Think about all the money and effort that goes into a weekend of skiing if you don’t live right next to the slopes. There are the lift tickets, transportation to the resort, lodging, meals while out of town and potentially even a dog sitter (or other arrangements) if you’re leaving home for a few days.
A small but quickly growing cluster of companies have a different vision for your ski getaway. In the future, all you might have to do to ski or snowboard is to drive down the street — the same way you would to a nearby movie theater, miniature golf course or ice skating rink.
If you haven’t yet heard of indoor skiing, there’s a good chance you will soon.
Indoor skiing is already popular in Europe, and the trend is making its way to the U.S. TPG reported this past summer about a “resort” just outside New York City that’s gone the furthest of any company so far in bringing the concept to our shores.
In June, executive editor Scott Mayerowitz traded 90-plus-degree temperatures outside for a few runs down the indoor slopes of Big Snow American Dream, which sits in a strip mall in New Jersey’s Meadowlands.
The facility boasts human-made snow and sub-freezing temperatures that feel quintessentially ski slope-authentic.
You can spend a couple of hours riding the chairlift and navigating Big Snow’s two slopes for around $70-$90 (if you want slope access as well as equipment rentals, including skis and clothes).
Representatives of the company behind this first-of-its-kind venue in the U.S. believe it’s filling a key void.
“We’re removing all the traditional barriers of entry to the sport and quite literally bringing the mountain to where the people are,” said Hugh Reynolds, chief marketing officer of SNOW Partners.
If Big Snow largely stands alone in the U.S. at the moment, it won’t for long.
An executive at one of the company’s future competitors — yes, the industry is gaining competition — has tried the Meadowlands slopes out himself.
“I’ve skied it. It’s fun,” Alpine-x CEO John Emory said of the New Jersey ski area.
Then, he pivoted to his own future plans: “We’re building something larger,” he told TPG.
A growing trend?
Indoor skiing is not a new concept outside the U.S. For more than 15 years, the giant structure housing Ski Dubai has towered over Mall of the Emirates in Dubai, providing an ice-cold oasis in the middle of the desert.
You can even meet penguins in between runs.
Other venues — such as SnowWorld’s seven locations in The Netherlands or Snow Factor in Scotland — have given both avid skiers and novices the chance to get some runs in. Even when the weather outside is not conducive to fresh powder, customers can still learn to ski or train for competitions.
You’ll find quite a few indoor skiing spots in Germany, too, such as Alpincenter in Bottrop. Many of these facilities have one slope for beginners and another for the most experienced skiers.
The U.S. already has its share of venues that allow for a version of indoor skiing without actual snow.
While each place differs, the facilities generally put skiers or snowboarders on mini slopes, some of which have special, snow-like surfaces and can move. A number of these places have setups resembling what a lay observer might describe as ski treadmills.
For instance, Snobahn, south of Denver, has an especially unique “revolving slope” for guests to use.
However, it wasn’t until Big Snow opened outside New York in late 2019 — just before the pandemic promptly put an extended damper on its operations — that the U.S. had a true indoor skiing “resort” with lifts, powder and full-fledged snow skiing.
More places are coming.
Alpine-x has big plans for a skiing and snowboarding resort on the site of a former landfill outside Washington, D.C. — right along the interstate 95 corridor in Fairfax County. It also is planning future locations in Dallas, Austin and, eventually, beyond.
“There [are] many other markets that have asked us to take a look,” Emory said, suggesting there may be two dozen or so cities in the U.S. that could be a good fit.
The company’s concept will pair hundreds of hotel rooms with restaurants and slopes to form what he called “basically a full-blown resort.”
He believes the indoor slopes can serve as both fun destinations for out-of-towners as well as entertainment for locals to enjoy close to home.
“It’s not just bringing snow sports to more people,” Emory said. “It’s bringing family entertainment in a way that is very time-efficient and cost-efficient.”
Likewise, Big Snow is planning its own expansion into new cities.
“We have hopes to have multiple locations in different markets across the U.S. in the next five to 10 years,” Reynolds said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if before the winter we have some announcements to make in that area.”
Clearly, indoor skiing is a trend that’s picking up steam.
How does indoor skiing compare to outdoor skiing?
If there’s an elephant in the discussion room for this topic, it’s that no indoor skiing space could possibly replicate the vastness — not to mention the natural beauty — of the mountains, from the Rockies to the Appalachians.
