x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

'Indoor slopes could nurture UAE champ'

A twice Olympic silver medallist explains why Ski Dubai is the perfect training ground for a new generation of champion snowboarders

Danny Kass, who has bagged two Olympic medals and now owns a clothing brand, shows off his slope skills at Ski Dubai.
Danny Kass, who has bagged two Olympic medals and now owns a clothing brand, shows off his slope skills at Ski Dubai.

DUBAI // An Olympic medallist believes a top snowboarder could come from the UAE - even while practising on the simulated slopes of Ski Dubai.

Danny Kass, who won silver medals at two Winter Olympics, said the indoor winter wonderland was a perfect training ground for young hopefuls.

"The snow is a lot better than I expected and it's the same park set-up here as most resorts in the US," he said. "These are the same features you'd find anywhere ... it's actually quiet mind blowing."

Here to judge the Grenade Games snowboarding event, Kass tried out the slopes and said it "was like riding around in a big bowl of ice cream".

"It's really similar to some of the conditions I grew up snowboarding on in the US," said the New Jersey native. "There are a lot of small hills with just a few features and its just a similar feel in size."

Ski Dubai, which opened in November 2005, has five slopes of varying difficulty and a 90-metre quarter pipe especially for snowboarders.

"The terrain is different than the real thing," Kass said, noting that mountain slopes have a lot more bumps and routes for riders to practise their skills on. But he did not discount the experience a young hopeful could get.

Riders can hone their skills indoors, but will still have to travel to other parts of the world to gain the skill sets every professional holds, he said.

"Snowboarding is all about travelling and going to different resorts. Coming here and getting on the slopes gives you all the beginner's skills you need to really take your riding to another level. It's definitely beginner to intermediate, but it's really a good training place," Kass said.

And some of the finest slopes are a short flight away.

"There is amazing riding in Iran that is very close to here and lots of people don't know what's around them and how much fun they can have taking part," he said. Lebanon is also a popular destination for snowboarders.

The UAE has had varying levels of success in world-class competitions, and even fielded an ice hockey team in the 2011 Asian Winter Olympics.

Having a place to learn "opens up an opportunity for people to take advantage of it and compete at a world level", he added.

Kass, who started snowboarding at 12, said the Emirates have no excuse for not producing international competitors.

"It's exciting to see kids who get to experience the same things we do back home and we should encourage kids to take part in this who could compete in the Olympics. They have the facilities here and the world-class level is calling," said Kass, 28, who is now an entrepreneur with his own brand of extreme clothing.

William John Davids, a 15-year-old Australian, learnt how to snowboard at Ski Dubai two years ago. He said the standard of young Emirati snowboarders has vastly improved and he could easily imagine a local entry in the Winter Olympics.

"If the generation now at Ski Dubai keep going the way they are going now for the next 10 to 15 years there's nothing from stopping them from going professional," William said.

The standard of snowboarding in general is a testament to the indoor slope, which he said is not as good as the real thing but close enough.

"When most people started when I did, two years ago, they were pumped up. If you did a 360 you were sweet a few years ago. Now everyone can do them," he said.

Kass said what would help those get ahead in the sport was a positive attitude by the ski park.

"It's really open to snowboarders coming from other countries," Kass said. "You can do anything you want to do here in this winter wonderland."

eharnan@thenational.ae