Snow tubing is like sledding but on a perfect hill. The tubing lanes at ski areas are often designed and groomed to be just the right angle to get you going at a thrilling downhill pace, then bring you to a gentle stop—no rocks, no bumps, no trees, no roads.
The activity is great for kids, especially those who are still learning to ski or don’t have the interest or stamina to spend a whole day in skis or on snowshoes. And you don’t need to own any equipment except warm winter clothes—you rent the tubes right there.
One of the other “benefits” of tubing at many ski areas is lift service, which often means a conveyor-belt-like contraption or handle tow that will bring you back to the top of the hill. Some families like this convenience, but the lifts can get crowded and slow, and they eliminate the exercise involved in climbing back uphill between runs. To my mind, it makes the whole experience a little too easy.
If you’d like to try tubing on your next winter outing but want something closer to the natural sledding experience, try smaller ski areas like the ones described below. Also, consider our four tips for tubing with kids before you go.
Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center
The tubing hill at this Pinkham Notch ski area is traditional: you slide down and walk up. A $15 fee gets you a full day of tubing. The center has many other family-friendly activities, including a “trails tracker” scavenger-hunt card through which kids can earn a badge, SnowCoach tours partway up Mount Washington, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. For parents of small children, the center rents pulks, the special sleds that attach to waist belts so an adult can pull a child while cross-country skiing. The center is located on Route 16 in Gorham, New Hampshire, at the base of the Mount Washington Auto Road. Families staying at AMC’s Joe Dodge Lodge, just 4 miles away, get free use of the tubing hill as well as other discounts.
Grafton Ponds Outdoor Center
This center in Grafton Village, Vermont, is primarily a cross-country ski area, with more than 9 miles of groomed Nordic skiing (3.1 miles have snowmaking) and 6.2 miles of snowshoeing trails through fields and forests. But it also offers a separate 600-foot tubing run, with snow tubes available for rent ($15 for two hours, $5 per extra rider not renting a separate tube, if you want to take turns). Pulks are available for rent, and dogs are welcome on the trails on Mondays and Thursdays. The center is affiliated with the Grafton Inn, an historic Vermont country inn (first opened in 1801) that offers lodging packages tied to the outdoor activities; both the inn and outdoor center are run by the nonprofit Windham Foundation, which is dedicated to promoting Vermont’s rural communities.
This park in Milton, Vermont, features a premier sliding hill called Cobble Hill. You can slide for free on your own equipment or rent a snow tube for two hours for $10. Helmets are required for children and recommended for adults; the park offers a limited number of children's helmets and helmets for adults free of charge. There are no lifts or tows.
Tubby Tubes Snow Tubing
This tubing destination in Lake Luzerne, New York, has both lift-serviced and “self-service” (walk-up) tubing. Several of its lanes have synthetic bases and are open year-round; the area has snowmaking and lights at night. Some lanes can accommodate tube “trains” and “rafts” with groups of people, and the fastest lane reportedly gets people moving at 30 miles per hour. This center invites children as young as 2 to try tubing, and it offers shorter, gentler runs (including a 20-foot Cub Run and 30-foot Bear Run) and medium-sized runs for young kids and less adventurous people of all ages. A two-hour pass costs $15.95; a four-hour pass costs $18.95 per person.
Lake Placid Olympic Jumping Complex
The Olympic complex in Lake Placid, New York, features a single tubing chute that is more than 700 feet long. Tubes are brought back to the top by truck, but people are expected to walk. The area has evening tubing with lights. Tickets cost $9 an hour, and funds go to support USA Ski Jumping. For a separate fee, you can ride a chairlift to a glass-enclosed elevator that leads to the observation deck of a ski jump. The top offers great views of the Adirondack High Peaks as well as views of what Olympic jumpers see as they head to the end of their ramp. You may also catch aerialists in action on the nearby freestyle hill.
Four Tips for Tubing with Kids
- Check Height or Age Requirements. At some ski areas, formal age and height requirements may be in place for snow tubing. Common requirements are that children be at least 42 inches tall and 5 years old, but these limits vary, so check with the location that you intend to visit. In general, children should be able to comfortably and safely ride by themselves, not in someone’s lap.
- Bundle Up.Winter jackets, hats, and warm gloves or mittens are a must for the chilly run down the hill. Consider ski pants or rain pants to keep legs dry; a scarf, neck warmer, or balaclava can come in handy too.
- Consider a Helmet. Many tubing areas recommend a helmet but don’t require it. You may want to bring a familiar helmet from home.
- Watch Out for Others.The rule at busy tubing lanes is to let others in front of you reach the bottom of the hill before you start out on your tube. Help prevent pileups by following such etiquette and teaching it to your kids.
If your tubing trip is part of a larger family outing at a cross-country ski center, you may be interested in these tips on Snowshoeing Fun and Games for Kids and Teaching Kids Cross-Country Skiing.
Photo by Jerry Monkman.
Great Kids, Great Outdoors is an Appalachian Mountain Club blog, written by Heather Stephenson.
Labels: Heather Stephenson, New Hampshire, New York, ski areas, snow tubing, tubing, Vermont