The Big Chill

Rivet on how he looks after the facilities management of Ski Dubai

Paul Rivet stands next to the PistenBully snow grooming machine.
Paul Rivet stands next to the PistenBully snow grooming machine.
Paul Rivet stands next to the PistenBully snow grooming machine.
Paul Rivet stands next to the PistenBully snow grooming machine.

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When Paul Rivet took over the facilities management of Ski Dubai his workers had never seen snow let alone work in minus degree temperatures. Jenny Eagle puts on her hat, scarf, coat and gloves to take a look behind the scenes.

As Ski Dubai celebrates its sixth anniversary this year, the company that manages its facilities management, MAF Leisure & Entertainment, plans to introduce a 60km/hour zipline to the tourist attraction as well as a conveyor belt to carry a new Zorb ball back to the top of the slope for adventurous snow junkies looking for a thrill.

MAF Dalkia was set up in 2002 as a joint partnership between Majid Al Futtaim Ventures (MAF Ventures), owners of the City Centre chain of shopping malls and Dubai’s Mall of the Emirates, and Dalkia, a company that specialises in facilities and energy management, which has more than 52,000 employees across 42 countries around the world.

It has 950 employees and carries out energy and facilities management for the MAF group of shopping malls across the UAE as well as other commercial buildings, hotels and government properties.

When Ski Dubai first opened its doors to the public in November 2005, the closest people in the UAE ever got to snow was seeing it on the television or in magazines.

The challenge for the team was to educate its staff on how to work and operate the machinery in an indoor ski resort as few people in the region had experience of working in minus degree temperatures so MAF Dalkia recruited specialist members of the operations team from ski resorts in the French Alps.

“We had a few teething problems at the start because there were a lot of jobs to do but working in snow was a new experience for most of the staff and we had to train them in the basics of the job such as how to operate a chairlift and how to get on the moving apparatus,” said Paul Rivet, technical manager, MAF Dalkia Middle East.

Rivet joined the company from the French army where he was an engineer for 10 years where he spent time in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Al Ain. Prior to that, he worked as the mechanical manager for the Serre Chevallier ski resort in the French Alps, which is where he is from.

He is in charge of building and maintenance services; MEP, heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, BMS, health and safety.

“Most of the French engineers, myself included, know how to ski and we know where the breaks are on the slope. In the Middle East and Asia there are no snow centres so it was a case of starting from scratch for a lot of our employees and we had to train them as you would if you were working for a large ski resort,” he said.

Ski Dubai is home to five different runs and is over 22,500m² with a 65 metre vertical drop. It also hosts a snow cavern and two cafes. It can hold 1,500 people.

Other facilities, such as a snowflake machine, to ensure customers’ visits are an experience they will never forget.

What guests don’t realise is the huge amount of time and energy it takes to maintain and manage such a large project.

Rivet joined the FM division of MAF Dalkia five months prior to the opening of Ski Dubai.

He was involved in all the final projects acting as an advisor to a team of 20 and working with 100 contractors and sub contractors who were assisting the commissioning manager. Rivet also manages the PPM (planned preventative maintenance) for all of Ski Dubai.

“On the day I started, there were a million and one things to do. One of the problems was that the outside temperature was around 50 degrees and we had to cool down the building,” he said.

“All the roles are technical but FM is a complete part of the whole operation. My job is to take care of the PPM of all the equipment, MEP and the chairlift as well as all the other types of snow equipment and machinery.

“Working in FM at an indoor ski centre is not the same as working on a ski resort. Our operations change every day becuase the facilities are temporary. Nothing is permanent and there is a lot of improvisaton. There is no one set of guidelines.”

Rivet cited the various functions the centre has held including the German company MAN Trucks, when it had a launch party on the slopes and when Nelson Piquet Jnr drove the Renault F1 inside Ski Dubai to celebrate the regional launch of the Renault Koleos, as examples of having to change the indoor environment.

“We don’t know what to expect on a daily basis. It is an exciting part of the job because there is no set routine”

Energy costs
On a serious note, Rivet has to monitor all outgoing costs and maintain a high level of energy efficiency. Out of the 52 megawatts (MW) consumed by the whole of the Mall of Emirates, Ski Dubai uses four MW.

He has to save 20% on the total bill each year by cutting electrical costs, waste control and putting the lights on timers.

“The first two years were a learning curve. We are still working on it today. We try to control all insulation of the building as part of our energy management. If we get a leak somewhere it is a waste of energy. We have had no problems so far but it needs a lot of attention as the building is constantly in the sun.”

