There are many families in the United States who enjoy taking vacations to ski areas during the winter months. But often not all members of the family ski or want to ski. A number of resorts have come up with an alternative that is fun and also a money-maker. It's called snow tubing.
If you like to sled down snowy hills, more than likely you will love snow tubing. It's one of the fastest growing winter sports in America because virtually anyone can do it.
Snow tubers do not need their own equipment, only warm clothing. The snow tubing hills supply the inflatable and colorful plastic tubes that are the size of large truck tires. They are similar to those seen on lakes or rivers being pulled behind motorboats for recreation during the summer.
The great thing about snow tubing, as opposed to sledding, is that you don't have to continually walk back up the hill after sliding down. Each snow tube has a tethered rubber ring that attaches to a tow rope or tow wire at the bottom of the hill. You sit inside or lie on your tube and it pulls you up. Young children can ride in the same tube as an adult. Once at the top of the hill, you have the choice of several chutes to slide down, similar to an Olympic bobsled run, though they are snow chutes rather than ice, and almost all have humps or dips for added fun.
Joe Stevens is the Communications Director at Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia, and he told VOA about how the snow tubing hill is made. "With the amount of snow needed for any tubing hill, that's the biggest thing, to get it ready, get it opened for the season. That's where an extensive amount of snowmaking is involved," he says. "You just make tons and tons and tons of snow on your tubing hill. Then you come in with a groomer, and the groomer that we use on all the trails, they will cut the various lanes. Then we have maintenance on it just with four-wheelers or snowmobiles that will pull devices behind them that will keep the lanes, each individual lane, groomed for each day and each tuber going down it."
Joe Stevens says it's a big operation, especially for resorts that have larger tubing hills to maintain. Like many other ski areas, Snowshoe has dedicated a snowmaking system just for the snow tubing hill. Mr. Stevens says the simplicity of the sport makes it a big draw. "Since there are really no lessons involved, you just grab your tube and let gravity be your friend. All ages can do it, from two to 80, as it may be. What it's really turned into is a family feature, where mom and dad, grandma and grandpa and the grandchildren and children can have fun together," he says. "It's something the whole family can do together. They can enjoy it. Maybe one can ski better or snowboard better that the other one so they're not on the same trails across the mountain. In this case, they're all on the same tubing hill, and they can make fun of each other going down the hill, or have fun making family trains [tubing next to each other in a line]. It's turned into a very very functional family adventure."
Five year-old Anna Pusey rode down the snow tubing hill many times with her father. "I went down the slide; that's how I like it. I liked sliding down it," she says.
Fifteen year-old Brian Weiss enjoyed lining up at the top of the hill against others and seeing who could be first to the bottom. "It was pretty awesome," he says. "I like to race my friends. Good competition."
This is the fifth season for the snow tubing hill at Snowshoe Mountain, according to Communications Director Joe Stevens. He says snow tubing originated in the early 1990's at ski areas in the Pocono Mountains in Eastern Pennsylvania. It was a way for mountain resorts to use other terrain that they could not, or did not want, to use for skiing. Stevens says building the snow tubing hill at Snowshoe cost about half a million dollars and that the operation is profitable for the resort. The cost to snow tube is quite reasonable. Typically the charge is $10 to $12 for two hours.
With soft-sided tubes, Mr. Stevens says snow tubing is a relatively safe sport. It is safe and we try to make it as safe as possible. With any outdoor activity, there's always a sense of adventure and a sense of challenge," he says. "And we do have folks who want to [try some daring things] and think it's the Daytona International Speedway, and they go up on the ramped banks and that sort of thing. And we talk to them [about being safe], but for safety we try our best to keep a controlled atmosphere as possible."
The popularity of snow tubing has grown from Pennsylvania, to ski areas in the eastern United States and to other parts of the country.
Snowshoe's Joe Stevens says snow tubing has grown in popularity for both non-skiers and skiers alike. "After folks have skied or snowboarded all day, this is something they can do without anymore energy involved," he says. "And what we're also seeing is something where husband and wife can go out, boyfriend-girlfriend, one might be able to ski better, but they can do it together, and that's what it's all about."
And that's why snow tubing is becoming a fast-growing leisure winter sport in the United States.