It’s a hot and humid 92 degrees in Dubai as I head for the Mall of the Emirates, a 2,400,352-square-foot behemoth with the first indoor ski run in the Middle East, “Ski Dubai.” The huge dome offers five runs including the world’s first indoor black diamond run with a 200-foot drop.
I haven’t skied in ten years, but it doesn’t matter if I make a fool of myself, because no one knows me here. I buy a 2-hour $40 ticket that includes ski jacket, snow pants, boots, socks (mine to keep), and skis. There are no other women or tourists in the co-ed locker room. Nearby, two men expertly stuff the skirts of their long white jelabas into their snow pants. I slip the outfit on over my clothes, then clomp to the escalator leading to the bottom of the run.
A revolving door opens into the huge cold (32 degrees F) ski dome. My outfit matches those of the few men skiing the slope, and I feel as though we’re the Dubai ski team. Except for the blueish light that makes me feel as though I’m inside a fridge, this resembles a normal ski slope. I snap into my bindings and an Arab attendant directs me to the double chairlift. I watch a snowboarder carve graceful turns down the slope when I reach the lift’s mid-station.
An attendant calls out to me in Arabic. What have I done wrong? Now he’s screaming. Finally, he pantomimes that I should pull down the safety bar.
I look down from the top of the 1,300-foot black run and freeze. This is really steep and it’s been so long, I barely remember how to turn. There’s no way to get back on the chairlift. I’m stuck getting down the slope, even if it means sliding on my backside.
I start down slowly as two teenaged snowboarders fly past me. What if someone plows into me and I break a leg? What if they don’t speak English in the hospital? Thirty-five years ago, when I was young, fearless and cocky, there wasn’t a run too steep or a bump too big. Now, I’m terrified. I take a deep breath and push off, traverse across and within seconds, am at the edge. I have no choice but to turn. I panic. My legs splay out in a snowplow, and I slide around to the opposite direction. Three Arab men fly past on skiis. Then two more. Everyone looks like an expert. I feel like an idiot.
I make snowplow turns until I have enough confidence to plant my pole and make a parallel turn. Yes! It’s all coming back. I pick up speed and don’t stop until I reach the midway station. From the glass windows in the restaurants overlooking the slope people are waving to me. Oh my God! I’m on display! I give a feeble wave back.
After catching my breath, I start out again, I feel smoother, almost fluid, and I remember why I loved to ski. I get to the bottom of the slope, thinking about how I waited all last winter for it to become spring and summer so I could bike and run outdoors. Suddenly, I’m thrilled winter is almost here, because then I can tear off to the slopes – outdoors and much closer to home.