Skiing in the desert? You don’t have to go to Dubai’s super-cooled ski dome to experience it. Launching yourself down the slopes under a scorching desert sun is possible in Qatar (pronounced something like cutter), a small Gulf country midway between Kuwait and Dubai – but forget about snow machines and fake icicles. Here, the ski slopes are all natural.
Jaded ski bums looking for a new thrill should take a 4WD trip to Khor al-Adaid – known as Qatar’s Inland Sea. This is a salt-water inlet from the blue waters of Gulf which penetrates far into the desert interior and is surrounded on all sides by monumental formations of giant, silvery sand dunes.
These are almost all crescent-shaped barchans dunes. Both points of the crescent face downwind; between them is a steep slip face of loose sand, while the back of the dune, facing into the breeze, is a shallow, hard slope of wind-packed grains.
This formation lends itself particularly well to sand-skiing or, perhaps more commonly, sand-boarding, both of which are identical to their more familiar snow-based cousins – except offering a softer landing for novices. The 4WD delivers you to the top of the dune, whereupon you set off down the loose slip face, carving through the soft sand to the desert floor; friction in minimal and this kind of dry, powdery sand lets you glide like a dream. And Knor al-Adaid comes into its own as sunset approaches. With low sunshine illuminating the creamy-smooth slopes and glittering light reflected up off the calm surface of the khor’s blue waters, a surreal, almost mystical quality settles on the dunes. Après-ski with a difference.