Skiing in the desert

You cannot avoid being sceptical before you have seen it with your own eyes. All year round skiing in Dubai’s desert climate? And on real snow as nature made it? It sounds more like a fairy-tale from the Arabian Nights.

DATE 2023-11-28

Yet, when you leave the desert heat outside and enter the Ski Dubai resort, the impression is overwhelming. In a moment, you are transported to a ski area as in Switzerland; fluffy snow wherever you see, plenty of skiers in ski lifts and coming down the slopes, enchanted children playing in the snow.

"This was my vision from the beginning; to create the feeling of a beautiful day in the mountains," says Phil Taylor, CEO of Ski Dubai. "The true challenge in this project was to get the engineers to understand what creating an experience means. It’s not only a matter of creating a number of technical functions, challenging as they may be."

Phil Taylor’s own background seems like a perfect combination for this demanding task. His original training was in engineering, and during his last 17 years he has been engaged in the leisure industry. Among others, he was part of the team that created the Walt Disney World in Paris. Lately he has added skiing to his skills. "I was not a skier when I became part the Ski Dubai project three years ago", he says. "But they said to me that it’s easier to hire a competent manager and teach him to ski than to teach a good skier how to become a good manager."

6,000 tonnes of snow

Ski Dubai, officially opened in December 2005, is the first indoor ski resort in the Middle East. The construction, built like an upside-down L, covers 22,500 square metres and has five runs that vary in difficulty, height and steepness. The longest run is 400 metres with a fall of over 60 metres, making it the world’s first indoor black run. The resort can take up to 1500 visitors at a time. Ski Dubai is related to the Mall of the Emirates and is part of the Majid Al Futtaim Group.

Ski Dubai contains 6,000 tonnes of snow. 30–40 tonnes of new snow is made every night using a simple procedure similar to how snow is made at outdoor ski resorts. Pure water, with no chemicals added, is put through a chiller to cool. It is then sent through pipes to the snow guns located on the ceiling. When the cooled water is blown into a freezing cold environment it crystallizes and makes snow. The temperature during the night when snow is made is -7 to -8°C.

Ski Dubai can be described as one of the most efficient – and largest – refrigerators in the world. The walls have numerous levels of insulation. 23 blast coolers chill the air and maintain a temperature of -1°C during operating hours. There are also kilometres of glycol tubing running through the floor that chills the snow and keeping the base of the snow solid. Two plate heat exchanger evaporators from Alfa Laval are used to cool the glycol in the system.

High energy efficiency

"People would think that Ski Dubai requires huge amounts of energy, but our system is incredibly energy efficient," says Phil Taylor. "Actually our energy costs are less than 10% of our operating costs. Right now the wall-mounted chillers installed to maintain the temperature are not even running. The cooling effect of the glycol system and the snow layer as such is enough to maintain the desired temperatures day and night."

The energy efficiency goes further than this. Ski Dubai and the Mall of the Emirates are integrated into an extremely efficient energy recovery and recycling system. The 30–40 tonnes of snow that are removed every night to make room for the new snow is melted and used in the chilled water supply for the system that air-conditions the mall. After that the water from the melted snow is used to irrigate the gardens. So the energy is actually used three times.

A stage for events

"We are proud of what we have achieved with Ski Dubai; creating something this big and energy efficient in this part of the world and making it commercially viable," says Phil Taylor. "Ski Dubai provides an exciting experience for people here who previously may have seen snow only in the movies. It is also a great tourist attraction, particularly in the summertime when it is too hot to go to the beach. Besides, it is the perfect place for different kinds of events."

Phil Taylor’s goal is to attract 500,000 visitors a year to Ski Dubai. Considering the fact that half this number already visited the resort during the first five months, this seems like a highly realistic goal.

Suppliers selected with care

The Alfa Laval supplies to Ski Dubai include two plate heat exchanger evaporators that cool the glycol in the pipe system to -16 or -17°C using ammonia.

The chilled glycol is circulated through concealed pipes located in the floor and ensures that the snow always has the desired consistency. The system has proven so efficient that presently there is no need to run the wall-mounted air coolers installed to maintain the temperature in the slopes.

Alfa Laval has also installed two plate heat exchangers to heat the glycol for defrosting the air coolers and to cool the oil in the ammonia compressors.

“Alfa Laval is one of the suppliers that have been carefully selected to enable the extremely high levels of energy efficiency that we have reached,” says Phil Taylor, CEO of Ski Dubai. “Service and back-up are absolutely essential and were important selection criteria for us."

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