The Japanese ski town of Niseko normally sees about 50 feet of snow per season, thanks to frigid, wet clouds whipping across the Sea of Japan from Siberia. “Take a snorkel,” Snow Magazine once quipped, of the deep powder.
Not this year. The worst snow season on record has turned Niseko and other resorts on the northerly island of Hokkaido into ghost towns, with trucked-in snow barely covering patchy grass. And Japan is not alone. Thanks to climate change, ski season has gotten shorter over the years. In Europe, mean snow depth has decreased by more than 12 percent a decade for nearly 70 years.
Snow scarcity means resorts worldwide have been getting creative. They’ve been hauling in snow from higher altitudes, building snow storage facilities, even dumping snow on the slopes via helicopter.
But there’s another alternative that’s growing in popularity: indoor skiing. Build a hangar-sized building with an artificial slope, keep it cool with climate control, and smother the whole thing with machine-made snow. Are resorts like these the wave of the future?
Ski Dubai, United Arab Emirates
With average winter highs in the 70s, the closest you’ll get to natural slopes in the United Arab Emirates are the sand dunes. But inside Ski Dubai the atmosphere is more Austria than Arabia, with five ski runs, a snow park for sledding or bouncing around inside enormous inflatable Zorb balls, evergreen trees, and cafes serving mugs of steaming cocoa. Oh, and penguins—real penguins.
Snow City, Singapore
Barely 70 miles from the equator, the tropical city-state of Singapore is never going to see real snow. But thanks to this massively popular indoor snow attraction, locals can enjoy sub-zero temps in a Disney-esque version of the Arctic, complete with cartoon Inuit characters. A special snow gun atomizes water, which is frozen by liquid nitrogen into powdery snowflakes. The whole place is covered in 150 tons of snow, to which 10 to 15 new tons are added weekly. The family-friendly spot has a snow playground, an igloo, a bumper car ice rink, a giant snow slide and more. You can also sign up for ski and snowboard lessons to get a taste before committing to a ski vacation in Switzerland or Hokkaido.
Wanda Indoor Ski and Winter Sports Resort, Harbin, China
China’s chilliest city gets real snow aplenty—the annual Harbin Ice and Snow Festival draws nearly 20 million visitors to marvel at building-sized illuminated ice carvings. But that didn’t stop China’s richest developer from opening the world’s largest indoor ski resort in 2017. Inside the 860,000-square-foot Wanda Indoor Ski and Winter Sports Resort, guests can take lessons, ride an indoor chairlift, ski six different runs and play in a snow castle.
AlpinCenter, Bottrop, Germany
In the gentle hills near Germany’s border with the Netherlands, the city of Bottrop’s AlpinCenter has the world’s longest indoor run, some 2,100 feet long. It’s also got a summer toboggan track, indoor skydiving and the “highest biergarten of the Ruhr area” (not all that high, but the view of the surrounding forest's mighty pretty). The building is designed to take advantage of the natural terrain; the whole thing looks like a snake slithering along a hillside.
Big Snow American Dream, East Rutherford, New Jersey
In a suburban entertainment complex outside New York City, newly opened Big Snow American Dream is North America’s first indoor ski resort. “Every day is a snow day” is the complex’s motto, and indeed the snow depth hovers around two feet, with an average temperature of 28 degrees Fahrenheit day and night. There are beginner, intermediate and advanced runs, and a freestyle terrain park to practice tricks. Ski newbies can rent all the gear right there, so no need to drag your snowboard across the Hudson.
The Snow Centre, Hemel Hempstead, England
Outside London, this indoor ski center was featured in the UK celebrity snow sports reality show The Jump. There’s a terrain park for freestylers, a wide lesson slope, and a snow slide and sledding area for the kiddos. Après ski, relax with a schnitzel and a pint at the Alpine-style lodge overlooking the piste. The Jump was cancelled after 34 celebrities injured themselves (though not all at the Snow Centre), so take care when sliding those rails!
SnowPlanet, Auckland, New Zealand
During balmy New Zealand summers you can head directly from the beach to the slopes. Ski or snowboard inside this 86,000-square-foot snow sports center, with a beginners slope and an ever-changing terrain park. For kids, there’s the Winter Wonderland faux Alpine village, where you can make a snowman, have a snowball fight or go tobogganing. This is certainly the place for New Zealanders craving a white Christmas while their neighbors break out the barbecues and board shorts.
SnowWorld, Landgraaf, the Netherlands
Perhaps it makes sense that Europe’s flattest country would be home to its largest indoor ski center. SnowWorld’s five slopes and chairlift are open until 11 p.m. at night, so when darkness falls at 4:30 p.m. in winter, you can continue to ski or snowboard under daylight-bright stadium lights. After a day on the slopes, fill your belly with fondue at one of the park’s five restaurants. You won’t have to go far to crash for the night—there’s an attached hotel. In summer, hit the attached climbing park.