It was the last run of the day — the last trip down the slopes before the two-hour drive home. I was the last skier to rejoin our group and I was cruising confidently down the beginners’ “bunny” slope while everyone watched and waited and smiled. At that moment, two events occurred simultaneously, one good and one not-so-good. First the good; the dawning realization that I had finally mastered the bunny slope and was about to complete my first run without falling along the way. The not-so-good part happened as I returned my family and friends’ smiles. In that moment both of my feet went out from under me, skis in the air, and I landed right on my derrière, hard! It took my breath away and left me with a tailbone so bruised I vowed to curtail any future skiing endeavors. Better to preserve those old, brittle bones instead!
By the next skiing adventure (my family still wanted to ski) I’d assumed the role of “sitter.” I’d find a quiet corner in the ski lodge where I would establish a camp of sorts. I’d babysit tired kids and I’d babysit everyone’s belongings. Mostly, I’d sit in front of a blazing fire, feet up, with a mug of hot cocoa while they skied — not so bad, right? Then, we discovered snow tubing, and everything changed. For me it was the proverbial match made in heaven, especially once I realized that snow tubing allowed me to begin exactly where skiing had left me off … only now my tush would be cushioned!
It’s been suggested that the first known snow tubers ruled the Alps trails as early as 1820. But conflicting information tells us that the first tires filled with air were not developed until 1888 when John Boyd Dunlop invented them. It is still assumed that tubing in general has been around for longer than that. It’s become an accepted form of seasonal recreation used in snow or water. Folks have been sliding down snow-covered hills and floating on waves for ages.
It was the convenience of the modern-day inflatables that ultimately provided the snow tubing industry with momentum to move forward and establish planned tubing courses, many of them to run alongside existing ski slopes. It was a win-win for resort owners and their customers, bringing added attractions to well-established resorts as well as creating new ones.
Our first attempt at snow tubing with the kids and grandkids made for a surprisingly pleasant and invigorating day. There are minimum height restrictions for snow tubing participants and once more, I was regaled to the role of sitter. This time it wasn’t about sitting at all! It was about pulling the little ones up the “bunny” hill on kid-sized inner tubes and staying one step behind them as they slid down full of giggles and smiles.
Eventually the young ones outgrew the bunny hill and joined the rest of us on the mountain, me included! Before the pandemic, the whole family was snow tubing each year on Valentine’s Day Weekend. Snow tubing became the perfect solution to my winter sports dilemma. Many of the tall mountains used for snow tubing runs challenge even the highest ski slopes. You still experience the adrenalin rush you get from flying down a snow-packed mountain at accelerated speeds, but from a much safer vantage point with hindquarters firmly secured in a blowup cushion that’s already on the ground.
What can you expect your first time snow tubing? Most of the resorts have similar procedures with minor deviations. Snow tubers are first asked to sign a standard waiver. Upon completion of the form, a ticket is purchased and on it is printed the start and end times of the two-hour session you are assigned to on a first come, first served basis. Large groups should appear together for admission.
When the appointed time arrives, choose your inner tube, and get in line! Tubers with their tubes are transported to the top of the hill by people moving conveyers. When you arrive at the top you will be guided to the first open run, given a little push, and off you go! Then you have two hours to repeat this process as many times as you can before time’s up.
During the COVID-19 era, outside activities have been a consistent preference for socializing while avoiding disease. Snow tubing in the fresh mountain air certainly qualifies as a socially safe environment, along with proper distancing and masking as needed. There are many skiing and snow tubing resorts in the Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania mountains. Here are a few of the better-known winter playgrounds.
Wisp Resort is a four-season resort in McHenry, Maryland. The twelve, 750-foot long shoots are reached via conveyor carpet. A standard, two-hour tubing session is offered. You must be at least 4 years old and 42 inches tall to participate.
Whitetail Resort is in Bear Pond, Pennsylvania. Also a four-season resort offering two-hour sessions, Whitetail requires participants be at least 5 years of age. There is a kiddie hill for children aged 2 to 4 years old to snow tube.
Wintergreen Resort in Wintergreen, Virginia boasts having the state’s biggest snow tubing park, The Plunge, featuring a 10-story fall at 30 mph. To take the plunge, you must be at least 6 years old and a minimum of 42 inches in height.
With life in this new COVID world so uncertain, be sure to do your homework before you go! For example, two popular, nearby Pennsylvania resorts, Ski Roundtop and Ski Liberty, offer snow tubing but were closed for the season. Check schedules for special sessions as well as for last-minute cancellations.
Like in so many public places, nose and mouth coverings are required in most of the resorts’ indoor facilities. In some instances, admission tickets may only be purchased online to prevent overcrowded sessions. On average, tickets cost $25 per person/per session with the usual discounts for approved groups and organizations provided. Several snow tubing resorts sponsor senior programs with discounted events. Others host senior clubs at special rates. Individual admission is generally cheaper during the week and it’s not as crowded.
As for me, I’ve set my sights for Valentine’s Day Weekend 2022 at Boulder Ridge at Liberty Mountain Resort. See you there?
Pull quote: Whether you’re age 5 or 95, the great thing about snow tubing is that everyone can do it!
Sharon is a freelance photojournalist and a proud “Bay” Boomer from Anne Arundel County. Contact Sharon via email at [email protected]
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