Who Needs Snow?
Wednesday, July 5, 2006
Ryan Locher, who has the enviable title of "mountain manager" at Virginia's Bryce Resort, was in Italy for an international grass-skiing championship when he saw pictures of a coming attraction: a snow-tubing ride that required no snow. Instead, the Italian system replaces the cold stuff with a long chute of molded plastic that is draped down a mountainside. Riders are pulled up the mountain in inner tubes by the same tow used for snow tubing, but once they get to the top, they barrel down the chute's fake grass.
"I gotta have a few of those," Locher thought. Last year, three of them arrived at Bryce -- the first ever in the United States, so far as Locher knows. Then the mountain manager at nearby Massanutten Resort got a look at them, and late this spring, they arrived on Massanutten Mountain.
Not to be outdone, the folks at Wisp Resort in Western Maryland ordered theirs, which they hope will be up and running in a matter of days.
It's all part of the never-ending quest -- from tubing on plastic to lifts that carry mountain bikes -- to bring you to area ski resorts long before, and long after, the ski season.
"The ski resort business is changing," explains Deanna Painter, a spokeswoman for Pennsylvania's Liberty Mountain Resort. "It's very costly to have a lot of land and a big facility, and there has to be a way to attract people all year long."
Thus the inventions: skiing on grass with tank treads attached to your boots; tobogganing on wheeled sleds; zooming down the mountain on a device that's a cross between a snowboard and in-line skates. And now, the latest, tubing down the mountain.
I decided to try the new tubing ride at Massanutten Resort, whose brochures and Web site promised "over 125 things to do," even before opening what they're calling Peaked Mountain Express.
Just as with snow tubing, my favorite part is the bouncing tow ride up the mountain on an inner tube -- a short but satisfying trip, without being at all scary.
From the bottom, the "express" doesn't look that imposing, but from the top, the 660-foot slide looks much longer. The vertical drop of 125 feet at the speed of a good ski run provides enough excitement for a couple of screams on the way, and 15 seconds later, it's time for another trip up.
The ride seems about the same speed, and delivers the same rush, as snow tubing, just without the cold and snow. Two rides, which aren't enough, cost $4, while two hours, which is too much, costs $10. One hour, which also costs $10, was just about right.
If you're spending, say, 48 hours at the resort, that leaves you another 47. Massanutten has devised all kinds of ways to fill those hours.
The two 13-year-old girls I'd brought along and I considered tubing the river, but a torrential downpour drove us inside the massive water park on the resort grounds. Outside, fake snow tubing. Inside, fake river, along with the usual array of pools and slides. The park boasts three major slides big enough to entertain a teen, and the latest in water park inventiveness: a machine that makes continuous waves big enough for surfing on a boogie board.