Gone are the days of pizza boxes, packing down new runs in the snow and trekking back up the hill. Tubing has revolutionized sledding.
Tubing combines the basic principal of sledding - sitting down - with the high speeds, adrenaline rush and mechanized ascent that draw winter sports enthusiasts to skiing and snowboarding.
The pastime has become a favorite with families visiting Summit County, which now has three different tubing hills, at Copper, Keystone and the Frisco Adventure Park.
Like the ski slopes, tubing hills are carefully maintained with man-made snow and cats, so customers can count on an exciting experience, even if the weather would have meant some pretty lousy sledding.
The tubing hills feature several long, groomed runs of varying levels of intensity. Guests are transported to the top of the hill on what is commonly called a magic carpet lift, but most closely resembles a moving walkway on an incline. At the top, tubers pick their poison. For older kids and adrenaline junkies, some tubing hills have "black runs" with steeper grades and drop offs, where tube speeds have been clocked at up to 40 miles per hour. When there isn't an airbag between you and the ground, that's fast.
But for younger family members, first timers and those who just prefer to have an airbag nearby anytime they're going to be travelling faster than 30 miles per hour, there are easier slopes, with gentle rollers that keep things interesting on the descent.
The attendants at the top of the hills are pretty open to suggestions. They'll send tubes down spinning or straight, backwards or with a "super spin." Groups can join their tubes together and go down in a cluster or race one another on adjacent runs. But they have their rules, and will only allow one seated person per tube.
The tubing hill operators are big on safety. Each run drops tubers on to a long rolling landing strip where they can come to a safe stop and tall snow banks are built up between runs to keep tubes from jumping lanes.
Summit County's three tubing hills operate on the same basic principals - long, groomed runs of varying pitch and intensity, but each is a little different.
Copper Mountain seems to be the most relaxed hill, allowing tubers to go down "superman" style on their stomachs, to join groups of up to eight tubes together like a toboggan or to go down two at a time on the same run, unattached, so tubes can race and bump into one another on the way down. Copper's rates are also the least expensive if purchased in advance.
The Frisco Adventure Park, though a little stricter on style of descent, is convenient because it is not attached to a resort. Parking is easy to find and readily available next to the lodge where tickets are purchased. Frisco's tubing hill also has a slightly longer hours than Copper's and runs on 15 rather than 30-minute sessions, which, hill managers say, helps increase capacity, limits wait times and keeps a steady flow of people on the hill.
Keystone's tubing hill is the only one located on that side of the county, as Breckenridge Ski Resort doesn't have one. But kids have to be at least 42 inches tall - compared to 36 inches at the other two tubing hills - to tube. None of the tubing hills allow parents to hold smaller kids on their laps or multiple people to ride on one tube.
Tubing is a blast. Hurtling downhill over the snow at breakneck speeds always is. But the experience is significantly different from sledding.
Tubes reach high speeds on groomed runs of hard-packed snow. The experience can be intense for young children and none of the hills allow parents to hold their kids or let kids less than 36 inches tall ride alone. So for families with very young children, sledding might be a better option.
Tubing hills have also taken almost all the work out of sliding down a hill. They provide the tubes, a safety briefing and a lift back to the top after each run. However, while sledding in Summit County is still free and unlimited at all of the four popular hills, tubing hills charge per person fees for hourly sessions.
And, unlike sledding, tubing is not about spending a few quiet peaceful hours playing in the snow. The activity is popular and the three hills, especially during the busy holiday season, are often packed. Most tubing hills recommend making reservations ahead of time and require customers to arrive in advance.