If New Jersey can be said to possess a ski town, then Vernon Township surely is it — home to Hidden Valley and three other ski areas dating back to the 1960s which eventually combined into Mountain Creek.
Hidden Valley opened in 1976, and gave rise to the 1992 Olympic moguls gold medalist Donna Weinbrecht of West Milford. But it declared bankruptcy in 2007 and shut down in 2013. The National Winter Sports Education Foundation (NWSEF), a charity with links to the Olympic governing body U.S. Ski & Snowboard, bought the property in 2015, and since has poured millions of dollars into state-of-the art automated snowmaking equipment, a reconfiguration of the trail system, an overhaul and expansion of the base lodge, and construction of the new administration building.
Located just off Route 515 on the site of the old Hidden Valley ski area, the Foundation’s National Winter Activity Center (NWAC) began operating in 2014 under a lease before purchasing the property the following year. NWAC was conceived and is headed by CEO Schone Malliet, a Sparta native via the South Bronx who tried skiing while flying jets in the Marine Corps.
“I promised myself I would never, ever do this again,” he said of that first day on skis. But he did, and eventually got involved in coaching young black ski racers through the National Brotherhood of Skiers, and then through U.S. Ski & Snowboard. NWAC and the Foundation have the goal of introducing snowboarding, downhill and cross-country skiing in a meaningful and lasting way to 100,000 children and teenagers by 2028, targeting those who otherwise might never be exposed to the sports.
With an emphasis and on being safe and having fun, the program involves six lessons, completed in three visits of two sessions per day with a lunch break in between. The participants typically belong to groups put together and sponsored by local Boys & Girls clubs, YMCAs, school districts or individual schools.
For instance, Cherish Jenkins was among 140 Jersey City Lincoln High School students who had been awarded slots at NWAC through the Winter4Kids program as a reward for good grades or activities. Lincoln’s program was paid for by a $36,000 grant from the Community Foundation of New Jersey’s Warm Jacket Fund
Though a “never-ever” before skier, Jenkins looked as relaxed and balanced as many of the baggy-clad youngsters who regularly ride the trails and terrain parks at Vernon’s near by commercial ski area, Mountain Creek. “I really surprised myself,” Jenkins said. “Like, ‘Wow, I could do this.’”
On Feb. 14, the National Winter Activity Center will also make its debut as a professional ski racing venue. Male and female competitors from Europe and North America will race against each other (rather than the clock) side-by-side on a “parallel slalom” course in pursuit of $75,000 in total prize money.