Ski Dubai, adjoining the vast Mall of the Emirates complex, has just opened its doors. It is the largest indoor ski dome in the world, covering an area of three football pitches. The longest run is 400m, with a vertical drop of 60m. "This is the most impressive snow dome I have seen so far," says the ski expert Patrick Thorne of Snowhunter. "They've given it something of the feel of a real ski resort".

Skiers will have to wait a few more days: the chairlifts, which lead to five separate runs, are icily stationary as the artificial snow is manufactured at a rate of 120 tonnes a day.

Already, though, the lower slopes have enough "snow" cover to permit tobogganing - giving residents of the Gulf States their first opportunity to experience snow.

By the end of November, it is hoped that participants will be able to pay 110 dirhams (£20) for two hours of skiing or snowboarding. This includes equipment - and clothing, since few residents of the Emirate have cold-weather wear in their wardrobes. The interior temperature is maintained just below freezing point.

The development has already become a tourist attraction in its own right, with curious Emiratis turning up in droves to gaze at the wintry slopes, complete with a makeshift Alpine peak and the inadvisedly named Avalanche Café halfway up the "mountain".

Avid skiers in need of winter sunshine can also choose from snow domes in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore - and even take a skiing stopover in Dubai on the way to South-east Asia.


COMPETITION AMONG airlines flying between the UK and Dubai is so intense that a fares war is under way. Some of the lowest fares are on the national airline of Abu Dhabi, Etihad, which through agents is offering prices below £300 return from London. The catch is that the connecting "flight" from Abu Dhabi to Dubai is actually a bus, but the journey time is only 90 minutes.

Royal Brunei, which stops off in Dubai on its way to Asia, also beats £300 on some departures; the Borneo-based airline does not serve alcohol on board, but you are allowed to carry your own on to the plane.

From other UK airports, Air France/KLM and Lufthansa are providing competition with the national airline, Emirates, which has flights from Birmingham, Glasgow and Manchester. Fares via Paris, Amsterdam or Frankfurt are typically around £380, though availability can be tricky. Qatar Airways has some seats just above £300 from Manchester via Doha.

Fares will rise sharply over Christmas and the New Year, but are likely to fall again - especially once Virgin Atlantic starts flying from Heathrow to Dubai next March.