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Hello, Big Snow: What it's like to ski North America's first indoor slope

Big Snow has opened in the American Dream mall in New Jersey. Come take a run with us in this high-tech ski dome, one of 33 in the world.

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Riding the quad chair at Big Snow.

David Carnoy/CNET

Indoor ski parks -- or ski domes, as they're sometimes called -- aren't a new concept. Great Britain has several. You can also find them in Holland, Germany, France and New Zealand, and Norway has a massive one scheduled to open in 2020. Ski Dubai is probably the most famous because it's, well, in Dubai, which is in the desert, where you don't typically find snow. But until now there hasn't been one in North America. That changed when Big Snow opened on Dec. 5 in the American Dream Mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey, across the street from MetLife Stadium, where the New York Giants and Jets play football. Only about 20 minutes from the CNET offices in New York City (without traffic), I drove over to give it a spin and to see how indoor skiing stacks up with the outdoor variety.  

Now playing: Watch this: Inside Big Snow, North America's first indoor ski area
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With a 160-foot (49 meters) vertical drop and 1,000-foot (305m) slope on 4 acres, Big Snow isn't the biggest indoor ski area. That distinction currently belongs to the Harbin Wanda Indoor Ski and Winter Sports Resort in China's northeastern city, Harbin. That ski dome's longest slope is 500m in length and has a vertical drop of 80m. An even bigger one is planned for Shanghai

If you've never skied indoors, it's a little trippy the first time out. It's sort of like going to an ice rink in a mall, except that the rink is huge and on a slope. What's great is that while it's cold inside -- during the day the temperature is constantly set at 28F (-2.2C) -- there's no wind or blowing snow to contend with, so visibility isn't an issue.

At night, when Big Snow makes snow, they drop the temperature a few degrees, said Joe Hession, president and CEO Snow Operating. The place is filled with 5,500 tons of snow with an average depth of 2 feet. Along with the indoor temperature, the humidity inside the facility is regulated to ensure good snow quality, and snow is scraped off as it gets dirty. Whatever melts is filtered and recycled back into the system, Hession said.

It's unclear what the electric bill for the place is, but it has to be pretty high, particularly since the place is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. everyday, all year round. Prices start at $30 for two hours of skiing if you have your own equipment, and parking is free as long as there isn't a sporting event or concert taking place at the neighboring stadium. Reservations are encouraged because Big Snow caps the number of skiers in the park at 500. Your ticket is a wrist band that's equipped with a RFID chip. That band also gives you access to rental equipment -- if you've paid for it -- as well as a small locker to store your shoes and anything else that will fit inside.

Top of the mountain, 16 stories high.

David Carnoy/CNET

The snow isn't fluffy, but it seems reasonably dry, and I didn't encounter any ice on the main slope, which has a 26-degree pitch at the top, about the equivalent of a mild blue or intermediate run. The quality is good; it just isn't much of a run. I got down in about 10 seconds, but if you're a beginner, you'll find it more challenging, and the bunny slope for first-time skiers is pretty similar to an outdoor bunny slope, with a magic carpet to access it. 

I think snowboarders will probably have a little more fun than skiers. The terrain park is small, but it's got enough elements to keep things interesting for a couple of hours. The only issue I had with the park was that the main lift is fairly slow. It's a quad (four-person) chair, but it doesn't appear to be a high-speed quad (the lift speed is variable, but it mostly runs at 264 feet per minute, a Big Snow rep told me). When I was in the park, only a few dozen people were skiing, and there was no lift line. I imagine things may get backed up a bit when 500 people are inside.