Ski Resort in Saudi Arabia to Host 2029 Asian Winter Games

But how do you make snow in such a place?

Zaha Hadid ski resort in Trojena
Zaha Hadid ski resort in Trojena.


I am waxing my snowboard in anticipation of jetting off to Trojena in Saudi Arabia and sliding down the roof of a new ski resort designed by Zaha Hadid Architects. I will do this without guilt because His Royal Highness Mohammed bin Salman said in a statement: “Trojena will redefine mountain tourism for the world by creating a place based on the principles of ecotourism, highlighting our efforts to preserve nature and enhance the community’s quality of life, which is aligned with the goals of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030. It also confirms our commitment to be part of the global effort to protect the environment."

Overview of Trojema
Trojema lake and mountain.


Trojena is part of Neom, "an aspirational society that heralds the future of human civilization," and not far from "The Line," the linear city that I waxed effusive about recently. In addition to the ski resort, Trojena includes a giant lake, a "folded village," an observatory, and a wildlife preserve.

The ski resort has recently been chosen to host the 2029 Asian Winter Games, much to the surprise of the International Olympic Committee, which usually vets such things, and has been pushing to increase the sustainability of sports by reusing existing facilities. An IOC spokesperson tells Reuters: "For the Olympic Games, the IOC made it plain in Olympic Agenda 2020+5 that there is a clear priority for existing venues. If these do not exist, the use of temporary venues is encouraged."

Ski runs from resort
Ski runs at Trojena.


But the facility is being designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, led by Patrik Schumacher, who doesn't believe in reusing ratty old buildings when we can solve climate change through innovation. He told a conference organized by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat that "there is a big danger there because what we can never compromise [on] is growth and prosperity, which gives us the freedom to invest more in research." Schumacher continued: "We need to allow prosperity and progress to continue, and that will also bring the resources to overcome [the climate crisis] through investment, science, and new technology."

That sounds just like the CEO of Neom, Nadhmi Al-Nasr, who said, “Trojena represents Neom's values and bold plans as a land where nature and innovative technologies come together to form a unique global experience. This new development is a major contribution to achieving Neom's long-term ambitions by adhering to the principles of sustainability and utilizing state-of-the-art technology and engineering, across various disciplines, to make Neom an all-round and attractive world-class destination.”

Trojena Lake
Trojena Lake.


The water for snowmaking will come from the lake that is "the beating heart of Trojena." Little skeptics like me might complain about the upfront carbon of all that concrete, but Trojea executive director Philip Gullett explained that it is all being done with the environment in mind:

"We've got a significant volume of water to get up there, so the supply pipe is a meter in diameter. It's desalinated water coming from the sea too. The height from the wadi floor to the prow of the bow is something like 150 meters and the Hoover Dam is 170 meters in height – so it's a big structure. It's achievable, but what we are planning pushes the boundaries. It's not that we're using technology that's never been tested before. Although it's on a big scale in a remote area, but the skills do exist to do it. One thing to say is all the excavated material removed carefully from the hillside to form The Vault will be recycled into the dam, so we're not carting away tons and tons of material. It’s crushed down and used in the dam. So there's a relationship between the lake, the bow, the dam and The Vault. Things will work in symbiosis."
Summer view of Ski resort


Treehugger emeritus Karin Kloosterman, the founder of the Green Prophet website that covers sustainability in the Middle East, knows something about the local weather and questions whether this will ever actually work.

"The best temperatures for making snow are between -5°C (23°F) and -25°c (-13°F). Too warm, ski resort owners report and their machines are too expensive to run. The ideal conditions are dry and cold. Only for a short window, in January, do temperatures at the proposed Trojena site, dip below 0°C. Trojena advertises its skiing will be open December to March. Wellness season, adventure season and lake season, the rest of the year."

However, other sources note it is the wet-bulb temperature that matters most, and if the air is very dry, the snow guns can work at up to 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit), and money is no object here. But there is also the matter of a warming world—by 2029 it may not get down to freezing even in January.

Ski Village covered in snow
Ski Village covered in snow.


Kloosterman is also critical of those architects "who claim to be sustainable leaders and are laughing all the way to the bank." She continued: "It’s reasonable that the prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince and Chairman of Neom wants what he wants: endless opulence fuelled by oil money to dazzle the west with fake grandeur. The joke is that western architect firms participate in these scandals."

Lloyd Alter on snowboard
Lloyd Alter on his snowboard at Blue Mountain, Ontario.

Emma Alter

As for me, I doubt that I will be visiting. I haven't actually used my snowboard in five years. I concluded that it wasn't exactly sustainable to drive three hours to get electrically winched up a hill in order to slide down artificial snow. It will be much worse in Trojena. Imagine the footprint of desalinating water, pumping it up to the lake, then cooling it enough to work in snow guns shooting onto what are probably refrigerated slopes. It all seems a bit rich.