The global engineer
E&T on the new technologies allowing travellers to chill out and even ski in India, UAE or Singapore at the height of summer.
Has the summer been a bit too sticky for you? Do you prefer the climate a little less sultry? Do you require something a little more sustained than a cold shower to bring your temperature down when the thermometer is reaching for the ceiling? Well, it is now possible to feel the faint flush of snow on your face whatever the weather is like outside.
As with so many 21st century follies, this need for unlikely flurries began in Dubai, UAE. The mammoth SkiDubai indoor ski resort, situated at the Mall of the Emirates, has achieved everlasting white slopes in one of the hottest, most humid climates on Earth. The project is now expanding to include the Dubai Sunny Mountain Ski Dome, guaranteeing both clear skies and winter ski conditions under one steel roof. Every day, the snow will fall from the clear (fake) sky above. The dome houses a huge revolving ski slope winding through and around an artificial mountain range, to create what the developers call the 'Arctic Experience' effect. There will even be cable cars and polar bears, a unique combination that the North Pole itself cannot provide.
Similar snow domes are popping up like giant igloos all over the world, as more and more travellers demand the way-off-piste experience. Quiabo Ice and Snow World, Beijing, is built inside a 120m man-made cave with a Children's Snow Paradise. (What snow isn't paradise for kids, artificial or otherwise?) You don't even have to head for the hills to experience the icy wilderness. In Japan, there's Coolval Tokyo, situated just off the main expressway. India too has its own cold climate, Snow World in Hyderabad.
How to make snow
In Singapore - where the lowest recorded temperature was 19.4°C, back in 1934 - there's Snow City. The facility is particularly proud of the depth of its commitment to icy conditions; Snow City's snow coverage is maintained at 400m, requiring up to 15t of the white stuff to be manufactured each week. This is produced in-house with a snow gun. Water is atomised using high-pressure compressed air, then pushed through the nozzles of the gun together with liquid nitrogen. The extreme cold of the liquid nitrogen snap freezes the atomised water into powder-like snowflakes.
In breezier Bruges, Belgium, you can chill out at the annual Snow and Ice Sculpture Festival, held inside a massive tent where the temperature never rises above -5°C. In this artificial atmosphere, artists create huge glacial sculptures from over 300,000kg of ice.
Of course, fake climates aren't only about the temperature, but the state of mind too. The Grove Hotel in Hertfordshire, UK, believes its residents like summers to be scorching and winters to be freezing. In July and August the hotel - which is about as far away from the seaside as it is possible to get in the UK - hosts an artificial beach, complete with stripy deck chairs and ice cream cart. Then, as winter approaches, the reception area is smothered in fake flakes, transforming it into Narnia. We might not feel the chill, but we experience the thrill of being in a real winter.
It's worth noting that most fake climates turn the temperature down rather than up, so we seem to prefer to be cooled rather than heated. Back in Dubai, the capital of artificial outsides, Versace is building a beach (until recently, no one would have dreamt of 'building' a beach) with thin pipes underneath the sand, acting as a cooling system controlled by thermostats linked to computers. Although it can reach 50°C under the Emirate sun, guests will be able to saunter comfortably with their bare feet across the world's first refrigerated beach. There will also be giant blowers to waft a gentle breeze over the sand.
Why do we seek such seasonal surety? Is it because leisure time is so precious, so we don't want it to be victim to whatever nature happens to offer that week? Or is it because we like to feel the extremes? I have yet to discover a temperate fake climate being built to attract tourists. A dome recreating a damp, sunless, tepid English afternoon however sunny it is outside? How many people would choose to holiday there?
Inhabitants of the British Isles will be glad to discover that there are plans for many more snow domes to be developed within the country. So you'll no longer have to go to the Canaries for winter sun or the Rockies for summer snow. Now you can garner a suntan or slip on your salopettes in any month, on practically any continent. When experts talk about 'climate control', I don't think this is quite what they have in mind.