In the middle of the desert: a monument to ecological folly

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The Independent Online

It has got electricity companies rubbing their hands with glee and environmentalists apoplectic with rage. One of the world's largest indoor ski resorts opened yesterday - in the middle of the Dubai desert.

While the outside temperature in the Gulf Emirate can reach 50C, the Ski Dubai centre will expend thousands of watts on keeping its indoor climate at minus 1.4C all year round. More than 6,000 tons of snow cover an area the size of three football fields and 30 tons of fresh supplies will be added nightly to maintain a depth of 70cm (2.5 feet).

The centre can house 1,500 skiers and snowboarders. It is the first ski dome in the Middle East or a desert, and is the third largest of its kind, after centres in Germany and the Netherlands.

A spokesman for Friends of the Earth said: "This is an incredibly wasteful use of resources and it will have a big impact on the environment. It is a very short-sighted investment. With the era of cheap oil over, will they even be able to sustain such a huge use of electicity?" It has a total of five separate runs and, at a height equivalent to 25 storeys, also features chairlifts and snow patrols. The resort includes an ice rink, tobogganing run and piste side cafés. The snow is made in machines that mimic natural snowfall. The design was managed by the British company Acer Snowmec, which has worked on "snow centres" since their inception 15 years ago.

The fledgling Dubai Ski Club already has 300 members, while 25 instructors are on hand to help novices cope with nursery slopes.

Phil Taylor, chief executive of Ski Dubai, told earlier this year: "This isn't just about skiing but an opportunity to introduce winter activities and snow-play to a lot of people that have never seen snow before."

The £157m project is part of Dubai's attempt to become a hub of world tourism, along with an underwater hotel planned for next year and The World, an archipelago of luxury islands.

Environmental campaigners have warned that the huge building projects could make sea levels rise and cause huge damage.