The first thing you need to know about snow tubing is that it’s exhausting.
The second thing is that it’s a ton of snow-bound fun, no matter how old you are.
The folks at regional ski resorts realized several years ago not everyone is capable of, or enjoys, skiing and snowboarding but perhaps those people still want to join in the wintry thrills. Snow tubing is the solution. It requires no skill other than the ability to sit on a large recreational tube with handles; you don’t even have to steer since you’ll be gliding down a divided glazed lane cleverly stacked with occasional moguls (small bumps) that will make you airborne for a brief moment.
And as easy as it is, snow tubing manages to generate the downhill excitement you need to stay warm in this cold-weather activity. Yes, you will squeal.
But, man, it can be tiring. Like sledding on a neighborhood hill, you have to go back up once you reach the bottom, and with a vertical drop of a few hundred feet, that’s a lot of hiking. Some of us wouldn’t have the leg power to do it twice, but the ski resort folks have solved that problem: They’ve installed next to the tubing hill easy-on, easy-off lifts to get you back to the start line.
One type of lift tows you up in your tube with a rope; another type is like a moving uphill sidewalk that makes it easy to return to the starting line.
Some of the snow tubes are singles; some are for multiple passengers. Children (call ahead for height requirements) enjoy riding on parents’ laps until they get up the courage to go it alone, but some adult couples like riding together each time and seeing if they can spin as they descend.
If you’re ready to hit the slopes, tube style, here are a few of our favorite places to go.
Heritage Hills Golf Resort & Conference Center
2700 Mount Rose Ave., York, Pa.
Just 50 miles north of Baltimore in York, Heritage Hills is a popular tubing spot. Pair the tubing with daytripping in quaint towns along the way.
The tubing: Heritage Hills stays busy in the winter with AvalancheXpress Snow Tubing, with about 10 lanes and a snow-covered hill with an 80-foot drop. A powered towrope gets you back to the top.
Other snowy fun: There’s also ice-skating.
The lodge: It’s a resort, so there are five restaurants on premises, varying from the casual Knickers Pub & Grill to the more serious Ironwoods Restaurant and Bar. Check out the hot chocolate and S’mores bar ($7.50).
Cost: Open weekdays at 4 p.m., 9 a.m. on Saturdays and 10 a.m. on Sundays. $11 for under 4 on weekdays, $16 on weekends; $20 for all others on weekdays, $24 on Saturdays, $30 on Sundays.
Bear Claw Snow Tubing at Wisp at Deep Creek Mountain Resort
296 Marsh Hill Road, McHenry, Md.
This drive west takes you into western Maryland’s forest wilderness, scenic and historic. But it’s also the adrenaline capital of the area, so feel free to get excited.
The tubing: Two conveyor carpet lifts, 10 750-foot-long lanes of action, dedicated snowmaking machines. Be advised: Tubing sells out on weekends, so get there 30 minutes before the park opens or book in advance.
Other snowy fun: Skiing, snowmobiling, ice-skating, Nordic skiing, snowshoeing and a year-round mountain coaster with a 3,500-foot twisting and dipping ride down the mountain. Since you’re here, you might as well.
The lodge: Wispers Mountainside Bar is your best bet for warming up, but there are other eateries at the slope. Since you’re going to go 200 miles due west, you might as well make an overnight of it. Check the website for accommodations.
Cost: Weekdays it’s unlimited from 5 to 9 p.m. ($15); weekend hours are in two-hour increments ($29), so check the website for start times.
Boulder Ridge Snow Tubing at Liberty Mountain
78 Country Club Trail, Carroll Valley, Pa.
Boulder Ridge is located about 60 minutes due west from Baltimore, and it's an easy drive.
The tubing: Up to 15 lanes depending on the snow conditions improves your chances of wearing yourself out quicker. A moving covered carpet lift gets you back up the hill. There’s a special Pebble Ridge Kiddie lane for children 2 to 4; you have to be 5 to ride the regular lanes.
Other snowy fun: Skiing and snowboarding.
The lodge: The two-level slope-side lodge with wraparound deck is built to look like a log cabin, kind of cool. McKee’s Tavern, Tavern on the Green, and the Inn (dinner only) are here to feed you.
Cost: Tubing is sold in one- or two-hour increments, with times beginning at the top of each hour. Weekdays $18 for one hour, $22 for two; weekends $25 and $29. Under 4 is $9 unlimited.
Roundtop Mountain Resort
925 Roundtop Road, Lewisberry, Pa.
About 75 miles from Baltimore is this longtime ski resort that a few years ago decided to capitalize on tubing by upgrading facilities and pricing the activity as an “all you can tube” deal. Food is expensive, though, so you might want to pack your own (this is applicable to the other resorts as well).
The tubing: Eight lanes of continuous fun; you can link tubes together in a chain and go down at the same time and hit the bottom of the lane at the same time, too. Pile-ups are fun. A covered carpeted lift drags you back to the top.
Other snowy fun: Skiing and snowboarding.
The lodge: There’s a food court for quick breaks, but upstairs there’s the Fireside Pub and Grill, where you can linger longer if you’re not in a hurry to hit the slopes; the “pub” part of the grill has a certain appeal on cold days.
Cost: All-day passes are a good deal: from $21 to $30, depending on the day. $8 for those under 4 who are using the kiddie hill; you must be 5 to use the big-person hill. There are nighttime rates after 8 p.m.