Sledding is a wonderful winter rite of passage for every child growing up in the Northeast. All you need is a hill with a decent pitch, some snow, and a sliding device — a toboggan, a traditional sled, or even a cafeteria tray.
Snow tubing at a ski area is sledding on steroids. And that experience is available for kids of any age, from 6 to 76. Grafton’s Carson Williams recalled a recent winter visit from family members from Alabama – including his 60-year-old mother. The entire crew opted for an outing to Ski Ward’s TubaSlide in Shrewsbury.
“The kids went straight to slope, while the adults went into the lodge for a couple of drinks,” said Williams. “Within an hour, the kids had talked all the adults into taking a few runs with them, and the entire family was racing each other down the lanes. My family still talks about that experience to this day.”
The first area tubing hill, Ski Ward’s TubaSlide, opened in 1993. Ski Ward owner John LaCroix used to sell snow guns, and during his travels he found similar tubing operations in the Midwest.
“After noticing the lack of winter tubing in the Northeast, he realized not everyone was going to learn to ski or snowboard,” said Lacroix’s daughter, Stephanie, Ski Ward’s general manager. “John created TubaSlide here so that everyone can enjoy winter, even those who can’t ski or snowboard.”
Three local tubing parks — Ski Ward, Nashoba Valley Ski Area in Westford/Littleton, and New England Sports Park in Amesbury (formerly the Amesbury Sports Park), in addition to McIntyre Ski Area in Manchester, N.H. — ensure an enjoyable experience for three big reasons. They feature super slick lanes with a consistent surface, thanks to snowmaking and grooming, and comfy, inflated tubes designed for a maximum rush. Best of all, and a major difference from the hometown sledding spot: You don’t have to trudge back to the top of the hill.
“The biggest advantage is that you get pulled up the hill, sitting on the tube, and the course is groomed to make the snow fast and fun,” said Marlborough’s Dianne Bass. “Tubing can be a great outdoor activity that anyone can enjoy. Living in New England, everyone needs to get outside at some point during the winter, and tubing is fun with family or friends.”
Nikki Taylor, the youth program coordinator for Bedford’s Recreation Department, regularly organizes trips to Nashoba Valley for groups of 25-30 elementary school students (grades 3-5).
“The first time new participants get to the Nashoba tubing hill, they’re always amazed at how large it is and how fun it is,” said Taylor. “The kids have the most fun connecting their tubes to their friends’ tubes and going down the hill together.”
There’s an added bonus that parents will appreciate. “From my perspective as a program coordinator, the biggest advantage of tubing at a park is the safety it offers,” said Taylor. “There is always Nashoba staff there, reminding everyone of all the safety rules.”
Another benefit is that ski-area tubing parks have lodges, or in the case of the New England Sports Park, a multi-purpose building that houses the Crossbar Pub. These facilities provide a respite for parents who, unlike the Williams grown-ups, don’t want to tube, or an après-tubing beverage and a bite to eat.
While the parks are tailor-made for youth groups – including birthday parties, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, and church groups – they’re also popular with adult groups, from social club outings to local businesses.
“Many corporate groups use the snow tubing activity as a team-bonding experience,” said Pam Fletcher of Nashoba Valley.
Chelmsford’s Donna Burke would plan her software company’s annual holiday party at Nashoba’s tubing hill.
“I had never done it before and I was so excited and nervous – it’s a long hill,” said Burke. “There were a bunch of us on the hill and the first time I went down, I screamed all the way. It was fun, scary, fast – just a blast.”
WHERE TO SNOW TUBE
Note: Adult ticket prices vary, but generally range from about $20 to $33 for two hours. Though tubing is generally safe, most parks have height and age requirements, due to liability concerns. Contact individual parks for details.
Nashoba Valley Tubing Park
179 Great Road, Littleton
Hours: Monday-Friday, 1-10 p.m.; Saturday, Sunday and holidays, 9 a.m.-10 p.m.
Number of lanes: 18
Longest run: 1,200 feet
Vertical: 65 feet
Capacity: 650 per 2-hour block
Group discounts: Yes
Ski Ward TubaSlide
1000 Main St., Shrewsbury
Hours: Monday-Friday, 4- 8 p.m.; Saturday/holidays, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Number of lanes: Eight
Longest run: 800 feet
Vertical: 80 feet
Capacity: 200 every two hours
Group discounts: Yes
New England Sports Park
12 South Hunt Road, Amesbury
Hours: Friday, 3-8:00 p.m.; Saturday, Sunday and holidays, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
Number of lanes: 6
Longest run: 750 feet
Vertical: 100 feet
Capacity: 400 per 2-hour block
Group discounts: YesIf you have an idea for the Globe’s “On the Move” column, contact correspondent Brion O’Connor at email@example.com. Please allow at least a month’s advance notice.