Just let gravity do its work
Remember sledding, tumbling and laughing down the neighborhood hill on those wooden Flexible Flyer sleds or the family’s steadfast toboggan? What’s old is new again at select Granite State ski areas with snow tubing.
The low-skill, high-thrill act of speeding down a groomed chute on an inflatable inner tube has revitalized old-fashioned snow sliding.
Tubing areas have various rules on minimum age, height, scheduling and style. Tubers can go solo or in tandem tubes. Some areas require butt-in tubing or a belly-down policy, while others are open to interpretation.
“Tubing is something the entire family can do together,” says Ski New Hampshire’s Karl Stone. “It is affordable, requires no specific equipment and the tubes are provided.”
Go day or night, tubing lanes can be straight shots down the hill or sculpted by snow grooming machines with some bumps and curves.
Back in the day, everyone would march back to the top of the hill, pulling that trusty ride. That’s still the case at some areas this winter, but many now use lifts to get tuber and tube back to the starting area. Some tubes have leashes that attach to a tow handle lift. Sit in the tube and let the lift do the work. Other ski areas have conveyor belt-type lifts.
Tubing doesn’t require special clothing, but the idea is to stay warm. Don waterproof clothing since jeans can get wet. Scarves can get in the way. A warm hat, gloves and ski goggles can do the trick. Winter boots work well. Some people use a face mask on those cold New Hampshire winter nights — but they cover up that grin.
More than 100,000 people go tubing at New Hampshire ski areas every winter.
(See photos above)
Warmth is key to successful tubing. But why not throw in a little style? Kombi has a line of hats, gloves and base layers that combine the two. Fashion and functionality fit juniors and adults with one size fits all hats, from pinks to snowflake patterns (www.kombisports.com, $10 to $20). Gloves don’t have to be solid colors anymore. Choose from stripes to swirls ($40 to $75). Wick it away with base layers that are wicked warm ($50 to $55).
Kris Blomback is general manager at Pats Peak in Henniker outside Concord, one of the state’s ski areas that also offers tubing. Blomback felt the call of the mountains from his native Long Island and worked his way up in the ski business from lift attendant to general manager, a position he has held since 1995. He’s a tuber, too.
Why has lift-serviced tubing become popular at ski areas like Pats Peak?
Ski areas are constantly tweaking their offerings and we try and do almost anything to get people to play in the “Great White Outdoors.” Our thoughts are if we can get some people to the slopes, they see the skiers and snowboarders having a good time, they’ll want to try some other snow options.
What kind of maintenance and grooming do tubing lanes need?
We groom the lanes according to conditions of the snow. Obviously with a snow surface, the conditions — like skiing — change almost hourly. We usually lay down some fresh corduroy every two hours. We also have a Lanemaster (grooming tool attachment) to reshape the side of the tube runs.
What kind of tubing styles are there? Seated, belly down, etc.
There are all sorts and usually the style of riding is dictated by the design of the course. At Pats we have a face forward, tube-on-your-belly policy.
How do you regulate your speed?
Speed regulation is controlled by dragging your feet. In our case, we have a large backstop and friction mats at the bottom. We also vary the start areas based on snow conditions. When it’s warm we start them up higher. When it’s cold and fast we start them a little lower.
I’ve seen two tubes for one person and also tandem tubes. What’s new in the world of tubes?
Family tubes where you can do as many as eight to a tube. Your course needs to have that capability though. We do not do this at Pats.
What are characteristics of tubing lanes? I’ve seen straight shots, curves and consecutive dips.
Usually course design is dictated by the raw ingredients that an operator inherits. You may have a flat course and your goal is to get the tube to go a little faster. You may have a fast, steep course and your goal is just the opposite. You may be challenged on an outrun which “burns up” the speed of the tube and you will do everything in your power to mitigate speed. It’s up to the individual operator and their customer base as to what people want.
Tube on a hill outside one of the state’s grand hotels in northern N.H.
The Arctic Blast Tubing Park is like its own mini-ski area minutes from North Conway village.
Try a two-person tube or mini-tube for kids under the lights in Keene.
Great Glen Trails
Slide under mighty Mount Washington in Pinkham Notch.
In Gilford, the Thrill Hill Tubing Park features the state’s “longest tubing run.”
The Pine Meadow Tubing Park in East Madison has chutes of fun serviced by a tow-handle lift.
Loon’s tubing hill is by the Little Sister chair on the east side of the Lincoln ski area.
Tube away just outside of downtown Manchester.
The Henniker ski area contains a 600-foot-long tubing park.