Ski Dubai gears up for its biggest challenge yet – the hosting of the 2008 Skiboard World Cup – a spectacular event that has the possibilities of causing an avalanche of interest to snow-borne sports in the emirate.
The three-day World Cup begins on Thursday, and is the first time a major winter sports contest will be held indoors. There will be 14 countries competing in only the second World Cup in this relatively new sport.
Lucas Marchand, Operations Manager Ski Dubai, says the reason they have been so keen to host the event is because it fits perfectly into the vision of their company. He says: "The Majid Al Futtaim group's vision for Ski Dubai was to bring the 'snow' experience to the UAE.
"We wanted to create an authentic mountain feeling in a region where activities such as skiing and snowboarding would otherwise be just a dream. Now, people here can enjoy a whole range of snow-related activities: such as snowballing, sledging, tubing and learning new sports at our snow school.
"Skiboarding is definitely one of these exciting activities and when we met the World Skiboard Association to discuss plans for this year's Skiboard World Cup, we realised we are both involved in promoting the same spirit."
Marius Sprinceana, President and Founder of the World Skiboard Association, admits that Dubai was unanimously chosen as the city as an example to the world to follow.
"The concept of Skiboarding is fun, and needs to be shared by all people," says Sprinceana. "Dubai has a fantastic vision for the future of the whole planet – exactly my concept for Skiboarding.
"Ski Dubai is the most suitable venue and it fits in perfectly with the whole global warming issue that is so much in the media these days.
"Last year, ski resorts had problems with the snow, the winter was very warm so the snow melted and so we thought for the future we need to look at indoor venues – and we realised what could be better than an indoor venue that is in the desert. What people are going to see, is the beauty of Skiboarding as well as Dubai offering the alternatives. People will realise they do not have to stay and get stuck on the ski resorts, Dubai offers the perfect example that humans can do more and adapt to conditions."
Skiboarding became popular at the X-Games in America in 1999 and competitions in the sport have been held around the world since then, but last year in Romania was the first time a World Cup was held. The sport is fast-paced, exhilarating and relatively simple to learn, making it one of the fastest-growing snow-borne activities in the world.
"Skiboarding is an alternative method of riding the snow; differing from skiing or snowboarding. To give an idea, the skiboards resemble shorter, wider skis," says Marchand.
"Although all skiboards are slightly different, they follow a general pattern – they are 110cm or less in length and twin-tipped. They are usually constructed with a strong, wood core and are symmetrical in shape. Skiboards are attached to ski boots using either releasable or non-releasable bindings.
"Skiboarders see skiboards as giving freedom and creativity in how you ride the mountain, as their extra width makes them very stable. They are rapidly becoming a serious alternative to skiing and skiboarding is currently the fastest-growing winter sport."
While Sprinceana, a former professional skiboarder and skier, adds: "It will be spectacular for people who are not aware about the sport, and will bring people to skiboarding as it is easier to learn than any other winter sport.
"The learning curve takes about half a day to get from beginner to almost intermediate. Although, what you are going to see at the World Cup are the jumps and the technical moves, which is a different level of expertise, but to just start the sport is very easy and convenient.
"Unlike skiing, where you have skis and rods and everything to carry, with skiboarding you just put the boards in the backseat – it is convenient and fun."
Some of the biggest names in the sport will be competing here in Dubai in events like Big Air, in which riders take off a large jump and perform amazing aerial tricks and turns, and the Chinese downhill, in which all the skiboarders race down a slope at once.
"Everybody is one to watch because it is a historical event, it is the first winter sports event to be held indoors and in the dessert," says Sprinceana.
"From a competition point of view, the Japanese are strongest. Skiboarding is a big sport in Japan and people such as Shinji Osada and Shew Ichihash are very good. The Russians are also good, they have a lady skiboarder, Margarita Milentieva, who also happens to be the rollerblade champion in Russia.
"The Romanians have a strong team, Americans Ethan Mitchell and Kirk Thompson are competitive and also on display will be one of the legends of skiboarding from Canada: Serge Maheu."
Three types of tickets are available at Ski Dubai during the event: a half-day premium pass (for the morning or afternoon) at Dh150, which includes an introduction to skiboarding with a Ski Dubai instructor, a full-day premium pass at Dh320, which includes lunch at the Ski Dubai's St Moritz café, and a VIP pass at Dh500, which includes the chair lift, lunch at the St Moritz and access to the Avalanche café (halfway up the slope). Tickets will be available at the doors.
Marchand added: "We, in Dubai, take it for granted now, but for the rest of the world the concept of a snow slope in the desert is still unbelievable. So imagine their surprise if the emirate builds on next week's Skiboard World Cup and begins to host winter sport events and then goes one step ahead and sends a team to the Winter Olympics. All this can be realistically envisioned.
"Our objective at Ski Dubai is to develop snow culture in Dubai and across the UAE. To do so, we are very open to any ideas and activities that add up to the already large snow experience that Ski Dubai offers.
"Snow culture is still relatively new in the UAE, but we are convinced that the Skiboard World Cup will help develop interest in all snow sports and activities. In this respect, it can be seen as 'another block in the igloo'.
"We also have the Dubai Winter Sports Club at Ski Dubai, which is committed to train future champions. We already have 25 members who are in regular training and competition.
"The Winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010 may be a little early, but we have our eyes set on the 2014 Winter Games in Russia."
- Thursday: 10.00 Opening Ceremony, 10.30 Fakie Downhill (men + women), 15.00 Rails & Boxes (men)
- Friday: 10.30 Cross (men & women), 15:00 Big-Air (men)
- Saturday: 10.30 Slope Style (men + women), 15.00 Chinese Downhill (all), Closing Ceremony MTV Party