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West Virginia Outdoors....



One of the many beauties of West Virginia is the ability to get back to the basics. In the winter, the basic beauty of the mountains and winter sports draws state residents in-the-know and lots of out-of-state visitors. Many kids and kids at heart are now being drawn by back-to-basics tubing, which has definitely become one of the state's hottest chilly-weather activities.

Tubing's simplicity is a top attribute--it's really only limited by age and size (which varies at different resorts). Tubing is like a modern version of the old days of sledding, except you don't have to trudge back up the hill or mountain. The resort supplies the huge tube and banked lanes and you just provide an interest in having fun. Handle-tows pull you back up the slopes for another fast-paced run down a banked lane. It's easy to learn how to ride, stop (banks slow you down), roll off the tube, and ride back up the lift.

"The number of resorts offering tubing has increased dramatically in the past few years," says Stacy Gardner, director of communications for the National Ski Areas Association. "It's not only bringing non-skiers to the mountains and leading to many of them trying skiing or snowboarding, it's also drawing skiers looking for something fun and different."

Tubing is attractive to skiers and non-skiers alike. Skiers (and snowboarders) enjoy it as a break from a downhill day and especially like sharing time at a tubing park with spouses, kids, or non-skiers. Of course, many non-skiers or -boarders are drawn to tubing because it allows them to enjoy the winter, snow, and all of the resort amenities. All West Virginia resorts have found that some people come to their resorts specifically to go tubing (both in-state and out-of-state visitors).

Tubing is one of the most recent developments in winter sports, following hot on the heels of the explosion in snowboarding. "There's one thing for sure [about tubing]," says Heidi Schultz, managing editor at SAM--Ski Area Management magazine. "It's bringing people to ski areas."

It's hard to believe that the nation's first formal tubing parks didn't open until 1992 (at Amesbury Winter Sports Park in Massachusetts) and that virtually every resort in North America now offers some sort of tubing (it's especially popular in the northeast and the southeast). "Tubing has no learning curve and it's a huge growth area for the industry," says Danny O'Connor, president of O'Connor Skilifts, one of the nation's leading lift builders and a tubing lift specialist (including building that first one). For example, his Massachusetts-based company built more than 40 lifts for the upcoming season and 31 of them were for tubing (all three of Winterplace's tubing lifts were built by his company). He continues enthusiastically, "We even built the first lift for tubing in South America."

But you don't have to go to South America to ride a tube. From kindergarten kids to grandparents, people have hit the tubes in record numbers. It's opened a new revenue source for many resorts across North America, drawing visitors who may not come to a ski resort otherwise. It also exposes them to winter sports, resulting in many new skiers and snowboarders. This national trend has also hit West Virginia.

Last year saw the serious emergence of tubing as a top pursuit at mountain resorts throughout West Virginia. This year's tubing opportunities are even bigger and better than ever. New lifts, more lanes, extended hours (some resorts sell by the number of runs and other sell for specific timeframes), and additional snowmaking are sure to make tubing a top pick again this season.

Dale Walters and his company, Pennsylvania-based Multi-Lifts, have been a huge part of this growth, with tubing lifts for Snowshoe, Canaan Valley, and Coolfont Resort (they built more than 35 tubing lifts nationwide each of the past two years). "West Virginia is ideal for tubing and we've loved being a part of that growth," he says. From Canaan Valley down to Winterplace, tubing is bursting with West Virginia-style fun.

"I loved tubing in West Virginia and so did my five-year-old Jake," says Joe Rada, an associate travel editor at Southern Living magazine. A West Virginia native and current Birmingham resident, Rada and his son visited all four of West Virginia's tubing centers last season. "Wherever we went, it was a real fun and simple way to enjoy the mountains with my son," he says. Whichever tubing West Virginia resort you choose for tubing and other mountain fun, kids and kids at heart (just like Joe and Jake) will surely think it's cool.

Canaan Valley, continuing it's emphasis on a wide range of winter playland activities, offers tubing right at the base lodge. Three lanes are kept busy day and night at this family-oriented resort, where fun for kids of all ages is the name of the game. "Tubers loved us last year and we've adjusted the hours to make it even better this season," says Steve Drumheller, their director of sales and marketing.

Coolfont Resort adds another unique West Virginia option to any tubing itinerary. This legendary eastern panhandle resort opened a tubing park to rave reviews last year and the 1998-99 season promises even more fun. The brainchild of co-owner, president, and CEO Martha Ashelman, she says, "Our hill features an 850-foot slope, a ten-story drop, and 11 very popular lanes. It was a huge success last year and we expect lots of return and new visitors this season." After a day of tubing, guests can enjoy a host of Coolfont amenities, including varied accommodations options, dining, a spa, and much more.

Snowshoe and its Silver Creek spot, Ruckus Ridge Tubing Hill, is an ideal Snowshoe Mountain Resort diversion. Located right behind Silver Creek Lodge, popularity last season means this season they are adding lanes and have purchased a groomer specifically for the tubing hill. Many Snowshoe veterans arriving in late-afternoon or in the evening head straight to the tubing hill for some first-night fun. "It's a great way for the entire family to start a Snowshoe stay," says Ron Crozier, their mountain operations director. "The neat thing about the tubing area is the excitement--the 'oohs and aahs'--you can actually hear."

Winterplace has the largest tubing park in the state and it's big business for the resort. In fact, it's so big that they've had to expand again for the 1998-99 season. According to Winterplace president Terry Pfeiffer, tubing popularity led them to add another lift, giving the facility three lifts that serve their eight banked lanes and eight-story drop. Visiting families have made this tubing tandem one of the most exciting attractions at Winterplace, with an ideal mid-mountain location.

Tubing's popularity has sometimes meant longer lift lines and other hassles, but West Virginia's resorts have responded by adding anything needed to make it hassle-free. However, new and veteran tubers should keep in mind that the ease of tubing doesn't mean its free from danger. West Virginia resorts take great pride in their safety record on the slopes and this applies to tubing. Resort officials enforce appropriate rules (like age and height) to keep the slopes safe, but tubers need to watch their speed, direction, and the actions of other tubers (a large majority of collisions occur at the bottom of the run, where tubers fail to move out of the way).

Lawyerly lingo aside, tubing offers some of the most fun you can have on a mountain. Whether you're a kid or a kid at heart, the days of sliding down a mountain are back in a big way in West Virginia. But, with tubing, you get to ride back to the top. Thanks to tubing, the good old days of sledding in West Virginia just got better.