There are a few things New Jersey is known for — its diners, “The Sopranos,” Bruce Springsteen, and MetLife Stadium, to start. But, now the Garden State has fresh new bragging rights with the first indoor real-snow ski and snowboard park in North America.
Big SNOW, which is operated by Snow Operating, the same team behind Mountain Creek Resort, is located inside the American Dream mall, East Rutherford’s latest attraction in the Meadowlands Sports Complex. The year-round winter wonderland impresses with specs before even stepping inside the controlled 28ºF interior: four skiable acres across 180,000 square feet, making 4.4 tons of snow per hour at an average snow depth of two feet, with a 16-story vertical drop at 1000 ft long and 200 ft wide.
Hitting the slopes may not be what comes to mind once getting off the often-times gridlock of I-95, but here slope grades vary up to 26 percent at the steepest point, marking a moderate run or a difficult Blue, with two moving carpet lifts and a fixed-grip quad chair-lift.
“Our involvement with Big SNOW stems from an idea we’ve long had about bringing the mountain to the people. The idea of making skiing and snowboarding accessible for the masses by providing the opportunity to get on snow right where people live is game changing,” said Hugh Reynolds, vice president of marketing and sales at Snow Operating.
This idea was 10 years in the making, and Big SNOW had its first chair-lift on December 5, welcoming Olympic medalists Kelly Clark, Lindsey Vonn, and Red Gerard.
As you walk through the doors of Big SNOW, you’ll pass the retail shop before arriving at the check-in counter. Here, sign up for any two-hour time slot and receive a wearable wristband ticket, which includes any rentals you may need — jackets, pants, boots, gloves, and equipment. Then, enter one of three gondola welcoming areas where you’ll meet Big, the friendly yeti mascot of the mountain, and watch a brief welcoming video.
Continue on and it’s just like a real ski area, with secure lockers that are activated using your wristband. Entering the park itself is a little trippy, like a massively oversized ice-skating rink you can throw snowballs in. In one direction, there’s terrain and in another, faux pine trees line the walls between windows that overlook the arena, the aesthetic of a real-life snow globe. The ski chalet décor, once finished, will host a complete dining area, in addition to the already completed hot chocolate and pretzel station.
Opening weekend alone saw visitation in the thousands, with half being novice or beginning skiers and snowboarders. Reynolds said,
“The current U.S. ski data tells us about 50 percent of first-timers choose not to take a lesson,” which is why Big SNOW offers “a self-guided lesson experience that incorporates specific stations, signage, and videos to assist guests who want to go at it on their own.”
Instructors are available for more hands-on assistance if needed — a complimentary service.
All of this is done through a Terrain Based Learning method with specific shaped snow features to aid in the learning process. Kacper Polus, one of the ski instructors on site with 10 years of coaching experience, guides beginners through TBL before assisting them down the steeper slope, skiing backwards as he holds on.
With only 500 people allowed inside at a time, projected visits are 500,000 per year. Big SNOW’s main allure is that it’s only a 20-minute drive from NYC, but it also benefits in feeling very much like any other mountain within a two-hour drive of the city. Without the effects of outside elements, making every day a snow day, the snow actually feels mildly fluffier than other snow-making systems, making it less icy and therein less frightening for beginners. Their snowmaking process replicates nature’s; water from units in the ceiling freezes into snow as it falls. The radiant cooling system below ensures powdery consistency and any melt is recirculated into the water supply to reduce the environmental impact.
Right now, hard-hitting skiers and snowboarders are heading to the real thing, but come the warmer months, Big SNOW will be the only place to get those runs in.
Big SNOW is open daily from 10 AM to 10 PM. Packages start at $49.99; private lessons and group rates are available. Big SNOW American Dream is located at 1 American Dream Way in East Rutherford, NJ.
This article first appeared in the December 17 issue of The Independent Newspaper.