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We stayed the night in Ski Dubai

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When I was 13 years-old, my parents took me to Lapland for Christmas. If I was to hazard a guess why, I’d say it was a bid to spark some festive cheer in a teenager who, at that point, was fast approaching the sullen “everything’s a waste of time” phase. I remember relatively little of the trip itself, bar meeting a Finnish Father Christmas who made my little brother cry, not seeing the sun for about four days, and being yanked around baron, snowy plains on a sled by a vicious reindeer. Merry Christmas, son.

What stood out the most, though, was the cold. Cold like I’d never experienced before, the kind of cold that nips at your face and – if you’re out there too long – leaves its bite marks long after you’ve returned to the relative warmth of your cabin.

At minus seven degrees celsius, it was easily the iciest environment I’d ever been in. If you were to tell me then that one day I would be choosing to stay the night at the exact same temperature, I would have said to you there was a greater chance of me learning Inuit by my 15th birthday.

And so we come to Ski Dubai, the indoor ski resort that has been one of the Mall of the Emirates’ most frequented destinations in the decade or so since its opening. You’ve probably slalomed down its slopes, taken selfies with the resident penguins, or maybe even partaken of the early morning “snow aerobics” sessions now held there. What you probably haven’t have done is camped in there overnight.

This was my challenge, dished out by my editor to “you know, just see how you get on,” in the only place in the UAE where it falls below 10°C, let alone sees the other side of freezing.

While this survival option is not something Ski Dubai offers to the public, a little research told me that it had been embarked upon before and people had emerged unscathed – all their toes still intact, no black scabs on the end of their noses. Perhaps I should contact them for tips? Nah, I don’t want to seem like an amateur… which of course I am.

My next marginal confidence boost came from reading that the human body can supposedly survive up to minus-60 if appropriately clothed. Now, I’m no Roald Amundson, but I’m pretty certain I could stick out a night at minus eight.

My friends did not share my confidence, though, with the cruellest ones sending me pictures of frostbite-ridden victims, the other kinder souls reminding me of that time my teeth could be heard chattering through the tent on our last camping trip… to Ras Al Khaimah. Anyway, despite this (and murmurings of the possibilities of contracting hypothermia from the PR who helped organise all this) I signed up. Besides, backing out was not an option at this point. The four pages in the December 15 issue weren’t going to fill themselves.

Anyway, this is a diary of how I got on in Dubai’s coldest corner.

T-minus 24 hours until entry
Begin to regret watching Everest with my housemate. Decide to re-evaluate my overnight kit situation. Begin a committed search for ski sallopetes.

T-15 hours
Cannot find ski gear anywhere. Send impassioned plea to my Facebook friends asking for assistance… imploring that my life may actually depend on it. I’m increasingly convinced it might.

T-13 hours
My post has received two likes and one ‘LOL’… but absolutely no offers of assistance.

T-7 hours
Still no Facebook response. I resolve that, if I survive, I must make new and better friends.

T-4 hours
Despite having discovered that “reindeer skin” is the best under-layer to have when sleeping on snow or ice, I decide that at this late hour this may be a tricky find. Instead, I go off in search of the next best thing, the North Face store.

T-90 minutes
I arrive at Ski Dubai and get briefed by the helpful night manager, Artem. The good news is, my research is correct and people have stayed in Ski Dubai before. The bad news is that it was for a special military exercise.

T-30 minutes
Without getting properly changed, I’m taken out for a brief “reccy” of the site – and advised where best to set up my camp for the night, a spot where the ground is most level, and not where I’d be mauled by the colossal snow plough raking the surface throughout the night. All I can think is that this is the least of my worries; it is so cold, staying the night is surely an impossibility? What on earth am I doing here?

T-15 minutes
I’m taken outside, back into the warm embrace of Dubai’s evening air, to be shown where the fire exit is. I inhale the balmy temperatures and vow never to moan about the UAE’s climate again.

T-10 minutes
I’ve put all my gear on, including two woolly hats, head-to-toe thermals and gloves, plus the boots, socks and jacket supplied by Ski Dubai. On the way out of the changing rooms, I step through a water puddle and – remembering the frost bite images I’ve been sent over the last three days – clomp back to the locker rooms to change my socks. Talk about falling at the first hurdle.

ENTRY: 0 hour
I am now convinced thermals are man’s greatest invention. You can keep your sliced bread, space shuttles or selfie sticks, these thin, clingy garments – currently adding what feels like 15 degrees to my body temperature – are, right now, the pinnacle of human genius.

I have now entered my sub-zero home for the night and the door is shut behind me. I set my alarm for 6am, eight long-hours away. I send my first ShortList tweet of the night while I still have the use of my fingers: “I’m going inside… I may be some time.”

