MARS HILL – Because not everybody considers alpine skiing the most fun winter sport, Big Rock Ski Area is offering a new and different way for people to head down the slopes.
The nonprofit Maine Winter Sports Center facility is wrapping up work on a $40,000 “tube park,” which will open on Saturday, Dec. 16, a week after the regular ski season is scheduled to begin, Ryan Guerrette, Big Rock’s operations manager, said Monday.
The park – a three-lane, 800-foot-long run that is just north of the ski area’s double chairlift and runs parallel with its family trail – is designed specifically for “tubing,” or sliding down the run on an inner tube.
Residents in snowy climes have used the inflatable rubber rings – traditionally the insides of old tires – for generations as a cheap and fast substitute for sleds. Guerrette said Big Rock has spent about $11,000 on 110 specially designed inner tubes for the new tube park.
The tubes are inside a canvas case that features a hard plastic bottom. Tubes and their riders will be pulled up the slope by a 600-foot-long handle tow lift and will power down an 18 percent to 21 percent grade designed to National Ski Area Association specifications.
Guerrette said Big Rock officials did a tremendous amount of research on tubing before moving forward with the project. There are tubing facilities at ski areas in Hermon and Rumford and in Canada, but this facility will be the most northern one in Maine.
“In the ski area business, especially with smaller areas such as ours, it’s been the savior of the ski areas,” Guerrette said of tubing parks. “It’s getting so that operational costs are so expensive, we need to find something else to generate revenue. The overhead on a tubing facility is a lot lower than a skiing facility, so it should be really good for our area.”
Officials began work on the 5-acre park in June, clearing trees, removing stumps and smoothing out and shaping the terrain. A snow-making pipeline along the run is about 70 percent complete, and installation of the lift and lighting is expected to begin as soon as next week.
Guerrette said that the lighting and snow-making alone should sell the park to potential visitors.
“We can guarantee that we’ll be open. As long as we have cold temperatures, we can make snow. And we’ll also have lighting, so we’ll be tubing at night,” he said.
Guerrette pointed out that because strapping on skis and heading down a ski slope admittedly makes some people nervous, the tube park is another revenue generator and a good way to offer people exposure to the ski area.
The park will be open in three-hour blocks between Fridays and Sundays during the ski season. Guerrette is confident the addition will be a big hit.
“Tubing’s not new to this area, but it’s new to Big Rock,” he said. “We’re not worried about filling our blocks at all. We think we’re going to run for a few weeks and find we have to extend our hours because we’re going to be so busy.”
Tentative hours for the tube park will be 6-9 p.m. Fridays; 9 a.m.-noon and 3-6 p.m. Saturdays; and noon-3 p.m. and 3-6 p.m. Sundays. The park will be open for extended hours during school vacations and will require reservations for birthday parties or for groups of more than 30. Tickets will be $10 per person per session. For group rates, contact Big Rock Ski Area at 425-6711.