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Camelback Resort: From Ski Slopes to Water Slides

The evolution of a ski retreat to a four season resort

By Jessica Mahoney, Aquatic Development Group

Beginning as a small ski mountain in the Poconos region of Pennsylvania in 1963, Camelback Ski Resort has grown over 50 years as a popular destination for skiers and snowboarders to summer fun-seekers alike.

Camelback Resort currently offers a 160-acre trail system for skiing and snowboarding, the largest snowtubing park in the U.S. and the Camelback Mountain Adventures tree-top park. Starting in the 1990s, and spanning different owners, the park has added features in order to expand its year-round appeal, generate additional revenue and utilize the park’s natural surroundings for a range of seasonal activities.

In 1998, Camelback owners engaged Aquatic Development Group (ADG) to help them in their quest to build the largest waterpark in Eastern Pennsylvania. In a relationship spanning the last two decades, and under new ownership, Camelback and ADG have worked together for three phases of the park’s expansion.

Phase 1 in 2005 involved the design and construction of additions to the existing Camelbeach outdoor waterpark; Phase 2 in 2012 saw the installation of a new Mountain Coaster to Camelback Mountain Adventure Park; Phase 3 began a whole new adventure with the grand opening of Camelback Lodge and Aquatopia in 2015 – the largest indoor waterpark and lodge in the Eastern United States.

With a good deal of planning, meticulous design work and imagination, ADG helped Camelback create a true four-season resort with something for everyone to enjoy. With a focus on addressing the market needs in the area and developing the right piece of the park at the right time, the two companies worked in conjunction to bring the resort to life.

An idea is born

Arthur Berry III and Ken Ellis, co-owners of Camelback Mountain, were college roommates at Skidmore, a small, private college in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. They were looking for a post-graduation project to sink their teeth into, and focused on the Poconos area of Pennsylvania as the perfect spot for an indoor waterpark and lodge.

Pulling on the enormous market potential of the surrounding metropolitan areas of New York City and Philadelphia, Berry and Ellis knew that the winter and summer crowds who flocked to the Poconos would love the adventure a “first-of-its-kind” indoor waterpark would bring to the area.

“A market of 35 million people within a [short] drive to the Poconos was the obvious reason to select that location,” said Ellis, also the president and CEO of ADG. “We knew a market of this size would allow us to try different things – and we wouldn’t be limited to only one or two seasons.

We shopped around and found the perfect location at Camelback Mountain. With a solid infrastructure and convenient location, we knew the base at Camelback was the best location for an indoor waterpark and lodge.”

Ellis and Berry brought the idea to then-managing partner of Camelback Mountain, Sam Newman. He agreed it was a great idea, and eventually offered to sell them the park so they could develop their plans.

Their vision became a reality in June 2005 when Ellis and Berry purchased Camelback Mountain and Ski Resort. The resort has seen substantial growth in 10 years.

“Camelback already had a large base of skiers and snowboarders who had been coming to the mountain for years,” said Berry. “They also had some outdoor attractions that needed upgrading. Our goal was to build on this success by further expanding the marketplace appeal of the mountain during the summer months and transforming it into a year round family resort.”

Ski mountain to summer mecca

“The previous owners of the mountain knew there was potential for summer activity and back in the 1980s started looking at summertime recreation at the mountain, adding an outdoor pool, small waterslides and alpine slides,” said Ellis. “On a small scale they started to take advantage of what was there.

But there was potential for so much more. In the early 1990s, the owners of Camelback Mountain engaged ADG to design and build a full-scale outdoor waterpark and in 1998 launched Camelbeach. The addition of Camelbeach brought an additional 350,000 visitors to Camelback – and that was just the beginning.”

From 1998 to 2004, ADG worked with the Camelback ownership group to enhance and evolve the rides and features that existed already, helping with four expansions in six years. By utilizing the ski area’s infrastructure and reworking underutilized areas of the park, ADG was able to adapt the design to incorporate existing winter features for use in the summertime without disrupting the resort. Camelbeach opened in the summer of 1998, and experienced tremendous growth in attendance with another $3-million expansion in 2011. For Camelbeach, ADG created the largest man-made waves in the Northeast at that time.