Managing the snow process is a BMS (building management system) uniquely adapted and designed by Siemens. It is responsible for the cooling, snow making and preservation of the snow.

It has 21 coolers and one ammonia plant room to help manage the cooling and snow making. The BMS operates on two different modes; operational and snow making.

The BMS used for the cooling and snow making is an automated process and doesn’t need any manual input, this in itself is cost saving, as less staff are required.

The temperature needs to be kept at around –1.5 during the time it is used by consumers and drops to around –8 before the snow making process can begin.

“Our aim is to cool down the slope via the BMS. It has the capacity to produce 50 tonnes of snow every day. Most of the time we use 30 tonnes of snow to renew the slopes overnight 365 days a year.”

As customers use the slopes and its facilities from 10am-1am, this leaves eight hours during the night and the early hours of the morning to make sure everything is perfect for the next batch of skiers who will expect impeccable snow and facilities the following day.

We have to do the maintenance in short periods of time during the night. Ski resorts shut down during the summer but we can’t do that. The window for us to do the maintenance is from midnight until 8am,” said Rivet.

“The biggest challenge for us is to stop the snow from melting because if it turns to slush or ice it becomes dangerous and can become a safety hazard for skiers.

“The building itself shrinks and expands according to the outside and inside air temperature so we have to watch for any cracks or leaks using infrared cameras.

“It can be -10 degrees inside and 50 degrees outside which changes overnight when the temperatures drop.”

Workers use a giant PistenBully, grooming machine, to resurface the snow. It also has a ski-doo, snow blower and 10 other types of large and small machinery.

“We only had one machine in the beginning but it was a hell of a lot of work for one piece of equipment so we bought in one more. Grooming the snow is essential to the attraction as it makes it easier to ski. Other jobs include corrective maintenance as well as fixing the machinery prior to any breakdown or emergency.”

The BMS is monitored in the main control room which is also home to 16 CCTV cameras, control panels for smoke extractors, fire alarms and elevators.

MAF Dalkia is the first company to negotiate a private link into the Dubai network police via Tetra (a digital system for mobile communication within the Mall).

The fire, safety and police all keep in touch with one another using walkie-talkies and MAF Dalkia also has its own channel in case of emergencies.

New projects
MAF Dalkia plans to carry out an extensive refurbishment of the chairlifts this year, removing all the cables and dismantling the 5,000 kilo bell wheel, which operates the whole structure.

It will close down part of its operations during Ramadan in the summer.

“If you are going to replace the chairlifts at a major ski resort in Europe you would use a helicopter but we can’t do that here. We have to take out each part of the structure over a period of several months to check it for repairs and maintenance and then re-install it back inside the ski dome,” said Rivet.

“Ski Dubai will be closed for one month during Ramadan while MAF Dalkia bring in engineers who have expert knowledge from France and will carry out a third party inspection.

“Our priority is to ensure the safety of visitors to the attraction and to make sure the chairlift works properly. The machinery is meant to be replaced once every 10 years and there is only one other facility in the world that runs like ours over many hours a day and that is the metro system in Bogota, the capital of Columbia.

“We are designing a programme with them in order to assist with our technical engineering on this project.”

According to Rivet, Ski Dubai has the same amount of mechanical operations running in one year compared to five years at a normal ski resort because it is open every day of the year.

He said it is normal for FM to instigate a renewal programme after a certain number of years.

“The metro in Columbia runs for the same amount of hours a day as the tourist attraction in Dubai and as it was open two years prior to Ski Dubai. The engineers here can learn a lot from their expertise and are currently working with them on other projects as well,” he said.

“The important thing for MAF Dalkia is how we process the information. We have the knowledge and we know what works as a team.”

The company is currently working on a project to open a similar type of ski centre in Cairo, Egypt and construction is due to start this year.

Ski Dubai is open Sunday-Wednesday 10am-11pm, Thursday 10am-midnight, Friday 9am-midnight and Saturday 9am-11pm. For more information about Ski Dubai visit

Biggest events to date

  • The German company, MAN Trucks, held a launch party on the ski slopes with lasers. 
  • The German Olympic ski team came to Ski Dubai as part of its training.
  • In 2009, Nelson Piquet Jnr drove the Renault F1 inside Ski Dubai to celebrate the regional launch of the Renault Koleos.
  • Basketball player Michael Jordan had to call the tourist attraction in advance to get some snow boots in a larger size for his feet.
  • Tom Cruise visited the ski centre while filming Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol in Dubai.


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