Snowboarders Get New Slope, but Racers Are Dislodged By BILL PENNINGTON Published: July 17, 2007
This winter at Mountain Creek, a New Jersey ski area 50 miles from Manhattan, the owners will do what many ski-area operators have dreamed of doing for decades. They will essentially create détente on the slopes by segregating snowboarders and traditional skiers.Mountain Creek
Mountain Creek, already a snowboarder’s haven, is combining its terrain parks, the playgrounds of jumps, rails, jibs and other features popular with young riders and skiers doing X Games-type tricks, in a larger space at the resort’s South Mountain area, a mile from the main base area.
When the transformation of the 60-acre area, about 15 trails, is complete in 2007-8, it will be among the largest terrain parks in the Eastern United States. It will have its own renovated lodge, high-speed lifts and facilities, separate from the rest of the resort.
Mountain Creek’s superpipe, which has played host in the past to Olympic-level snowboard competitions, cannot be moved, but the decision will open several trails at the base area to traditional skiers and riders.
“The growth in our business is coming from the free-skiing, free-riding population,” said Greg Pack, the vice president and managing director at Mountain Creek, formerly known as Vernon Valley/Great Gorge and now owned by the ski industry giant Intrawest. “So we see the opportunity to make the most of that.
“At the same time, you could say we’re really segregating people by how they get their thrills. Maybe it’s not about what you put on your feet but about whether you want your thrills in the park or on the other side, picking a trail from the mountaintop.”
The expanded park will be more than one-third of the resort’s 170 skiable acres.
The South Mountain lodge, which had a cafeteria, bar and locker rooms for the local ski racing program, will receive a cultural makeover, with the addition of a video-editing lab with flat-screen televisions, arcadelike kiosks and space for musical and artistic interests.
Pack estimated that the relocation would cost about $500,000.
The decision was not popular with every Mountain Creek constituency. The displacement of hundreds of junior high and high school ski racers who have called South Mountain home for years brought waves of protest. That was especially true last month when the early word about South Mountain included the rumor that racing was being eliminated.
While Mountain Creek has a modest 1,040 feet of vertical skiing, it has produced members of the United States Ski Team and dozens of collegiate racers. The racing schedule is a consistent draw, with the mountain playing host in one stretch to 47 consecutive days of racing last winter.
“We fully realize how passionate the racing community is and expected the type of response we got,” Pack said. “We didn’t handle the message perfectly at first, but we have a great solution now.”
The race department will be moved north to the base area, and existing buildings will be refurbished to add lockers and a clubhouse. It will not be as convenient as the former setup, but the racers and their parents, who pay thousands of dollars to participate in the racing program, seem to be appeased.
“We’ve been sent to the base area before, and the facilities there are terrible; it was a nightmare,” said Geoffrey Stubbs, who has two children in the race program. “In the long run, if they are committed to it, it will be better for all. But I’m a little concerned because I’m not sure if they were going to do anything for us until we squealed.”
Gardiner Scmet, who also has two children in the program, said he was disappointed but considered the change a sound business decision by Mountain Creek.
“Don’t forget that the real money in the ski industry comes from selling real estate,” Scmet said. “They’re building a new base-area condo development, and they got the baggy-pants snowboarders away from that. It’s older skiers who buy the real estate.”
Last year, Mountain Creek opened a large 300-unit condominium hotel at the base area, and there are plans for a base village with another 1,500 residential units. But Pack denied that real estate considerations had anything to do with the decision to establish the new terrain park.
Pack said moving the terrain park to the South Mountain area would “move our crowd around the whole resort more efficiently.”
“We’ve had some congestion in certain confluence points,” he said. “Moving the terrain park to South will limit a lot of that. We’ll utilize some underutilized parts.”
Getting to the new terrain park from the base village will, however, require a short drive or an arduous trek on a long, sometimes flat, connecting trail.
Visitors wanting to go on the most challenging portion of the playground, off the Bear Peak lift, have to take a short course in terrain-park etiquette and safety. It is all about creating a new experience for a decades-old industry, Pack said.
“Maybe we can even do the unthinkable and get people living up north to drive south to play in the snow,” he said.
Maybe I should listen to the last sentence and start going to creek instead of catskills and berkshires. There about the same distance from me.