Snow tubing safely in the Cascades

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The year-end holidays bring to the mountains a group of visitors who might avoid snow the rest of the winter. With the kids out of school, they come for a day of throwing snowballs, building snowmen and sliding downhill.

The key thing to remember is to drive a vehicle that is prepared for winter, to have a sno-park permit and to park in places designated for winter recreation.

Most occasional winter visitors from Portland want to know where they can go sliding at Mount Hood. The best places are commercial operations, either those with uphill tows (Mt. Hood Skibowl or Cooper Spur ski area), or those where you walk the hill itself (Summit Ski Area and its affiliated Snow Bunny).

You may have to shell out $15 to rent a tube for the day, but these developed places are a lot safer than freelance spots in the forest, where a stout sapling may be lurking at the end of the run.

Organized tubing sites almost always require guests to use sliding devices they provide. They may also require signing of a liability waiver. Rules vary on whether parents and kids are allowed to slide on the same device. Some require participants to be 42 inches tall, minimum.

The best free spots at Mount Hood are White River West Sno-Park, where hundreds of sliders will gather on a nice day, or at Little John Sno-Park, the only non-commercial place on the forest that was configured during summer to offer a good sliding hill during winter.

And remember, hard-runner sleds don't work well in the Cascades' wet snow. Use a plastic disc or an air-filled tube. And never get towed on a tube or sled behind a car or snowmobile. It's too dangerous.

Following is a short list of Washington and Oregon resorts that cater to the snow-angel maker in all of us. Most of the sledding hills provide some sort of uphill conveyance, and generally all mentioned have warming and refreshment facilities a snowball's throw away.

Hoodoo, in Oregon's central Cascades, has one of the more ambitious tubing parks around, offering "five acres of gravity-fed excitement." The Autobahn area can hold up to 16 800-foot-long groomed runs, while the Snow Bunny sled hill has a playground for less exciting snow fun. It's $20-$25 per day to cavort in the Autobahn on Fridays through Sundays.

Mt. Bachelor's Snowblast Tubing Park is "where the rubber meets the snow." The park has a surface tow and several 800-foot-long runs full of rollers. It's open daily, with three two-hour sessions per day. Bachelor also offers daily one-hour sled dog rides.

Mt. Hood Skibowl has a tubing hill with a conveyor-type uphill ride that offers runs ranging from those fit for a toddler to "extreme" descents. The Winter Adventure Park has snowmobiles for kids and an improved zip line. You can also check out the Skibowl's selection of snow bikes. Cosmic tubing under the lights is a hit on weekend and holiday evenings.

Cooper Spur has an uphill tow that serves its tubing lanes. It costs $10 per shifts, Friday through Sunday and holidays.

Summit Ski Area at Government Camp has tubing seven days a week, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., plus on weekends at the nearby Snow Bunny satellite location. You'll have to walk the hill at both places.

Diamond Lake Lodge is the place for snow play in the southern Cascades.

IN WASHINGTON

The closest Forest Service-designated tubing area to Portland in Washington is at Oldman Pass north of Carson, Wash. This is a do-it-yourself area, meaning there are no lifts or tubes to rent. But when it has snow and it is not raining at its low elevation (3,000 feet), it gets very busy on weekends and holidays.

The Lt. Michael Adams Tubing Park at Leavenworth Ski Hill is open Wednesdays and Friday-through-Sunday days, plus Wednesday and Friday nights and during selected holiday periods. Cost is $15 to ride for 90 minutes, at Leavenworth, Wash.

Summit at Snoqualmie has several groomed lanes at Summit Central. Surface tows will haul riders and the resort's commercial grade tubes up the slope Friday through Sunday.

Mt. Spokane has tubes to rent for $10 on weekends and holidays, with a new uphill tow this winter.

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The original story can be found on The Oregonian's website

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Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press