30 minutes in
The night manager gives me a lift on the snow plough halfway up the ski slope to what will be my patch for the night. I’m hoping it’s because he doesn’t want me schlepping up the hill and treading over his immaculately manicured slopes, and not because he doubts my ability to make the relatively small and simple trek.

1 hour in
Okay, my tent poles don’t seem to fit properly in my tent. Why, why didn’t I do a practice run before I arrived?!

90 minutes in
I have finally erected the tent. Sort-of. With heavy use of the cords and tent
pegs, which as it happens, do not go very deep in the snow. So, I compact powder around them to ensure no shifting in the night. How you like me now, Bear Grylls?

97 minutes in
Go to send my second tweet – a triumphant tent picture, perhaps – but discover I have no signal. Quietly wonder if any of ShortList’s followers are now concerned about my wellbeing. At 1am on a Wednesday, I concede it’s doubtful.

100 minutes in
Having laid down all of my yoga mats, extra jackets, special climate-approved sleeping bag and hung my iPhone from the ceiling as a makeshift lamp, it’s actually quite cosy in here. Peaceful, too. I think I’m actually beginning to enjoy myself.

2 hours in
My serenity is rocked when the walkie-talkie I’ve been given starts squawking. It’s the night manager Artem checking to see if my tent is waterproof. I reply that I’m pretty sure it is. I mean, yeah, like it’s North Face. Surely we’re not expecting rain? “No, but the snow fans come on at 2am and will be directly over your tent spraying the slope,” he replies, usefully. I assure him that this bad-boy can cope with a little bit of snow for a few minutes, asking how long the process takes. “Four hours”, he replies. Oh.

3 hours in
My fitful sleep is woken by the noticeable drop in temperature – around another four degrees now that the snow fan is on. The air is a lot closer and feels significantly icier. My nose seems to be feeling it most, so I pull up my scarf – effectively covering both my air holes. Meh, I’m sure it’ll be fine.

3.5 hours in
Seriously, why would anyone explore the North Pole for fun?

4 hours in
Now I regret forgetting to bring ear plugs. Or at least not thinking I might actually need ear plugs in here. I start wondering when the snow ploughs will stop, hoping bitterly that the thousands of people passing through Ski Dubai’s doors tomorrow appreciate the work that’s gone into making the slopes perfect for them.

4.5 hours in
I can’t sleep, and despite being charged only a few hours ago, my phone is on its last few legs of battery. It seems to fare worse in cold climates than I do.

5 hours in
I start deliriously dreaming about my nose falling off due to frostbite. Has that ever happened to anyone? Probably.

5.5 hours in
I reflect that it’s a marked shame the penguins are in their little houses, soundly asleep. I feel that here, alone in the relative wilderness, we could have forged a bond. Learnt each other’s ways, perhaps even communicated?

6 hours in
Manage to nail a short power nap. The sun will now be rising, not that you’d know it in the dark enclaves of Ski Dubai, of course. Giving up on any more sleep, I decide to go for a wander around – unzipping the entrance of my tent for the first time and poking my head out. It’s not exactly waking up on the side of Everest, sure, but I do feel a sense of achievement at having made it through. I stand on the precipice of the highest slope, and wish I had a flag to pitch.

6.5 hours in
I check my extremities, all limbs intact and all the right colour. A positive. I start unpacking my tent, thanking each of the items that successfully helped in staving off hypothermia. The sleeping bag, the yoga mats – whose thin rubbery layers made the world of difference on the floor – my three pairs of socks, and my precious, precious thermals.

7 hours in
Get in a rage that neither sleeping bag nor tent will fit in the original bags they came in. Throw everything on the floor in a strop. This is why I didn’t do a practice run.

7.5 hours in
I am ready to leave. My rucksack is packed, my tent is finally in its bag and I’ve wolfed down some Haribo sweets for an early-morning snack. But how to get down? I don’t want to risk the wrath of the staff by leaving footprints in the newly packed snow. Ski lift? I traipse over, but imagine the disaster if I got stuck half way up. I walkie-talkie and ask for assistance.

EXIT: 8 hours in
I’m whisked back down the slope in a snowmobile, and give a celebratory fist pump in the air as we race down the hill, back to the (somewhat relieved) face of Artem the night manager, the warmth of the Mall of Emirates, and civilisation. “Tom of the Antarctic”, I whisper to myself… it has a very nice ring to it.

UPDATE: You can now camp in Ski Dubai on Fridays starting July 29 2016. AED750 per person includes a tent, sleeping bag and refreshments. www.theplaymania.com/skidubai

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