasn't too bad. Although the runs were quite short and nothing like we're used to, it was still a lot of fun. It's the only ski hill we've ever been on where we didn't have to check the weather report first!
Ski Dubai did a great job of capturing the mountain atmosphere with fake props and winter lodges with fireplaces. It had a few rails and a couple big booters for the freestyle rider, and the snow quality was actually pretty good considering it was manufactured. There was even a 'mid-station café' halfway up the chairlift.
We've attached some photos to give you an idea of what it looked like.
We were thoroughly impressed… we actually went snowboarding in the desert! It was a truly unique experience.
September 16th, 2009