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Inside Information on Indoor Ski Facilities

by Dan Giesin | February 8, 2022

I’m starting to think it’s never going to snow in these parts again.

From Deepcember, when we in the Sierra Nevada were buried by a record 214 inches of snow in just under three weeks, we’ve passed through Juneuary and are enduring Februdry, a six-week period without one flake of Nature’s own snow on our ski slopes.

And there’s no moisture in sight for some time to come.

Now, I’m not saying we’re devolving into a miniature Arrakis, but with global climate patterns in disarray we could see extended droughts severely curtailing our favorite winter pastime. What will we do then?

Head to the Great Indoors

The answer could lie in indoor ski centers.

There are 113 of these facilities around the globe, including the Earth’s tropical zone, and more are in the planning stages, including one in Fairfax, Va., and one in Las Vegas. Most have beefy snow-making systems and some sort of uphill conveyance — from carpets to drag lifts to chairs — and they keep their thermostats  consistently set at several degrees below freezing to ensure year-round riding.

However, don’t expect to be racking up the vert at these so-called snow domes: The biggest vertical drop is around 500 feet, with most in the 150-200-foot range. And the intimidation factor is dialed way down, as average gradients are in the 20-percent range, about the same slope as a tough green or easy blue run at an outdoor ski hill.

But it’s better than nothing, right?

Right?

Let’s Take a Peek Inside

Anyway, here’s a look at several centers to give you an idea of what you’ll find at an indoor winter sport facility:

  • The 17.9-acre Harbin Wanda Indoor Resort in northeast China’s “Ice City” is the largest in the world, with four lifts, including two chairs, providing access to six slopes of varying difficulty that are up to 1,640 feet long with a 500 foot vertical.
  • Big Snow American Dream in East Rutherford, N.J., — which has been temporary closed after a major fire last September — has three runs and a terrain park spread out over its 4 acres. One chair and three surface lifts give access to its 160 feet of vertical, with the longest run measuring in at 984 feet.
  • Trans Snow World in Bekasi, Indonesia, is not very big, with one lift, a 66-foot vertical and its longest run coming in at 656 feet. But considering it’s less than 500 miles south of the equator, that’s some major cred.
  • At the time of its debut in 2007, Chill Factore, in suburban Manchester, England, was the largest indoor ski center in the world, covering 2.5 acres, with a 590-foot-long slope served by a pair of drag lifts. It also has a luge track.
  • SNO is a fairly large facility covering 12 acres of suburban Oslo, with a couple of lifts giving access to a 1,657-long slope that has 295 feet of vertical. This being Norway, it also has a 1.5-kilometer-long, roughly circular groomed Nordic ski track (which is suspended from the ceiling).
  • Alpincenter Bottrop, in Germany’s Ruhr area, is not only the longest indoor slope in the world at 2,099 feet, but it also is the only one that has a turn in it. The facility has three surface lifts and a 252-foot vertical.

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