The growing popularity of the Middle East for winter sports

A skier performs a jump during a contest as part of ‘DXB Snow Week’ at the indoor resort of Ski Dubai.

KARIM SAHIB | AFP | Getty Images

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Skiing in the desert may seem absurd, but in the heart of one of Dubai’s busiest shopping destinations, the Mall of the Emirates, this adrenaline-pumping pastime is in full swing. boom since 2005.

It’s technically not real snow in Ski Dubai, of course, but this winter wonderland remains hugely popular with tourists and residents alike who like to race down a 1,300ft-long slope – or even go sledding. , bobsledding, ziplining, zorb ball and hanging out with penguins .

Boasting “fresh” snow year-round, the park is chilled to -24.8 degrees Fahrenheit and has even been named the best indoor ski resort in the world for six years in a row, including this year.

And in a region known for its one-upmanship, Saudi Arabia is set to get what is described as the world’s largest indoor ski slope and snow dome at the massive new Mall of Saudi, currently under construction. .

With a 40,000 square meter covered snow slope, the Kingdom will join several other “snow experience” centers, including Snow City in Riyadh.

Picturesque mountains

These shameless, unsustainable desert snow resorts remain controversial due to the mind-boggling energy intensity of what are essentially huge refrigerators. But aside from these types of large-scale man-made sites, the Middle East is working hard to develop its winter sports offerings to appeal to tourists looking for something a little different.

For serious ski enthusiasts, the spectacular slopes of Lebanon are particularly attractive due to the picturesque mountains covered in white snow from December to April.

Children take skiing lessons at Mzaar ski resort on January 7, 2022 in Kfardebian, Lebanon.

Andreea Campeanu | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Although Lebanon’s winter sports season has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, gigantic resorts like Mzaar are back and thriving thanks to recent heavy snowfall and reasonable Covid restrictions in place to reassure visitors. customers, such as masking in busy areas and some social distancing. With 62 miles of terrain, the resort is home to challenging runs, while also offering plenty of runs for beginners and intermediate skiers.

For those with a more adventurous spirit, Pakistan in the wider region has several incredible ski resorts and mountain ranges that can rival anywhere in the world in terms of the wow factor.

A hidden gem – the ski resort of Naltar in the Gilgit-Baltistan region in the far north of the country – boasts Pakistan’s highest chairlift and hosts major skiing, ice hockey and snowboarding competitions. Naltar itself is a picturesque pine-scented village known for its wildlife and beautiful mountain scenery.

Turkey also has plenty of snow during the winter months, especially at Mount Erciyes, which is part of a larger ski area that totals around 95 miles. The ski hub here has the nearby town of Kayseri which has plenty of upmarket hotels, like the chic five-star Radisson Blu.

There is no terrain park or terrain park at Mount Erciyes, but the resort is 80% covered in artificial snow, so it is a snowy winter fun destination. The area is also ideal for snowkiting due to the presence of large open planes that stretch for miles.

The Erciyes Ski Center was installed at Mount Erciyes (3916 m), the highest peak in Anatolia, and located 25 km south of the province of Erciyes.

Ayhan Altun | open time | Getty Images

Summer sports in winter

Back in the UAE, as the country tries to move away from oil and towards tourism as its main economic driver, there is an increase in new attractions aimed at attracting sports fans from around the world during the winter months by offering top notch facilities for more traditional pursuits. enjoyed in spring and summer.

A good example is the Meydan Hotel Dubai, which is close to the famous equestrian hotspot, Meydan Racecourse. He launched the Tennis 360 academy, which offers a host of facilities such as eight floodlit courts – including a championship court – as well as three padel courts and two beach tennis courts.

“We continue to bring new world-class attractions to Hotel Meydan, and look forward to a long and successful partnership with Tennis 360, which opened at the start of the winter sports season,” said Mohamed Shawky, hotel manager at The Meydan. Hotel, told local media.

This month Dubai is also set to open EmiratesPadPro, the world’s largest padbol facility – padbol being a cross between football, tennis, volleyball and squash. Ever quick to capitalize on a hot trend, Dubai is looking to latch onto the burgeoning global padsports scene by offering it this impressive home within the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Covid rebound

Hussein Kapasi, co-founder of Emirates PadPro, said they were working to attract a new generation of winter sports enthusiasts and highlight the appeal of the regional climate.

“The Middle East is known for its sunny skies and dry, cool months with no rain or snow, which is ideal for anyone looking to enjoy comfortable outdoor sports without worrying about the weather or the weather. transportation because the roads are clear and safe for everyone,” he said. CNBC.

Tourism in general currently looks promising for the region, even with Covid still in play. Prior to the pandemic, the contribution of the Middle East’s travel and tourism sector to their economies was $270 billion, according to the Council world of travel and tourism.

Covid may have brought things to a standstill in 2020, but by the end of 2021 tourism to the Middle East was ahead of other regions – such as Europe and Latin America – with a year-on-year increase on another $36 billion for its economy, the World Travel and Tourism Council also reported.

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