Human Nature

There's no substitute for the natural world, but engineers are catching up. Ten years ago, an indoor climbing wall turned heads; now developers are mimicking mountains, rivers, and oceans. As urban centers swell, so do the latest man-made achievements.

Throughout the pandemic, we'll keep publishing news to help you navigate the state of travel today (like whether travel insurance covers the coronavirus), as well as stories about places for you to put on your bucket list once it's safe to start going more far-flung.

Sheik Schussing
Ski Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Opened: December 2005
THE CHALLENGE: Build a 280-foot ice-capped mountain in a flat desert where temperatures reach 120 degrees. To pull it off, workers constructed a 25-story refrigerator with 16-foot-thick insulation inside a complex that could house three football fields. Instead of using traditional snowmaking equipment, Ski Dubai creates real flakes by seeding an atomized water cloud with ten-micron ice particles—generating 30 tons of fluff a day.
THE PAYOFF: Besides real snow, Ski Dubai claims "the world's first indoor black diamond run," at 35 degrees, while the longest trail drops 200 feet over a gentle quarter-mile. There's a lodge, lifts, and evergreens, but, alas, no blue-sky days. $35 for equipment and two hours of skiing;

Crank House
Ray's MTB Indoor Park, Cleveland, Ohio
Opened: November 2004
THE CHALLENGE: Use 20 tons of stone and five houses' worth of wood to construct more than a mile of mountain-bike trails, tracks, and jumps inside a retired 71,000-square-foot Army parachute factory.
THE PAYOFF: Challenging urban singletrack, a foam pit for practicing flips, a dozen berms, 20 jumps, and a halfpipe—all close enough for Clevelanders to catch on the way home from work. $18 for a day pass, armor, and access to a fleet of demo bikes;

Your Turn in the Barrel
Ron Jon Surfpark, Orlando, Florida
WILL OPEN: Fall 2006
THE CHALLENGE: Rival any classic mainland break with one exception: no flat days. A 3,000-horsepower vacuum will suck up tons of salt water then spit it out at precisely the velocity required to send a delicately curling eight-foot wave down a 100-yard trough. Operators can also shift the pool bottom to create waves with different shapes.
THE PAYOFF: Wave after perfect, machine-hollowed wave. Surfpark had planned to cap membership at 2,000, but with more than 4,000 people on the waiting list, managers may boost capacity by running waves 24/7. $750-$2,400 a year;

River to Nowhere
U.S. National Whitewater Center, Charlotte, North Carolina
WILL OPEN: June 2006
THE CHALLENGE: With 1,400 truckloads of cement and enough boulders to fill two Olympic swimming pools, build an artificial river with four Class III-IV channels. The USNWC will recycle its water, using seven 80,000-gallon-per-minute pumps to keep the flow at 1,250 cubic feet per second—and generate a hefty utility bill every year.
THE PAYOFF: Nearly a mile of river three times longer than any other man-made course—and a conveyer belt for getting boaters back to the top. Besides training Olympians, the center will offer classes in rafting and whitewater slalom. $15-$25 a day;

Under the Banner of "Hell, Yeah!"
High Adventure Recreation Center,
Ogden, Utah
WILL OPEN: March 2007
THE CHALLENGE: Gather all of the world's high-adrenaline sports under one roof. Hoping to leverage Utah's reputation for adventure, the city is using $18.5 million to turn a mall into a 125,212-square-foot gym where visitors can climb, surf, and fly indoors. Call it recreation redevelopment.
THE PAYOFF: The center will feature a 12-foot-diameter wind tunnel that lofts a faux-falling skydiver, a 72-foot-high climbing wall, and a Flowrider, which shoots a layer of water over a wave form for surfing. Surf, about $20 an hour; climb, $8 a day; fly, about $50 for 30 minutes;