Wednesday, January 31, 2007
On a freezing day, atop a hillside, I learn what Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates must feel as people practically fall at their feet with heartfelt appreciation for their gifts of cars and billion-dollar grants. And my accolades come from a demographic -- 13-year-old males -- that is least likely to ever say thanks.
"This is so fun! Thank you." "I love this! Thank you for bringing us." Thanks at the top of the hill, at the bottom, again at the top.
All this for a two-hour snow-tubing session at Seven Springs Mountain Resort in southwestern Pennsylvania.
On my own, I would never have considered the tubing park, but I admit it really is fun. It's one of the trendiest activities ski resorts have added to entertain kids and attract non-skiers. It's been one of the few reliable downhill activities going in this largely snowless winter. And it's also one likely to transport an adult back to childhood.
Kids 10 and older don't need adult supervision, allowing a beleaguered parent to hit the slopes, spa or bars with a few precious free hours. So what's with all the adults sitting in the warming hut at the base of the tubing lifts?
Even the ride up the hill is fun, especially when the snow machines are blowing blizzards that you pass through as a tow bar drags you upward while you're seated on an inner tube.
At the top, from one of 12 lanes that have snowbanks along either side to keep you inside your own track, you shoot down 700 feet, hitting whoop-de-do bumps along the way. My guess that we travel about 20 mph may be exaggerated, but that's nothing compared with the estimates I hear from other kids. One tells his mother that he'd hit speeds of more than 80 mph. Good thing the chutes end in an uphill grade, or kids traveling at those speeds would shoot out of the park and over the trees.
My nephews, Chris and twins Benjamin and Samuel, decide we should race. Up to three people can connect their tubes and ride together. I figure they'll want the boys against the old lady. But Benjamin picks me. I suddenly remember being a little girl on the school playground feeling a burst of joy at not being the last person picked.
Maybe Benjamin thought my weight would provide a speed advantage. When that turns out not to be true, he is gracious. "They won, but we had more fun," he says.
When our two hours are up, they're ready to go inside, and my husband takes them to the arcade, then bowling. We had planned an after-dinner swim or movie. But as evening approaches and the mountain slopes glow with lights that silhouette skiers beneath a half-moon, I decide I have to hit the slopes. My husband agrees he'll take the boys wherever they want.
I walk to the ski rental shop and begin thinking how cold I'm going to feel on the chairlift, and how there are no warming huts at the bottom. I turn and catch the shuttle to the tubing park. Just as fun, and good company. After another two hours, Samuel says the darkness makes it even more fun. I can't put my finger on why, but I think he's right.
In the morning we give the history-buff twins the choice of driving 30 minutes to the 9/11 memorial at the crash site of United Airlines Flight 93 -- something they'd earlier begged to do -- or tubing. Tubing wins.
The twins are quiet on the first hour of the ride home. I find out why when they pass me their laptop: They've created an animated video of a boy riding a tube down a hill. When he gets to the bottom, the stick figure says in a computer voice, "That was so great. Thank you."
Seven Springs Mountain Resort (777 Waterwheel Dr., Seven Springs, Pa., about 190 miles from Washington, 800-452-2223,http:/