Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Sand Skiing in Dubai Is Not for the Dubious Tourist

IT isn't often that you are heading for the ski slopes and hear the weather forecaster on the radio promise "temperatures around 34 degrees Centigrade - that's 93 Fahrenheit, about normal for October."

But then it's not often that you are heading for the ski slopes in the Persian Gulf, either.

About these ads

Schussing with the sheikhs?

No, this is not some mad scheme by an oil-rich emir to create an Arabian Aspen. It is the latest sport to attract tourists to Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates: sand skiing.

Sand skiing borrows little from its snowbound cousin but a slope. Otherwise, it is more like a cross between surfing and skateboarding, and all you need to enjoy it is a sense of balance and a certain indifference to filling your ears with sand.

The principles of this sport, introduced from California, are simple. You are driven out into the desert, to the top of a sand dune, and given a broad, skateboard-like mono-ski with two plastic bindings into which you strap your feet.

Then you point yourself downhill, and try not to fall over until you reach the bottom.

Meanwhile, the four-wheel-drive vehicle that brought you has driven around the back of the dune to pick you up and take you to the top to do it again.

There is more to it than this, though. First of all, there is the excitement of just getting to the top of the dune, in soft desert sand that is more suited to the hoof of a camel and the sandal of a Bedouin herder than to half a ton of jeep.

About these ads

The only way to negotiate this sort of terrain is to deflate the tires to half their normal pressure, and twist the steering wheel back and forth like crazy to keep the tires from digging ruts. Slewing and sliding through the dips in the desert, and lurching over the smaller dunes - a pastime that my guide, Nihal Dassanyaka, called "dune bashing" - is half the fun. And if the driver's skill deserts him, there is always a shovel in the back.

THEN you are alone, in silence, at the crest of a dune that the wind has sharpened to a knife edge, looking out over the gloriously empty desert. Nothing moves, and the windblown ripples in the sand at your feet bear no traces but the pecking of a lizard. The stillness holds you quiet.

For a moment you balance along the ridge of the dune, then you jump into the air, twist your body to face down the 50-degree slope, and WHEEEEEEEEEE!

Since sand acts as a brake, unlike snow, there is no need to turn in a slalom pattern to control your speed. The best approach is simply to bend your knees and go, and when you get the hang of it sufficiently to stay upright all the way down, you can reach an exhilarating velocity even on the 300-foot slope that I skiied down.

Further into the desert, Nihal Dassanyaka, who works for the Gulf Ventures tour company, takes skiers to a 900-foot slope, if they want serious excitement.

Of course you fall over, unless you are very, very good, but it doesn't really matter apart from the sand in your ears. You simply end up on your back, wallowing in warm sand, looking up at the sky, and laughing at the absurdity of finding yourself head-over-heels in the middle of the desert, tied to a piece of fluorescent purple plastic.

"It's prestigious to tell your friends you've been sand skiing," says Mr. Dassanyaka. The sport is a big hit with United States sailors on shore leave from patrolling the Gulf. "Snow skiing is common, but when you say you've sand skiied, everyone is surprised."

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.