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Bringing the Snow Sports Industry to Everyone

Big SNOW American Dream is one of the most diverse indoor ski parks in North America
Team group photo

Big SNOW American Dream, the first indoor ski park in North America, opened in a shopping mall in New Jersey in 2019, looking to bring the experience of skiing and snowboarding to the surrounding underserved market.

“If you live in an urban area, accessibility to the mountains can be a challenge. With Big SNOW, we’re bringing the opportunity to be on snow right to the doorstep of the people, whenever they want, 365 days a year,” said Hugh Reynolds, chief marketing officer at Big SNOW American Dream. “We want to make Big SNOW more approachable, show people and families how to have fun and tap into how great these sports are, something that can last for a whole life.”

However, Big SNOW American Dream’s goal is not to only make skiing accessible to all. Skiers and snowboarders are predominantly of Caucasian descent, and the company saw an opportunity to foster greater diversity within the snow sports community.

“We definitely have a disproportion of Caucasian snowboarders and skiers in the snow sports industry, with 75 percent of Americans who ski and snowboard falling into that ethnicity,” said Reynolds. “Meanwhile, we have tremendous diversity in our communities here with New Jersey being one of the most ethnically and racially diverse states in the country. This disparity fuels our further goal to be representative of the customers we see in our facility and bring the snow sports industry to the wider population.”

When it comes to encouraging future guests to step out of the norm and onto a ski slope, Big SNOW takes a proactive approach to making what can be seen as a challenging sport more accessible and comfortable, beginning with its workforce. By 2021, Big SNOW American Dream had a 55 percent non-Caucasian team, making them one of the most ethnically diverse teams of any ski area in the U.S., and recognized as an industry leader in diversity and inclusion.

“We have the benefit of operating a ski area in a community that is dominantly non-Caucasian, and our guest and team profiles mirror that.”

Hugh Reynolds, Big SNOW American Dream

“We have the benefit of operating a ski area in a community that is dominantly non-Caucasian, and our guest and team profiles mirror that,” said Reynolds.

When they were staffing for Big SNOW, representatives went out recruiting into the local neighborhoods – to the colleges, schools and the community centers.

“We were much more focused on hiring to a personality type, not to a skill set, as the majority of people in our area have never had the chance to learn to ski or snowboard,” said Reynolds. “This was important when it came to the positions of snow ambassadors – our instructors. They need to have the soft skills, the people skills and have to be willing to teach.”

Many of the employees at Big SNOW had never worked in the snow sports industry, and this helps keep the facility and instructors less intimidating to guests who, for the most part, are also totally inexperienced. As well, the familiar diversity of the team further overcomes apprehension in fledgling skiers and boarders.

Reynolds says that if they had made the ability to ski a requirement of employment, there would have been a disproportionate number of Caucasian applicants who would have had those qualifications, resulting in a team not representative of the diversity of the facility’s guests. Some positions in the organization require a certain level of snowboarding and skiing skills, but there is a much broader pool of people who could get in at the entrance level and develop the skills they need over time.

“We decided early on that if an applicant had the right personality and could fit in with our culture, we would teach them the harder skills of skiing and snowboarding. We look for people who are friendly, outgoing and will deliver great customer service and experience, regardless of skin color or ethnicity,” he said. “Plus, the majority of our guests are first time beginner level skiers and riders, so our need for higher-end certified instructors isn’t as great as a destination or a big outdoor resort.

Because a lot of our team members learned to ski recently at Big SNOW, they can then connect better with our guests who are also just beginning.”

The Big SNOW team members enjoy competitive pay, discounts and benefits, as well as the opportunity to gain valuable work and life experiences that may have never been available otherwise. No surprise that by 2022, Big SNOW was recognized by the Top Workplaces National Survey as a top place to work in New Jersey as well as a Top U.S. Workplace.

“We closed for the pandemic in March of 2020 and another period the next year due to a fire in the roof of the building,” said Reynolds. “That’s two closures in our first three years of operating, but we’ve been blown away by how our team has been willing to weather the storms with us. More than 90 percent of our team members have come back to work with us as we needed them.

“This past winter was the first time we sent out a ‘class’ of team members to work at other resorts up north and to Lake Tahoe in the west. This migration of team members reflects what we’re seeing with the skiing and snowboarding guests from this area in general. We have a rich ethnic and racial population here to draw from, and if we can give them a start in the snow sports industry, they will then move on to other resorts and bring more diversity into the industry at large.

“There is an increasing amount of discussion and focus on how to achieve more diversity in the snow sports industry, how to improve our statistics. It’s going to take the efforts of a lot of people working over time, but as the population of the U.S. is moving in the ethnically diverse direction, I think skiing has to follow or risk not having as broad of a market and population to pull from.”