Midway • Amid all the thrills associated with sliding really fast down a mountain on air and rubber, Ryan Ferris found another.
"I really liked getting pulled up the mountain on the tube," said the 14-year-old West Jordan resident. "It was a good time to relax and enjoy the view."
But don't let his response fool you.
The Ferris family was here for speed. Unfortunately, on this day Mother Nature was not allowing it to happen. Periods of rain mixed with snow created less-than-favorable tubing conditions on the mid-December weekend.
While there were a couple of snot-freezing runs, the three Ferris boys and their parents failed to come close to the reported 28 mph runs the staff at Soldier Hollow at Wasatch Mountain State Park have been able to catch on a radar gun.
Ferris' twin brother, Skylar, was a little bummed that he didn't reach the speed of light, but he said there are other benefits to visiting the tubing park.
"It wasn't very fast at first, but it picked up after a while," he said. "It was fun seeing the whole family and riding down the hill with them in a big bunch. We made a lot of memories."
Howard Peterson, executive director of the Solider Hollow Legacy Foundation, offered the Ferris family a return pass for another day when conditions are more conducive to pulling your wool cap off.
Soldier Hollow also offers a money-back deal if the conditions do not meet your expectations in the first 30 minutes of your two-hour pass. Few of the 50,000 annual tubers at the park take advantage of the guarantee.
According to Peterson, one-quarter of the visitors come from the Park City area and are typically vacationers looking for a change of pace from the skiing they came to Utah to do. About half of the visitors come to the tubing hill from Salt Lake and Utah counties.
The tubing hill, which includes a rope-tow style lift, was created in time for the 2002-03 winter to help keep the cross-country skiing venue used during the 2002 Winter Olympics open to the public.
"It really is how we subsidize the youth cross-country programs and snowmaking," Peterson said. "We knew we had to come up with other ways to make money when Soldier Hollow was not named as a beneficiary to the endowment money given to the Utah Olympic Park and the Olympic Oval."
The tubing hill, which also serves as the driving range for the Wasatch Mountain State Park golf course, typically opens in mid-December and closes when conditions require, usually in March.
The hill has six lanes for sliding pleasure. The lanes are 18 feet wide and have big berms on the sides to keep tubers from straying into other lanes. The lanes are 1,200 feet long and have a couple of little dips along the way.
Only one person is allowed to ride each tube, but multiple tubers are allowed to make a run in the same lane when conditions permit. Just make sure to ask the operators on the top of the hill if you can raft together.
Soldier Hollow allows tubers ages 3 and up and has a variety of tube sizes to accommodate users. The different styles may also lead to different speeds on the hill. Families with children under 3 will find a waiting area at the bottom of the hill to watch the tubing action. You can also put your toddlers in a tube and pull them around on the snow, which seems to be enough for kids that age.
"We see a lot of people who bring their family or friends when they come into town for the holidays or to go skiing," Peterson said. "We also have a pass that allows parents to share a pass so they can take turns watching the little ones."
If two hours of tubing isn't enough, there is a four-hour pass available. Peterson said some families take advantage of the cross-country and snowshoe rentals at the lodge and try another winter sport while tubing. Groups can also rent the hill for special events during non-operating hours, including at night.
Passes for the tubing hill are available at the Courtland Nelson Day Lodge, which also serves as a great place to warm up and enjoy the lunch you brought. If you want to buy lunch, the Soldier Hollow Grill at the Club House is open and provides basics like hamburgers and sandwiches.
The Ferris family elected to bring their own lunch and enjoyed the fire in the day lodge, before refueling after the tubing. It provided a time to reflect on the events and the limited amount of racing that could be done given the circumstances and what it was like to go tubing in December rain.
"It was fun to go and do something active and then being able to sit down and talk," said Desiree Ferris, the mother of the three teenagers. "The boys and Allen [her husband] had a lot of fun trying to beat each other down the hill. We don't get to spend a lot of time with them because they are so busy with friends and other activities. It was nice to be able do something fun as a family."
The Ferrises plan on going back. And this time, they mean to find the speed.
"We are going to wait until it is all ice over and then we are going to hit the safety fence from going so fast," said 16-year-old Dakota Ferris.
Tubing without the uphill hike
Where to catch a ride both ways with lift-served tubing
Soldier Hollow at Wasatch Mountain State Park in Midway
A tubing hill was constructed at cross-country ski resort used for the 2002 Winter Games in time for the 2002-03 winter. Passes come in two-hour sessions and are $20 for riders 7 and older and $10 for ages 3-6. www.soldierhollow.com
Gorgoza Park in Summit County
The state's largest tubing park, Gorogoza is operated by Park City Mountain Resort and has three beginner and four advanced tubing lanes. The park also includes a miniature snowmobile track and the Fort Frosty play area for younger winter enthusiasts. The cost varies from $22 for a 2-hour session for riders 42 inches and taller and $10 for those under 42 inches. www.parkcitymountain.com
Brian Head Resort in Iron County
Tubers can choose any of six lanes at the Brian Head Snow Tubing Park. The cost is $15. www.brianhead.com
Eagle Point Ski Resort near Beaver
The recently-opened resort offers four lanes of tubing and a double chair lift for tubers. Passes are $15. www.skieaglepoint.com