Indeed, how could a couple of relatively short indoor slopes possibly compete with a 30-minute run down thousands of feet while looking over Lake Tahoe, or stack up against the impeccable powder around Park City, Utah?
TPG’s Mayerowitz — an avid skier who had tried the runs at Ski Dubai in 2012 before skiing Big Snow a decade later — is the first to point out it’s not the same … by a long shot.
“Indoor skiing is no replacement for the real thing,” he said. “The adrenaline rush you get dropping into a chute out West or swerving between trees just can’t be replicated inside.”
Consider this: At Big Snow, it took him about six minutes to ride the lift up — and 24 seconds to ski down. Supporters might point out you’ll get a lot of runs in, but might it get repetitive?
“Trust me, two hours is plenty of time,” Mayerowitz wrote about the experience this summer.
And that’s to say nothing of the beautiful sights of snow-covered peaks and the bird’s-eye view of the valley you get during a true mountain skiing experience.
Take that away in favor of indoor runs on short slopes, sometimes in shopping mall settings … can you imagine what America’s top skiing professionals might think?
You might be surprised by what one told us.
Helping beginners learn to ski
“Is it a good idea for someone to learn to ski at an indoor venue?” I asked Jeb Boyd, National Team head coach with Professional Ski Instructors of America and the American Association of Snowboard Instructors.
“Yes,” Boyd said. “Especially if the indoor venue is close to home.”
Surprised by his answer? Boyd’s perspective is grounded in the proximity — and thus convenience — these venues offer.
Considering they can stay open 12 months per year in even the hottest locations, the idea is that better access means more people can try skiing. This should ultimately translate to more interest in the sport, he believes.
“I am thrilled to have these venues popping up in our country,” Boyd told TPG. “Just because the venue isn’t what you would traditionally think when considering skiing or riding, any place that can provide access to the sport, the equipment and the expertise is the right place.”
His logic aligns with that of the companies behind these current and future indoor venues, who do not see indoor venues as alternatives to a full-fledged mountain run.
“It doesn’t replace the full outdoor experience,” Emory said. “It’s not designed to.”
As Alpine-x eyes three — and potentially dozens more — indoor venues across the U.S., Emory’s vision is a facility that does two things. First, he wants the facilities to give both beginner and avid skiers places to practice year-round. Second, he wants the venues to provide an alternative for a local afternoon or evening of family fun, with minimal advance planning required.
“You can come for two hours on a Tuesday night,” he said.
For those looking to sharpen already-refined skills? He feels the angle of descent, along with slalom capabilities, makes his indoor skiing spots a fit for nearly anyone.
“It doesn’t have the length you have outdoors,” he acknowledged. “But you can get a lot of snow time in with the same angles and width you would have in your outdoor competition.”
Big Snow American Dream in New Jersey is already perfecting its model. Instructors incorporate a proprietary teaching method called Terrain Based Learning that uses curves and other inclines in the snow to help new skiers learn how to turn, slow down and stop.
Reynolds and his business partners, who also operate an outdoor ski resort, believe it to be a superior environment for beginners, as it gives them a chance to get a feel for their skis before attempting to navigate a potentially intimidating hill.
“It allows for a lot more repetition and generally a better learning experience overall,” he said.
Since opening in late 2019, Big Snow American Dream had to navigate COVID-19 shutdowns, capped capacity and a fire that affected its roof.
In its first continuous year of operation, though, Reynolds said the resort saw 88,000 first-time skiers hit its slope. That figure is nearly 9% of the typical number of new skiers seen at outdoor U.S. resorts in an entire 12-month period.
In his eyes, it’s proof of Big Snow’s purpose.
“It creates an opportunity to introduce the sport to new people,” he said. And, “It allows existing [skiiers] to get on snow when they can’t get on snow otherwise.”
It may seem unusual to bundle up when it’s 90 degrees outside, and it’s certainly not the same as a true, outdoor skiing experience.
However, competing with mountains isn’t the goal of the companies behind this trend, which you’ll undoubtedly notice over the next decade. Instead, the goal is to get more people on a slope — any slope — more often.
“We’re building a resort that economically is there for the entire community,” Emory said. “It will definitely complement [outdoor] skiing.”