Intro to tubing and sledding

Central Oregon offers abundant opportunities to ride down a snowy hill

Amanda Miles / The Bulletin /

Published Jan 4, 2011 at 04:00AM

Reporter’s prelude: So here’s the deal: I move to Bend from the Portland area right as autumn begins to become the new Community Sports coordinator at The Bulletin. Just as I start to get my bearings here in Central Oregon, the snow hits.

Just what, exactly, is a summer-sport girl supposed to do?

As it turns out, I can play in the snow. Join me as I explore Central Oregon’s winter playgrounds and try a number of the region’s popular sports and recreational activities — many for the first time.

This week, I try tubing.

— Amanda Miles

One of the best things about tubing and sledding is their simplicity.

You need the right equipment and you need a hill, of course, but at that point, you’re ready to go — no lessons or fancy gear required.

Plus, the activity can be a lot of fun for thrill-seekers.

“You definitely kind of get an adrenaline rush,” says Andy Goggins, director of marketing and communications at Mt. Bachelor ski area. “You’re on the snow and you definitely don’t need any sort of technical expertise to do it.”

The three Central Oregon ski resorts — Mt. Bachelor, Hoodoo Mountain Resort and Willamette Pass Resort — all offer tubing areas where all you have to do to play is pay. The tubes are provided.

Mt. Bachelor’s Snowblast Tubing Area is open Fridays through Sundays and on holidays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Snowblast includes six different “lanes” and two tow ropes. For $11 or $14, depending on your age, you can enjoy one of three two-hour sessions.

Or, for $21 or $27, you can slide the day away to your heart’s content. Prices are higher on holidays. Tube riders must be at least 42 inches tall to slide at Snowblast, a standard Goggins says exists for safety purposes.

Hoodoo’s Autobahn Tubing Area is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Autobahn has eight lanes and a tow rope, though you can hoof it to the top of the hill if you prefer. Cost is $14 for a 10-run pass, or $20 or $25 dollars, depending on age, for an all-day pass. Children shorter than 42 inches or under the age of 6 must ride with an adult; double tubes are available for this purpose.

When the resort is open, Hoodoo also offers the Snow Bunny Sled Hill near its Easy Rider lift. You can access the hill for free with a season pass or for $5 per day. Kiddie tube rentals are available for $5, or you can take your own gear. Keep in mind that Hoodoo admonishes that equipment must not reach excessive speeds and that gear that is difficult to control, such as car and truck tubes, is not allowed.

Willamette Pass Resort’s Nordic and Tubing Center can be found at the west end of the main parking lot. The tubing area is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Cost is $12 for two hours and $6 for each additional hour, regardless of age.

Note that sessions at these tubing areas can sell out, so plan ahead to maximize your slide time.

If you have your own tube or sled and want a more freestyle, less regulated experience, several locations in Central Oregon can accommodate you.

One of the most popular is Wanoga Sno-park, located on Century Drive about 14 miles southwest of Bend on the way to Mount Bachelor. The park includes the Wanoga Snoplay Area hill, which opened in December 2007 as a designated sledding and tubing hill. Sno-park parking permits are required, and you must provide your own sled or tube.

Other sno-parks with sledding and tubing areas include Santiam Sno-park, located on U.S. Highway 20 west of Sisters in the Willamette National Forest, and Marks Creek, less than 30 miles east of Prineville off U.S. Highway 26 in the Ochoco National Forest. The only sliding devices approved for use at Santiam Sno-park are inner tubes and saucers.

In the Sunriver area, you can check out a hill near Sunriver Community Church on Theater Drive. And in Bend, Paul Stell, the natural resources manager for the Bend Park&Recreation District, says hill-seekers can find locations at Hollingshead Park and Al Moody Park, both in northeast Bend.

He adds that Drake Park, Juniper Park and Ponderosa Park all have smaller inclines that might appeal to younger tykes.

Just remember that wherever you go, be safe and have fun.

“It’s a blast,” says Goggins, who grew up sliding down hills in Montana.

“It’s just another way to get out and enjoy the snow.”

My turn:

I have vague recollections of trying to sled at least once while growing up in the upper Willamette Valley. On one of the rare occasions that it snowed in the area, a couple of the neighbor kids busted out an old-school wooden sled — with runners and everything — on which I think we resorted to dragging each other around for lack of a decent hill.

So I had few expectations of what it would be like to throw myself down an 800-foot slope on an inner tube when I took to the hill recently at the Autobahn Tubing Area at Hoodoo Mountain Resort.

I opted to purchase the 10-run pass at the hut at the entrance, figuring those were plenty enough chances to scratch my hill-sliding itch. Then, I selected a tube and got in line for the tow rope, where I tried to muster some courage with the rationalization that if the small girl right in front of me could go tubing (on a double tube with her mother), well, I could, too.

Upon reaching the top of the hill, I selected for my maiden run the lane closest to the tow, which the Hoodoo employee at the top told me was the gentlest of the eight options.

I decided to sit in the tube with my legs hanging out for my descent.

Then, I scooted myself down the slope just a bit until gravity took over.

And off I went — quickly spinning and bouncing off one of the carved-out bumpers of packed snow designed to keep me in my lane. At the end of the run, a set of rubber mats slowed my slide. It was all over in just a few seconds.

I tried all eight runs that afternoon. My favorite was the sixth — with its dip and rise, it proved to be the perfect mix of thrill and speed. I also found that I preferred to take the hill sitting, rather than lying down on my stomach. I took a couple of runs lying down, but I was more comfortable leading with my feet rather than my head.

I also managed to get in a decent aerobic workout, which may come as a surprise. I wasn’t too keen on having to stand in line waiting for several minutes for the tow after every run, so I decided to play my own game of “speed tubing” — I tried to complete my 10 runs as quickly as possible, which meant I spent most of a little over an hour hiking up that hill nine times. But, since I was the only competitor in my game, I won.

All in all, I had a good time, too. Tubing a lot of fun, and a bit of a rush. And — perhaps best of all for the winter recreation neophyte — you can just hop on your tube and fly.

A few words to the wise based on my observations:

1. Make sure the person in front of you clears the run at the bottom before you start going down it.

2. Wear something that covers your eyes, such as sunglasses or goggles. Otherwise, you could get a bunch of snowy spray to the face, rendering you unable to see as you fly down the hill. Of course, maybe you would prefer it that way.

3. As you walk back to the tow after finishing your run, watch for incoming tubers. Momentum can carry them well past the mats, and though I did not witness any, I’m thinking that in a collision between a tuber in a tube and a tuber on foot, the gravity-powered tuber is going to win every time.

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