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Old fashioned tube sledding catches on

Posted: Thursday, February 14, 2002

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) -- When Paul Swanson proposed a tubing hill for the Eaglecrest ski area, he figured it would be a good way to get people who don't ski or snowboard up to the city-owned winter recreation area.

That happened. But as it turns out, the hill provided an additional activity for people who already come to the slopes.

''Right now we are seeing a lot of skiers and snowboarders going down to the tubing area,'' said Swanson, ski area manager. ''There's a nice mix of both adults and children.''

The tubing hill, opened last season, is a variation of the traditional sledding hill. Inflated inner tubes in rubberized nylon covers are pulled up the hill by a motorized cable tow. Tubers ride up, get off, then slide back down on one of two smoothed runs. At the bottom is a tall, web-fence-topped, curved berm called a half pipe that slows fast-sliding tubers. A chain of uncovered tubes stops fast-riding tubers on one of the runs, while the back of a berm slope slows those using the other lane.

Eaglecrest staff attach tubes carrying people to the tow on the bottom of the run and help them get off at the top. The whole loop can take from three minutes when its uncrowded to about 15 minutes when its full.

The approximately $138,000 cost of the project came from a parks and harbors sales tax measure approved by Juneau voters in 1998. The project included installation of a tubing lift, additions to the existing snowmaking system, lights for night tubing plus a building that houses the generator and provides storage space for the tubes, said Eaglecrest Business Manager Gary Mendivil.

Lack of snow delayed last year's opening of the tubing area and also slowed operations this year. But since it opened in January with the second lane added, attendance has increased steadily.

Eaglecrest tubing supervisor Debbie Douglass said she's been pleased with the variety of people the hill attracts, including family groups, senior citizens and some people with disabilities.

''I like the socializing of people of all ages,'' she said. ''A lot of people have fun. That's what makes it enjoyable.''

Eaglecrest's tubing area is budgeted to contribute $27,500 a year to the ski area's revenues. But the tubing hill is seen as more of an attraction broadening Eaglecrest's base than a moneymaker.

''We did not look at this project to specifically recoup its initial construction costs,'' said business manager Mendivil. ''The thought was that the tubing area would offer affordable winter recreation for residents and visitors who do not ski or snowboard.''

The tubing operation is open 4 to 9 p.m. Fridays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, weather permitting. The charge is $6 per session and users must be at least 6 years old.

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