Big SNOW: New Jersey’s Best Mall Skiing

I skied at Big SNOW American Dream last Friday. To be honest, I didn’t expect much. I’ve been curious about it and only live about 40 minutes away, so maybe I should have gone sooner.

As cool as off-season skiing sounds, the tiny little beginner hill, packed into a mall, wasn’t too appealing. I just couldn’t summon the motivation.

Big SNOW

Last weekend, I needed a box of doughnuts for a Halloween event I was attending first thing Saturday morning. Krispy Kremes are the best-in-class product closest to me, and ten minutes away from Big SNOW, so I combined trips to check the place out.

I went online and bought my ticket. I chose a 7 PM arrival time which gave me plenty of time to wax my K2s and score my donuts. As I expected walking through a mall with my ski gear on my shoulder was weird. I found the place after a minute or two at the top of an escalator. I checked in, booted up and made my way to the slope.

The Quad

I don’t want to beat up on Big SNOW too much. Recruiting new skiers is a noble goal. It’s about as much fun as you’d expect from 4 acres of beginner terrain. The main trail is a consistent low angle, from top to bottom. I’d guess the vertical is about a hundred feet and not much more. There’s a little terrain park on the other side of the lift and an even smaller “beginners area” near the mall entrance which has some snow berms and fences set up to create switchbacks for terrain-based instruction.

I skied for the full two hours. I tried to make it fun by hitting some jumps in the park and by skiing as fast as I could on the main trail. I even rode the magic carpet to see if the switchbacks in the learning area might make things interesting. Nope.

The Headwall

There is a Poma surface lift along the wall next to the terrain park but it wasn’t operating, which makes me think it never operates since Friday night was relatively crowded. Riding the Poma would have improved the experience in my opinion.

Eventually I used the cones that cordoned off the Poma, as a slalom course. That was probably against the rules but I was desperate. I have to say the snow was decent quality and the cold air felt good. I was skiing, so that is cool.

Patrol

Apart from the small size and mundane setup, there were a few things that they could have done better. The lights are a bit harsh, either fluorescent or LED. I’m sure they want the most energy efficient option possible but what is installed now is so glaringly institutional in nature that hurt an already marginal experience.

The smallest place I ever skied before this outing was Campgaw, just to the north. I figured that would be my yardstick to judge Big SNOW. Campgaw is a tiny feeder hill, good for teaching raw beginners, which is Big SNOW’s stated objective, so it seemed like a fair comparison. To put it bluntly, Campgaw kicks Big SNOW’s butt. If you want to introduce a new skier to the sport, Mount Peter, Thunder Ridge, Mohawk and Shawnee are better options.

The Big Payoff

The long awaited indoor skiing venue in Rutherford, NJ, received a lot of attention when it opened at the end of last year. Journalists and a gaggle of high profile pro skiers and snowboarders showed up for the grand opening. The reports seemed to range from the crazy “Big SNOW is going to save skiing” to “I went on a goof with low expectations but it was surprisingly awesome.”

If you were expecting somebody to punch you in the face and steal your wallet as you walked through the front door, then Big Snow will probably exceed expectations. And maybe Big Snow will save skiing, I don’t know. Still I can’t get away from the litany of potential slogans that are running through my head… “Big Snow, it’s better than a punch in the face?”

19 comments on “Big SNOW: New Jersey’s Best Mall Skiing

  1. I was there last weekend. The tow rope was running and a lot of the park rats were using it for their laps. I was with my daughter (9 and on a ski team) and we had a lot of fun for 2 hours. I (AASI snowboard instructor) spent the day riding switch and carving turns. The snow was nice and held the edge.

    You’re right in that it was short but for October snow, it was a great way to get loose. Is it weird to go up 2 escalators past a Sephora and a Halloween family photo op to get to the “lodge”? Yes. Was it awesome to get in some snow and take some turns, also yes.

  2. I’d hit it. Wish there was a bump line, that would keep me entertained for hours, but I understand with a small amount terrain, it’s probably too valuable to dedicate space for it.

  3. Upon reading your blog about Big Snow I was extremely disappointed. Perhaps you have become jaded by watching too much ski/snowboard porn? What is the reason we slide down a hill? One of my daughters once said “Skiing isn’t about how big the mountain is, but who you’re with, and having fun!”. She was about ten years old at the time.

    I skied Big Snow with another PSIA instructor the first week it opened. We skied for about four hours, and had a great time. Big Snow is open, pandemic permitting, seven days a week – 365 days a year. They make snow as needed, groom nightly, and it’s 28 degrees inside. Is it the Rockies? No, but it’s a great place to begin to slide, or to get on snow when you have the need. By the way the vertical drop is 160 ft.

