New Jersey’s Endless Winter?
Snowboard in tow, a boarder takes an escalator headed for the entrance of Big SNOW American Dream, enthused to ride inside of a shopping mall.
“It’s something to do on a rainy day,” he says, making his way into the American Dream mega mall, in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Big SNOW American Dream officially opened for business on Dec. 5 as Olympic gold medalist skiers and snowboarders Donna Weinbrecht, Lindsey Vonn, Kelly Clark, and Red Gerard rode the honorary first chair. Representatives from Head Skis and Burton Snowboards also attended the grand opening celebration.
Perhaps other than the highly publicized Ski Dubai, Big SNOW has to be among the world’s unlikeliest places for skiers to carve turns or snowboarders to throw a trick or two—and it’s the first indoor ski area of its kind in the United States.
The massive, sixteen-story, indoor facility is located approximately four miles from the Lincoln Tunnel into New York City and just across a busy New Jersey road from MetLife Stadium, home to the NFL’s New York Jets and Giants.
“We’ve literally brought the mountain to the city,” says Big SNOW American Dream vice president of marketing Hugh Reynolds. “We sit in the heart of 26 million people in the New York DMA (Designated Market Area). Most of them live within a 30-mile car ride from this facility.”
For those dreaming of diving into fluffy Utah powder on a sunny, bluebird morning, Big SNOW is probably not your calling, but for skiers or snowboarders needing a quick fix, beginners seeking to make their first turns, or parents wishing to introduce snow sports to their kids, the four-acres (180,000 square feet) of hills and 750-foot slope are quite inviting.
“I like it. The snow conditions are great, the temperature is fine and you don’t have the wind chill factor,” says Barbara Botz-Brennan, a resident of nearby Secaucus, strapping on skis for the first time nearly two decades. “There’s not a lot of variety, but it’s very convenient for a day out.”
Inside, twelve fixed snow guns produce artificial snow and the two trails serviced by one quadruple chairlift and a Poma lift along with two magic carpets for children. There is also a small terrain park.
A miniature, zero emissions Prinoth Husky X snowcat grooms terrain overnight with the steepest grade of the indoor slope at 26 degrees. The initial load of 5,500 tons of snow required three months to generate.
Weather is never a concern. Temperatures inside the dome remain fixed at 28 degrees Fahrenheit and low humidity ensures consistent, granular snow.
“It has a good squeaky consistency to it, it holds an edge well, it’s predictable and it is the same every day,” Reynolds tells POWDER Magazine about the snow quality. “There’s no ice and every morning you’re getting fresh corduroy.”
Considering Big SNOW’s location in the shadow of Manhattan, it’s no surprise that the clientele has been quite diverse over the course of the first month of operation.
“We’re getting a very urban clientele that would have never thought of driving to an outdoor mountain, but they want to see what this is all about,” Reynolds notes. “One of our goals is to introduce a quarter of a million new skiers and snowboarders to the industry in the next year.”
Lift tickets are sold in two-hour blocks with a target of approximately 250 customers per hour and a maximum of 500 on the hill at any given time. Lift tickets are $40 for two hours and $50 for four hours. The all-inclusive snow day package offers two hours on snow, lessons, equipment, ski pants, jacket and helmet for $64 online or $69 onsite. Big SNOW intends on staying open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., 365 days per year.
“We’re trying to spread the demand over the course of the entire day,” Reynolds informs. “This holiday week we were sold out bell-to-bell, so if you didn’t book online you weren’t getting in to ski.”
There is also a 5,500-square-foot retail store with tall windows offering views into the Big SNOW complex. Deals with Burton, Oakley, and other ski and snowboard companies exist.
There is no vibrant après-ski scene just yet. While there is a small coffee shop in the pleasantly decorated base area with a rustic mountain lodge as a backdrop, Big Snow doesn’t own a liquor license. However, according to Reynolds, a Hard Rock Café, Yard House Brewery and Lucky Strike bowling alley are scheduled to open on the second floor of the base area possibly as soon as March.
Big SNOW American Dream is owned and operated by Snow Operating, which also runs New Jersey’s Mountain Creek Resort. Snow Operating rescued the intricate project that has been nearly two decades in the making, having previously been derailed by financial shortcomings, changes of ownership and a total cost rising in excess of $5 billion.
There is no questioning the novelty, uniqueness and “wow factor” that Big SNOW conjures. However, despite its prime location near the heart of the New York Metropolitan area, one has to wonder if an undertaking this enormous in scale, with seemingly substantial operational costs year round, can actually survive?
Reynolds projects that Big SNOW could see 500,000 to 700,000 skier visits in the opening year, which would place it among the largest ski areas in terms of volume in the northeast.
“I think it comes down to our proximity to population,” Reynolds says. “We’re blessed to be located in one of the most densely populated area of the country and New York and New Jersey generally have a higher rate of skier participation than the national average.
“What we can do with accessibility and access—we can fan those flames and I imagine that we should stay very busy all year round.”
Needless to say, avalanche beacons, probes and shovels are not required.
This article originally appeared on Powder.com and was republished with permission.
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