Bruce Springsteen gave New Jersey his “Tunnel of Love.” More than three decades later, American Dream gave the state a tunnel of snow.
Big SNOW at American Dream, the steel neck craning out of the new Meadowlands mega-mall and entertainment complex in East Rutherford, opened Thursday. Billed as North America’s first indoor, real-snow ski and snowboard center, the slope opened to hundreds of skiers and snowboarders, joined by Olympic champions Kelly Clark, Red Gerard and Lindsey Vonn, a new New Jersey resident.
Donna Weinbrecht, a West Milford native and 1992 gold medalist, said she has been excited about getting onto the slope for years. Having never skied indoors, the 54-year-old said it was a wild thought that she could have an Alpine experience in mid-summer.
“I started on smaller ski areas. This is very similar,” she said. “It’s a great little test. The conditions are fantastic … I didn’t feel any difference.”
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While the steel-trussed backdrop and still-unfinished faux-lodge facade fail to live up to the LED-powered hype of its winter fantasy-land renderings, the slope itself is ideal, said Anthony Melchiorri, a 54-year-old Travel Channel host and one of the first guests.
The slope is two escalator rides up from a parking lot. Wristband scanners are used to usher guests through the locker rooms, onto the slope and to the ski lift.
“It’s easy in, easy out. It’s clean and it’s affordable,” Melchiorri said. “Kids that never would have thought of skiing can come here and experience it.”
Part of the Big SNOW concept is to use the controlled environment to introduce newcomers to skiing, officials said. The operating company, SNOW Operating, runs Mountain Creek in Vernon and works as a consultant for major resorts in Canada, Colorado and other ski destinations.
Hugh Reynolds, the head of marketing for SNOW Operating, said the slope was booked to 80 percent capacity for the weekend, even before the doors opened to the public. Visitors book time slots. That helps to maintain a steady flow of guests and prevent overcrowding, he said.
Reynolds said the slope, offerings and visitor experience will be refined over time. He nonetheless said Thursday was the highlight of his five-year association with American Dream developer Triple 5 Group.
“I grew up watching this and was excited about it before I even got involved,” he said. “Like a house, you don’t always get it right. There will always be tweaks. But I’m really happy with how it turned out.”
Another early guest, 71-year-old Buffy Whiting, said Big SNOW is simply amazing.
Whiting teaches an adaptive ski program at Mountain Creek in Vernon. The Meadowlands slope provides year-round opportunities for those programs and more, she said.
Unlike Mountain Creek, visitors to the indoor slope don’t even need to dress for the occasion. In addition to providing skis and boots, Big SNOW has lesson packages that include the requisite winter clothing.
“The snow is perfect,” she said. “And the slope is amazing. It’s longer than you think, and you can really carry some speed.”
The 160-foot slope features a graduated incline shaped with 5,500-tons of real snow that has been sprayed by snow machines night and day for the previous month.
At the top, the slope has a 26-degree incline. Designed to mirror an intermediate ski run, it starts noticeably steep but drops off to a more gradual incline as it progresses downhill.
Skiers and snowboarders Thursday were not alone on the slope. Sno-Go snow bikes were also available to provide people unfamiliar with winter sports an entry-level experience.
Nate Duchow, a sales manager for the company, said the gravity-powered bike has a kinship with the new slope, since it’s designed to pull people into mountain sports and retain them.
He said the slope is a “sliver of what you get on the mountain,” with officials touting a base of 3 to 6 feet of snow made in ideal conditions.
The air temperatures on the American Dream slope is held at a steady 28 degrees Fahrenheit. However, due to the activity inside, the snow gradually melts. A specially designed system collects the snowmelt for redistribution in the form of fresh snow.
Dozens of snow guns mounted around the structure stand ready to activate at a moment’s notice.
The slope will be open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily starting Friday. Reservations and ticket prices are available online at bigsnowamericandream.com.
Neil Press, a 44-year-old snowboarder from New York City, was one of the first waiting in line at 3 p.m. Press, who paid $30 for a two-hour session, said he was able to pack up his car and make the trip across the Hudson River in 25 minutes after an unexpected opening in his work schedule.
He said he was eager to see what it’s like to snowboard indoors. Before he hit the slopes, Press said he was concerned the experience would become dull after a few downhill runs. After two hours, he said it’s a place he may not frequent, but will keep in mind for special occasions.
“It’s pretty killer,” Press said. “I ran into some buddies, and I’m really having a great time.”
David Zimmer is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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