    The first, and smallest, place I ever skied was Van Cortlandt Park in The Bronx. In the 1960’s New York City’s Department of Parks and Recreation set up a ski area with: snow guns, a rope tow, lights, a rental shop, a warming hut, and instructors. I took a subway to get there, and fell in love with everything about the sport. That was 1965, and I’m still skiing. It wasn’t the size of the hill, it was smaller than Big Snow, but it was the people I was with and the fun of sliding down the hill. Perhaps you need to revisit why you first fell in love with sliding down a hill.

  4. There are cheaper, better options in winter for sure, in terms of first-timer hills. But it’s right next door to Manhattan and the novelty of indoor skiing in summer is certainly worth a trip. A bump run would be amazing to practice on in the off-season, but I get there’s a limited appeal for that (and may be tricky to maintain).

    One of the absolute best parts of skiing is getting fresh air and being surrounded by the mountains in winter. So obviously this is missing that, with walls and fluorescent lighting. But if it creates a new audience for skiing and unlocks the experience for folks who’ve never tried before, that’s a net positive for sure.

  5. I was there the night before you Brownski. When I got home my comment to my daughter was that we are doomed as a species – to build giant refrigerator to slide down a few hundred yards with sticks strapped to our feet is pretty bizarro! Oh well, it was stupid fun. The two things that probably made my trip more enjoyable were slalom skis for lots of turns and going with friends… add a few laughs and even mall skiing is good skiing! How were those Krispy Kremes?

  6. It would be impossible to love this place and believe in the GREEN NEW DEAL! Did anyone see AOC there?

  7. I’ll be taking my kid there when he’s ready to start learning. Seems like a fantastic way to get him comfortable on skis in the off season with minimal time and money investment, and make our first trips in the real season much better.

  8. I thought about skiing Big Snow, and asking them if I could go uphill skiing on nordic gear. Haven’t done it. I think I’d rather be outside.

    I might need to find a Krispy Kreme outlet. They have to be better than my homemade baked doughnuts.

  9. I’ve been 4 times so far! It’s not much of a hill but it’s skiing, and it’s nice to be in the cold air. No goggles needed … I also wish there was a bump run. It’s run by the people from Mountain Creek ..

  10. Nice take Brownski. The park rat in me is excited for summer time park laps. Also surprised it’s not super packed and doesn’t charge an arm and a leg.

    I do take issue with the claim that Krispy Kremes are “best-in-class”… ha

  11. Nice story Brownski! I have been thinking of going before the season to loosen up a bit and getting real info helps with my decision.

    Krispy Kremes doughnuts are awesome! some locations have a red light outside that when lit means fresh doughnuts; and seeing them slowly revolve around the store on the roller coaster like ramp really makes them hard to resist.

    Duck doughnuts are making their way north and I highly recommend them but limiting to one as they are very rich in flavor and calories I am sure.

    Stay safe and keep up the great writing.

  12. For local families with young kids, I’ve heard nothing but good things about the experience. No complaining about the cold weather, no long car drive, not a full day affair, not a huge ripoff if you have your own gear, etc.

    And while it may be a short unchallenging non-environmentally friendly slope, you can always keep busy doing improvement drills (falling leaf, shovel spins, etc.) provided there is enough personal space.

    Still have no idea how the business model is sustainable.

  13. Thanks for the read. I am just under 20 minutes away and can’t pull the trigger.. Always thought if they seeded it on one side it might have a chance with advanced skiers if even possible. Campqaw has at least that one little pitch at the top. A lot to be said about the great outdoors. Cool you gave it a shot. KK to the rescue. PEACE

  14. SnowSurfers comment made me wonder about the energy usage. It looks like most of the numbers out there focus on the indoor slope in Dubai. One estimate I saw indicated that Ski Dubai uses about 750 MwH per year. I think that equates to the energy us 230 families/homes per year, but I’m not sure. I also don’t know how it compares — per skier visit — to outdoor ski areas in the northeast.

    Dubai is obviously bigger than Big SNOW and it’s in a desert.

    Be interested to know if anyone could do a real analysis.

  15. Outdoor resort snowmaking is also very energy intensive (running all those compressors!). And with New England’s constant freeze/thaw issues, requires constant re-surfacing. It’s not obvious Big Snow is more energy intensive per skier-hour.

  16. Thanks again for the feedback. I admit I judged the place from the POV of someone who already knows how to ski. I could see the learning area being a good place for a toddler’s first day on skis. I wouldn’t bring that kid over to the main hill though, lest he get run over by a snow bike. Likewise, I could see How a teenage park rat could stay interested for a few visits. And, of course, breathing the cold air feels good. That’s about as far as I can go.

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