x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Skiing in the desert seems a cool way to beat the coming heat

Ice cream or snow? The choice appears to be between licking and sliding but why not choose both?

With summer soon to set in, ice cream parlours are beginning to look increasingly tempting. I was heading towards one in the Mall of the Emirates the other day, watching the just-visible slopes of Ski Dubai, and suddenly, a skiing session felt like a much healthier, more entertaining option than gobbling up ice cream to beat the heat.

The thrill of whooshing downhill on a pair of skis, the wind whistling in your ears, is pretty much incomparable - especially if you live in Dubai, blessed with thick snow all year round. I bet there are very few other places in the world where you can be skiing or snowboarding in thick powder one minute, and the next indulging in some dune-bashing a few kilometres away.

Skiing is one of the trickier sports to manage. You can't just step outside in your polo shirt and shorts and start running. You need to find yourself skis and poles, for one, and then there are snowsuits, boots, beanies, gloves and helmets to take into account. Unless you have the good fortune to live next door to an artificial facility, you'll have to make quite an effort to find a suitable place to do the skiing.

While the taxi fare to Mall of the Emirates and the snow pass do burn a pretty deep hole in your pocket, and more so in the case of the financially deprived social group we call teenagers, Ski Dubai is a popular hangout spot among Dubai's young people. If there's one thing a teenager likes, it's an adrenalin rush.

"There are so many of these kids," was the opinion of a tourist I fell into conversation with on the chairlift, "and they just hurtle down knocking everyone over - it's insane."

I suppose we do just that sometimes, but in our defence, isn't that what the slopes are there for - to hurtle down? Experience gradually teaches you to listen out for and avoid the people who consider themselves beanie-sporting bowling balls and everyone else the pins.

Snowboarding, meanwhile, especially for quite a few teenage boys, is not merely a sport; it's a different way of life altogether, with its own indecipherable language which includes expressions such as "alien lid" (a rider wearing a helmet). Here in Dubai, the sartorial trend among snowboarders seems to be wearing a shirt that is at least five times your size and reaches down to your knees, a board with as many ostentatious motifs painted on it as it can fit, and lurid, fluorescent trousers that might fit in against the backdrop of a particularly colourful tropical rainforest, but nowhere else.

Skiing, in comparison, is slightly less cool but still earns respect if you manage gravity-defying tricks on the boxes that have the potential to land you in hospital with more than just a few broken bones. While the most I can do are the little jumps, I think they're enough to be getting on with. More often than not, I fall well after I've cleared a jump - not because I didn't land properly, but because I'm so flushed with triumph I forget to look where I'm going and barrel into the fence.

The Ski and Snowboard Academy (SSA) at Ski Dubai held a slalom competition a while ago, which was an interesting experience, to say the least. There was quite a long period of waiting at the top of the slope as all the children in the lower category went first and had their times recorded. My competitors all took their skiing quite seriously, going through a series of stretching and aerobic exercises as they waited, which I tried to copy. This wasn't too successful because I kept toppling over as I tried to touch my toes, encased in massive ski boots, so I gave up eventually. It was much more entertaining watching the antics of the 20-odd kids in the category below: in the time span of about 15 minutes they had sustained a couple of injuries among them, stolen the coach's hat, pelted each other with snowballs, lost a ski or two, and were all fencing with each other using their poles as rapiers.

When we finally came to it, the competition went well enough, with a silver medal as the icing on the cake and a scrumptious hot chocolate from cosy Avalanche Cafe - my coach's treat.

Summer? What summer?

The writer is a 15-year-old student in Dubai