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.
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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; www.skidxb.com
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; www.raysmtb.com
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; www.surfparks.com
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; www.usnwc.org
Under the Banner of “Hell, Yeah!”
High Adventure Recreation Center,
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; www.ogdencity.com