Ski Slopes Open, Gamblers Still Avoiding Bad Beats From American Dream Traffic

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There was a time when Thursday, Dec. 5 was going to mark the first day of potential major traffic issues at the Meadowlands Sports Complex.

The opening that day of the indoor ski park, combined with the simultaneous return of Thursday harness racing this month, crowds from the recently opened indoor amusement and water park complex, and Thursday Night Football to bet on featuring the marquee-name Dallas Cowboys, sounded like a recipe for gridlock as American Dream Meadowlands opened for business in earnest.

But then the indoor amusement park opened on Oct. 25 to surprisingly little fanfare, especially after the debut weekend. The opening of the indoor water park, slated for Thanksgiving week, has been delayed indefinitely.

And when the Big Snow doors opened to the public in mid-afternoon on Thursday, there was no major stampede of exuberant skiers and snowboarders knocking from the outside.

So when the mostly well-seasoned horse racing bettors arrived just before the 7:15 p.m. first post, and when the Cowboys (and Chicago Bears) bettors arrived at the FanDuel Sportsbook, the roads didn’t look any different than usual.

That figures to change modestly on Friday and again on Saturday, as American Dream workers told NJ Online Gambling that business picks up significantly on those days.

But “picks up significantly” doesn’t mean much compared to Thursday night, when the indoor amusement park looked almost completely abandoned in the final half-hour before a 7 p.m. closing time.

Without a din of holiday shoppers to join the party — the 1 million-plus square feet of retail has a delayed opening of March 2020 — Meadowlands racing and sports betting enthusiasts should be able to breathe a sigh of relief beyond what has become a routine headache of Giants or Jets Sunday home games complicating matters.

While the football games at MetLife Stadium and on big screens at the sportsbook have designated kickoff times, the amusement park and snow park attendees will be coming and going throughout the day and into the early evening. Until next spring, that should mean relatively smooth sailing on the highways and access roads surrounding the Sports Complex.

Let it (Big) Snow …

As far as the indoor snow park, some observations:

  • After a barrage of somewhat unfair negative publicity about perceived high parking fees — even Gov. Phil Murphy fell into the trap — American Dream developer Triple Five at least for now has made parking free for any of their attractions. That further limits the possibility of traffic problems, as there is no backup at the parking garages.
  • Signage at the sports complex has improved significantly just in the past month, with most of it now utilizing more modern LED displays. And with the “whiteout” of most of the snow park’s exterior, a transformation is virtually complete. Cynics who chuckled at the garish colors of predecessor Meadowlands Xanadu a decade ago would now have to look to the snow park’s orange underbelly to find any leftover color at all.
  • The Whoopi Goldberg-run “pop-up shop” retail outlet has its doors near the Big Snow entrance, but skiers — and gawkers — can also browse at the snow park’s retail shop en route to the slopes.
  • The skiing and snowboarding will be open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. each night, reflecting a more adult demographic than an amusement park where kiddie rides play a key role.
  • A few dozen skiers and snowboarders showed up Thursday afternoon with their own equipment, which works out to be a cheaper deal. Lessons will “soon” be available, according to the American Dream website. A two-hour private lesson will work out to $199.99, and there are a variety of other Big Snow options, including “how to ski” videos on that site. If you need equipment, a “Snow Day Package” that includes skis or a snowboard, jacket, helmet, pants, and informal instruction is going for $69.99.
  • Much of the pricing format is for two hours, with options to pay a little extra for two more hours. If you have your own gear, the website seems to be offering “dynamic pricing” — as you now see with sports tickets as well as airline and hotel prices. Buy at the right time, and it’s cheaper. Insist on a premium time, and you’ll pay for it. The base price seems to be $29.99, but I saw as much as $52.99 for one time slot this weekend (while the sessions last two hours, customers enter at 15-minute intervals to avoid overcrowding).
  • This should be obvious, but it’s cold inside — 28 degrees cold. If you bring a cheap hat or gloves, you’re liable to regret it.
Opening day skiers hit the slopes at American Dream’s Big Snow

Is this a spectator sport, too?

Yes, you can buy a ticket just to wander around on the very appealing and not icy snow. But you may not want to bother; anyone can walk into the ski shop for free, and there are windows inside where you can see the ski lifts and the skiers and snowboarders in action.

As for the action on the slopes, it’s important to manage expectations. The experience doesn’t even compare to outdoor slopes within an hour north of the Meadowlands, but the location is convenient and the prices are manageable, and it’s enough for many beginners, teens, seniors, and those who just want to get a modest taste of winter activity.

Spectators can also find vantage points from which to take in the indoor amusement park without paying the minimum price of $44.99 for anyone over two years old. Wander a football field or two over from the second-floor Big Snow and head left of the ticketing entrance for a good view of the amusement park below. Three of the eight major adult rides were not open again on Thursday, making it impossible to recommend that $59.99 “all access” ticket even without a time limit on the visit.

Visitors can see what looks like a nearly completed indoor water park through giant glass windows. A few construction workers were on hand Thursday afternoon.

The other entertainment attraction so far — and if all goes well, there will be many more next year — is an NHL-sized skating rink where a one-day session is $19, plus $6 more if you need to rent skates.

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John Brennan

John Brennan has covered NJ and NY sports business and gaming since 2002 and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2008, while reporting for The Bergen County Record.

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