At Mammoth Mountain, the fun has been dialled up. Large rubber donuts are involved.
There are few pleasures in life so joyous, innocent and unadulterated as sliding down a snowy slope on a toboggan. But like wandering around a skatepark in your mid-30s with a deck tucked under your arm, there comes a day when most of us take a look around and ask, "Am I maybe getting a bit old for this?"
In the case of tobogganing the easy solution to this problem has traditionally been to take kids along for a day of play, but in recent years there's been a new, more grown-up way to keep the fun going - tubing. It involves large, inflated donuts (think truck tyre inner tubes but more robust) and dedicated alleys to slide down, addressing some of the well-documented dangers of toboggans careering uncontrolled down slopes filled with skiers and other potential collision targets.
Mammoth Mountain, one of the highest ski resorts in the US state of California, has upgraded its tubing park, and the result is a bigger, easier, more thrilling ride suitable for the entire family.
With a push and a holler we launched down the hill.
The upgrade at Woolly's Tube Park means longer lanes, and the park boasts of higher speeds than other tubing parks. They've also taken much of the slog out of the fun. A magic-carpet lift means no need to trudge up the hill, and makes the trip from the bottom of the slide back to the top an easy conveyor-belt ride. It's even enclosed in a perspex weather cover, meaning no standing around shivering when the weather turns nasty.
There's a safety briefing at the bottom before heading up the first time, but I had expected a fairly stern warning from the staff at the top about the dangers of horsing around while hurtling down the hill. To my surprise, the first question was, "so what's it to be, straight-down speed run or shall I give you a spin?" With safety considerations sorted out, the staff were keen to make sure they didn't kill the fun either, and so with a push and a holler we launched down the hill, each in our own lanes for a race to the bottom. Next up, our friendly hosts suggested a human caterpillar - a chain of five or more riders each with boots tucked under the arms of the person in front.
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While the lanes carved out of the snow keep each rider on track and remove the risk of collisions, they're also wide enough for a bit of mucking around. On our next run we were shown how to grab the handle of the tube next to us to form a circle, and with a shove from above were soon spinning down the hill like a giant, out-of-control daisy wheel. There are hot drinks and snacks on site, a more gentle slope for the younger visitors, and a snow play area, making sure that all thrill seekers from big to small are well catered for. Tickets are sold in two-hour blocks, which in our experience was plenty of time to get your fill of thrills.
The writer was a guest of Mammoth Mountain, see mammothmountain.com