Northern California With Kids: Heavenly Tubing in Lake Tahoe
National Geographic Traveler columnist Christopher Elliott recently visited northern California with his family. This is the third of six reports. Read the first and second posts.
If you want to get to know your kids, take them skiing. But if you want to bond with them, go snow tubing.
Skiing may be one of the great social sports, with its chairlift chats and après ski rituals, but there are no such traditions in snow tubing. Hurtling down an icy chute on an inner tube, tethered to your four-year-old daughter (see video, above) is a pure adrenalin rush.
Oh, you’re connected alright, not just by a bungee cord, but also psychologically in roughly the same way that survivors of some cataclysmic event are connected. Except that after your heart stops racing, and you realize that you’re fine, you want to repeat the experience.
Heavenly Ski Resort in Lake Tahoe is one of several mountains in the area that offer snow tubing, but few do it like this. There’s a tubing-only lift– you stand and drag your tube up the hill– and five dedicated chutes to choose from. Even the name, the “Extreme Tubing Hill,” commands respect, if not fear.
Since the resort is located near the lake, you can also count on spectacular views. From the gondola that takes you to the new Tamarack Lodge near to the tubing area, there’s an almost bird’s-eye view of Lake Tahoe that makes your heart skip a beat. If you can stomach the ride, they say, it’s all downhill from here.
I teamed up with my youngest daughter to make a run. We climbed into the lift, which looks like a long, plastic tube, arrived at the top of the 500-foot chute and then waited for our turn.
Erysse is fearless. (With two older brothers, you have to be.) I was concerned that she might hit a bump and launch out of the tube, but thankfully, gravity keeps you in place for the 15-second drop down the mountain.
One of the attendants offered us a choice: spin or no spin.
“No spin,” said my daughter.
With that, we were given a firm push and sent hurtling into the cold abyss. It feels like you’re out of control from beginning to end. The tubes bounce back and forth on the sides of the chute, sometimes coming precariously close to leaving the safety of the course.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
All I could hear, besides the wind in my ears, was the sound of our own screams. The worry of being out of control is suddenly replaced with another concern: Will this thing stop? Or, will I go flying over the embankment and off the side of the mountain? It’s all part of the experience. Yes, you stop. Every time.
It’s safe – at least as safe as any other snow sport for which you have to sign a waiver. Which is to say, there are some inherent risks. So if you want to take less of a chance, there are plenty of other family-friendly activities in Lake Tahoe, from hiking to shopping, that won’t test your nerves. But there are definitely also riskier things you could be doing, like hitting the slots on the Nevada side of the lake.
The proof that snow tubing is a great family experience comes at the end, when your kid says, “Let’s do it again!”
(Video by Kari Haugeto, aka Erysse’s mom, taken on a Flip and edited on Final Cut Pro.)