Saturday, February 12, 2005

Snowtubing Postmortem

the hill
Originally uploaded by scottgravatt.
We're a little sore today... David has some bruising on his legs, and I can feel my leg muscles today after hours of snowtubing last night. But, we made it down with our limbs intact, and we'll DEFINITELY go again!! WOO-HOO!!

David's account in Multiply: Test (tube) pilots

First, to clarify: this pic isn't mine -- it was uploaded by scottgravat on Flickr, but it was the closest photo I could find that shows what the snowtubing hill looked like. In reality, the hill was steeper, more like this, except with two steep rolling inclines on the way down, like a roller coaster or a gigantic waterslide. Honestly, we were both kind of SCARED when we looked at the tubing hill at Montage Mountain, but neither of us said anything until later. Because of the sloped chutes, we couldn't see the top, we could only see people coming over the edge, screaming, drifts of snow whipping off their heads and leaving trails in the cold night air...


Our combined snowtubing experience consists of me tubing with the older kiddies at Mt. Seymour, where there are no chutes, only a gentle hill with a variety of winter sledding-type equipment careening downwards, unsupervised. It's usually fairly crowded, but it would be even moreso if there were some mechanised way of getting back up to the top. Nope, no such luck -- it's free, after all -- so it's trudge, trudge, trudge upwards and try not to get knocked down by a wayward sled or slowpokes sliding backwards. David's only been skiing at Montage, and he didn't know this part existed.

Me, pre-snowtubing
Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.
When we were getting ready, David had the foresight to think of buying me a toque (that's knitted hat for you non-Canadians). Being a winter-wimpy Vancouverite who doesn't ski, I had to borrow some cold-weather gear from David. I left behind my unused wool hats, I only found one pair of wool and flannel gloves and some scarves to bring to Pennsylvania. I also sold my Gore-Tex jacket. But at least my toes were taken care of -- David got a pair of suede winter boots with sensible soles for me.

Waiting with a mix of anticipation and dread at the bottom by the tow lifts, we watched as people grabbed a tube, which had a nylon lead with a rubber hoop at the end of it. A lift operator attached rubber hoops to metal hooks along the tow line, and people were towed to the top in their tube. Nobody explained anything -- there was one sign with some rules on it at the bottom, and that was it for information. We figured, with no instruction, how dangerous could it be? They had a minimum age limit of 5 years old, kids under 8 had to be accompanied by an adult, and you were allowed one person per tube. Simple, right?

Behind us a few runs later, there was a girl who had also never snowtubed before, dressed in a long white fashion-not-function coat and looking like she'd just come from dinner. She pretty much summed up what we didn't say:

"I don't know what's happening, or what I'm doing," she said to her friend. "I don't like to do things when I don't know what's happening."

We'd done a few runs by that time, but we kept our mouths shut and let her find out for herself. Sometimes it's just better that way!

Here's the breakdown:


One sign: DRAG YOUR FEET TO CONTROL YOUR SPEED. That was it. In other words, if you were too busy yakking in the line to pay attention to the different techniques of people coming down the mountainside, then you might be in for a spill. As the disclaimers say: results may vary.

When David and I reached the top, there was one staffer there, and he walked away! We stood there, contemplating our strategy. The tube was basically an inner tube, sitting in a separate hard rubber piece shaped like a doughnut sliced in half horizontally, with two handles. Sit down? Lie down? Lying down looked aerodynamic, but we were more interested in control than speed on the first run. We decided to sit down, but the incline was still scary. The chutes looked like ice runs with an icing of snow.

I was freaked going over the edge, but I was even more freaked because I ended up backwards! I don't even remember seeing David come down in the next chute, I heard the wind whistling by and my tube picking up speed... need brakes! Brakes=feet? I have feet? Where are they? How can I control my speed when I don't know where my feet are?!? I didn't know where I was, or where the next slope-down was, and... oh crap, I'm now whizzing by the line of people... I'm at the bottom! BRAKE! BRAKE! I dug my heels down into the snow as hard as I could, but I didn't seem to be slowing down much... where's the NET??? IS IT STRONG ENOUGH??

I think I swore as I hit the net hard, limbs akimbo, and I had this thought of taking the whole net down with me over the drop-off... rolling down the side of the mountain and snowmobiles coming to retrieve me from the road. My only hope was for a big pile of snow and not sharp trees. To my GREATEST relief, I bounced instead, the tube flipping over and landing on top of me. I'm sure it looked like a Tom and Jerry cartoon crash. I started to laugh and couldn't stop. I was covered in snow and my hat was coming off. But I was alive!!


Things that went wrong the first time:

1) I didn't know how to sit properly in the tube going up. I didn't see the sign at the bottom until later, the one that said: RIDE TUBE WITH FEET DOWNHILL. I didn't see people doing that, they were mostly lying down, but I thought that was just personal preference.

2) Try and dismount earlier rather than later. Why? See #3.

3) I couldn't get out of my tube at the top of the tow lift. Simple physics will tell you that trying to dismount an inner tube from a sitting position facing uphill on an incline is making life hard for yourself. The lift operator at the top had to tell me to get out -- I'm TRYING!! -- then I tried to get out of the way of the next person, but drifted off to the right instead of left...

4) Use a tube that isn't so inflated that a short person like myself can actually touch the ground in order to brake.

5) Brake EARLY, and use heels to steer.

6) When using far chutes, watch out for incoming tube traffic!!

It took me five runs before I felt brave enough to try lying on my stomach. Also, seeing the toes of David's boots worn off made me wonder if it was such a good idea with a pair of suede boots.


David was right -- lying on my stomach is SO MUCH BETTER, and if I turn my toes out and dig the corner of my heels in, I won't go flying over the chute wall into the next one! I'll even go sort of straight! I can even hold on with one hand so the other one can keep my hat on my head!

Meanwhile, David's strategy was to get airborne off the first peak, aiming for maximum lift and speed. The downside was that hard braking at the end was wearing off layers from his boots and his fingers were getting numb, but he didn't seem to mind. Small price to pay for FLIGHT!

We were so hooked, we stayed until the very end, when they stopped the tow lift. I even had flashbacks of tobagganing as a kid in Winnipeg, streaking down the nearest landfill-turned-sledding-hill at top speed, disappointed when we had to go inside again. Winter is suddenly feeling a whole lot shorter...