Mountain Creek is a ski resort in Vernon Township, New Jersey on Route 94, 47 miles (76 km) from the George Washington Bridge, making it the ski resort closest to New York City. It offers 167 skiable acres on four mountain peaks, complete night skiing/snowboarding, and an expansive snowmaking program.
Besides skiing and snowboarding, the resort offers one of the nation's largest snow tubing park, multiple zip-lines, and an alpine coaster. Mountain Creek is also home to a seasonal water park that operates from May to September.
Great Gorge Resort was founded in McAfee, an unincorporated area of Vernon Township, in 1965 by three families (Kurlander, Fitzgerald, & the Bakers) who worked at the now-closed Snow Bowl Ski Resort in Milton, New Jersey. They worked at Snow Bowl and learned everything they needed to know about snow making and ski area operations. Great Gorge was built on the former Fredericks farm. There are rumors that in the early 1940s there was a small rope tow on the property. So the property was perfect for Jack Kurlander's vision.
Mountain Creek's Bear and South Peaks were the original Great Gorge Resort, with the current South Base Ski Patrol building serving as the Base Lodge. The original lodge was designed by Alexander McIlvaine, who also designed the lodges at Stratton Mountain in Vermont and Squaw Valley in Olympic Valley, California. The World's Fair was held in Flushing, NY in 1964/1965. When the fair closed the entire contents of the Swiss Pavilion were purchased and were transported to be incorporated into the new lodge at Great Gorge. Great Gorge was the first ski area in the United States to use a jet engine to power their snow making operations. The jet engine was purchased from the Curtiss-Wright Company in Fairfield, NJ. The jet engine was located in a building in the parking lot across the street from the new lodge.
Great Gorge was always a ski racing and ski jumping mecca. The original owners of the ski area had that in the plans from the ground breaking. Many high schools, colleges, and local NJ ski clubs held racing and ski jump events there. The US Ski Team and US Women's Freestyle Team were also known to have frequented the slopes of Great Gorge. Many famous racers as well like Stein Eriksen. The trails at Great Gorge were the start for many racers, snowboarders and ski jumpers who went on to become members of the US Ski & Snowboard Team and the US Ski Jumping Team. Some also went on to become Olympians with Gold, Silver and Bronze medal wins. Two skiers - Donna Weinbrecht and Jamie Kurlander have been inducted into the Sussex County Sports Hall of Fame. There are plans to induct more ski racers, snowboarders, coaches and benefactors of the local ski industry into the Hall of Fame.
During the late 1960s & early 1970s the Great Gorge ski area hosted a summer zoo at the base of the mountain. For many years remnants of some of the animal cages could still be seen on the Lion's Den beginner's trail. The ski area also had a ski jump that was used all year long. In the off seasons, Sno-Mats were used on the trails as well as on the jump and landing area. In the winter the ski jump was covered with snow. Grass skiing demonstrations were also held in the off seasons on the slopes. Sno-Mats were also used on the slopes when there was a lack of snow. Ski races were also held on the Sno-Mats.
There are train tracks at the back of the Great Gorge South parking lot. For many years there was a train station located there where skiers departed and made their way to the slopes and then returned home.
In 1971, Great Gorge North was built on what is now Mountain Creek's Granite Peak, and a connecting trail was cut to connect Great Gorge North and the original resort, was renamed Great Gorge South. A connecting chair lift was also installed - the Sojourn double. Great Gorge North was part of a master plan that included a never-built Olympic ski-jump and training facility.
Also in 1971, Playboy opened their $20 million, 650-room Great Gorge Playboy Club on 1, 000 acres (400 ha) of land a mile away from Great Gorge. Plans for the Playboy Club included a casino and gondola from the hotel to the base at Great Gorge North, neither of which were ever built. Gambling casinos were never approved outside of Atlantic City. The hotel hosted many top named celebrity shows and boxing events. The Playboy Club hotel closed in the 1980s and was sold to several other hotel chains who unfortunately could never operate the huge hotel as a success. The old hotel has sat shut down and decaying for many years.
In late 1971, Great Gorge was foreclosed by their lender after a number of seasons that brought little snow to the resort. This reduced revenue and left the owners with little money to operate and to pay off their debts.
1971–97: Vernon Valley/Great Gorge
In 1968 Vernon Valley Ski Resort opened to the north of Great Gorge. After the foreclosure of Great Gorge South & Great Gorge North, they were sold to Vernon Valley, which merged the three ski areas to form the Vernon Valley/Great Gorge Resort (VVGG).