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5:30 a.m., Dubai, United Arab Emirates -- Sweat is beginning to collect anywhere it can at this point. Twenty seconds ago, I was nearly cold. I'm doing my best to keep up behind Paulino, a short, 30-something technician from the Philippines. He's climbing a sketchy ladder up the nether regions of Dubai's fantastical indoor ski hill, Ski Dubai.
He tells me he wants to come to Canada to work at a ski resort, but for now, it's easier for him to find work here. He's giving me a tour of the facility, and we are making our way up through its bizarre envelope -- a dense, mechanical space that divides the desert heat from the sub-zero snow slope inside.
While much of Dubai sleeps, we've been dancing back and forth between doors that divide outside, inside, and the mysterious, interstitial world between them. Each transition is marked by extreme gradients of temperature and moisture. The sweat pours. I ask myself what the hell I'm doing here. Paulino climbs another ladder toward the envelope's ceiling and opens a trap door. Arabian sunlight pours in and drowns the dim incandescence. I squint as I reach the top of the ladder and emerge on the roof at sunrise.
Paulino cracks a smile. He's never taken media here before, he tells me. Light filters through a humid haze and so does the answer I've been looking for: I'm here to witness the contrast. Contrast in temperature, moisture, culture, and ideas. That skiing exists in this desert climate is surreal. That the facility is part of a shopping mall is an affront to any backcountry skier's sensibilities. That a charming and dedicated ski community is growing out of the sand, the unlikeliest of landscapes, suggests that something here, however, is real.[If you missed the previous seasons of 'A Skier's Journey,' check out season one and season two.]