“With the addition of a 7,500-square-foot interactive play lagoon, a new 1,000-linear-foot adventure river and a 30,000-square-foot wave pool to the existing outdoor waterpark, ADG helped Camelbeach re-launch the park and generate over 100,000 visits when it reopened for the season – a 50 percent improvement over the first year it was open,” said Berry.

ADG continues to work with Camelbeach through all subsequent development and more recently have installed a double FlowRider® surfing simulator and innovative play structure and activity area, the first of its kind in the region.

“This has made the park the place to be for the teenage market,” said Ellis.

Waterslides to mountainsides

As part of the Camelback Mountain Resort, Camelback Mountain Adventures already offered an outdoor adventure park with a tree-top zip-line adventure course, Twin Zip Flyer and 1,000-foot Dual Zip Line. But the more adventure the better, so Camelback Mountain Adventures enlisted ADG’s Mountainside division to install a new Mountain Coaster to generate additional interest and revenue. ADG worked with Camelback to incorporate the mountain vistas and topography to design the most exhilarating ride, with the added practicality of utilizing current infrastructure and amenities.

ADG designed the course for the 4,400-foot-long, steel-track Mountain Coaster to crisscross through the wooded landscape, giving everyone a thrilling, 25 mph ride down the mountain with captivating vistas of the surrounding zip lines, waterpark and ski trails. ADG added the Mountain Coaster to an area of the mountain that ensured convenience for guests – like the best placement for riders to purchase tickets, utilize restroom and locker facilities, as well as access food, beverage and retail. The ride was the first of its kind in Pennsylvania.

“The greatest challenge in designing attractions for a park like this is leveraging the existing infrastructure and making it accessible, while also leaving room for future growth and expansion,” said Ellis.

Camelback Mountain Adventures is once again expanding their adventure park with a new, dual racing Alpine Mountain Slide from ADG this spring.

“There is always room for growth and opportunity,” said Ellis. “Even if you are a small, seasonal resort. Maybe you can add a new ride or amenity to your existing park, or leverage unused space for a whole new season. By creatively looking at staffing, infrastructure and existing area hotels and resorts, you may be able to tap into new markets and populations for growth.”

Bringing the fun indoors

“We wanted to start way back in 2008, but it took until 2012 before the market and timing were right to get the project done,” said Ellis. “With everything from the snowtube park to the waterpark and ski mountain, there was not a lot of open land to work with and we had to come up with a very unique design, not only to fit on the site we had, but we also needed to allow access to the existing ski lifts, make the lodge and waterpark accessible for ski-in ski-out access and do all of this while utilizing – but not overwhelming – the current infrastructure.”

“We took a close look at what Camelback already had and designed an addition without upsetting any existing winter business,” said Jim Dunn, executive vice president for ADG. “We asked questions and came up with a creative design that had never been done before.”

With so many existing attractions at the park, ADG planned a unique water park design to fit with the new lodge on the current site, making it accessible to existing ski lifts and leveraged current infrastructure by linking water and electrical lines.

On time and on budget, the construction on the Camelback Lodge and Aquatopia indoor waterpark began with a September 2013 groundbreaking and culminated with a grand opening in April 2015.

ADG designed Aquatopia to provide a limitless environment of play and relaxation that encourages length of stay, guest satisfaction and increased on-resort usage across all four seasons. The Texlon transparent roof, also supplied by ADG, delivers natural light during the day and warmth at night – with the addition of an LED light display showcasing 1 million light combinations.

ADG’s team also left room for future expansion. “In this case, we had two distinct areas linked by two high-speed lifts,” said Dunn. “We purposely left the area in between open for future enhancement so the client can get the most value and adventure out of their property. It is a balance between right now, and what they may need or want down the road.” Ellis agrees.

“With a resort of this caliber, we are always looking to the future,” he said. “Projects like upgrading amenities at the base lodge, new lifts and ski experience as well as looking at both the indoor and outdoor waterparks and what we can do to keep them new and exciting.”