Saudi snow city tests kingdom's capacity for fun

Thu Jul 28, 2016 9:01am EDT
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By Katie Paul

RIYADH (Reuters) - At a shopping mall in southern Riyadh, a woman shrouded in black robes and bulgy black coat throws snowballs at her young son, giggling underneath a face covering. The boy gleefully lobs snowy projectiles back in her direction.

Nearby, children in neon snow suits stand squealing under a spray of ice droplets. Others trudge up a snowy hill with parents, before cascading down ice slides in inflatable tubes.

"It's freezing," one little girl exclaims, teeth chattering, even as temperatures outside exceed 45 Celsius (113 Fahrenheit).

There is no music to drown out the drone of air conditioners inside the Snow City theme park in the Saudi Arabian capital, in keeping with the kingdom's strict interpretation of Islam.

But in a country where rigid public morality codes keep most public spaces segregated by gender and discourage women's sports as sinful, the new mixed-gender attraction is a rare opportunity for Saudis of all stripes to blow off steam.

"It's awesome that this is allowed for us," said Bedour, a bubbly 19-year-old, who kept her face covered but traded her black robes for a colorful snowsuit.

"Women in Saudi Arabia are required to wear abayas" -- loose-fitting, full-length robes -- "whenever they're outside. In here, it's different."

Entertainment offerings and physical activities are severely limited in the Islamic kingdom, especially during the withering summer months, something reformers led by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman are trying to change as part of a wide-ranging program to transform the Saudi economy and society.   Continued...

A saudi woman takes a selfie in the new Snow City at Al Othaim Mall in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia July 26, 2016. Picture taken July 26, 2016. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser