Saudi Arabia plans to build a futuristic ski resort with a folded vertical village

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The crown prince unveils ‘Trojena,’ the next ambitious concept in the Neom megacity, raising concerns among architects.

The crown prince of Saudi Arabia has unveiled his most ambitious and architecturally challenging proposal yet: a mountain ski resort with a folded vertical village and a three-kilometer man-made lake.

After constructing a 170km straight line city, an eight-sided city that floats on water, and a totally non-profit metropolis named after the de facto leader, the Saudis have returned with their latest boundary-pushing concept.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman unveiled “Trojena,” a mountain tourism destination to be created in Neom, a futuristic megacity said to be 33 times the size of New York City, on Thursday.

“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,” according to a statement released by the company.

“It will be an important addition to tourism in the region, a unique example of how Saudi Arabia is creating destinations based on its geographical and environmental diversity.”

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The project, which is scheduled to be completed in 2026, will include year-round outdoor skiing, a spa resort, and an interactive nature reserve, among other things. The Vault, a folded vertical village that “connects the physical and digital worlds,” will also be included.

The man-made carved hamlet will contain “bespoke experiences where reality and imagination are combined,” according to Neom’s website, though there are little details about what this means.

Philip Gullett, who is from the United Kingdom, said: “In a way, it’s similar in concept to The Line, in that it’s concentrating that vertical village or city in one place, minimising the land take – and maximising walkability – rather than spreading all those elements out across a large space.”

The tourism attraction would also have a freshwater man-made lake less than 3 kilometers long. The engineering difficulty of getting water up to the lake, according to Gullett, is “achievable” but “pushes the boundaries.”

Trojena plans to draw 700,000 visitors and 7,000 permanent inhabitants by 2030, according to a press release. It was also reported that the project would generate 10,000 employment and provide $3 billion riyals ($800 million) to the Saudi economy.

Trojena is a component of the crown prince’s Vision 2030 initiative, which intends to modernize the monarchy and diversify its economy away from dependency on oil.

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Trojena’s promotional movies and graphics have been widely mocked online, notably by architects.

“They said for years, ‘you can’t build a futuristic folded-vertical village,’ and we believed them. Look at us now,” one architect jokingly said.

“In a way, skiing uphill kind of works as a metaphor for this whole project… where the snow is made of the powdered bones of hundreds of thousands of indentured foreign labourers trapped to work on it,” said one user on social media.

A report published last year indicated that the grandiosity and overwhelming scale of Neom’s programs were pushing away its personnel. Urban experts reportedly offered the crown prince a simpler concept for a zero-carbon metropolis, but the Saudi de facto monarch answered, “I want to build my pyramids.”

The Neom project is being built in Tabuk province, where tribespeople are being relocated from their traditional houses to make space for the construction. Human rights groups were outraged when tribal activist Abdul-Rahim al-Howeiti was shot dead in April 2020, shortly after making films denouncing his eviction.

“The message it sends to members of Al-Howeitat, especially, and to all citizens of Saudi Arabia, is that the tyrant MBS [initials used for the crown prince] is willing to commit international crimes such as forced displacement and destroy their homes and spend billions of their money for his delusional project,” Alya Al-Huwaiti, a London-based Saudi human rights activist and dissident, and a member of the Howeitat tribe, told Middle East Eye. It’s an angry message of unprecedented subjugation.

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