Monday, January 21, 2013

Tubing at Hurricane Ridge

"Snow Play" is an acceptable traditional use at Hurricane Ridge and most other National Parks.

When the Ridge road was first opened, the snowplay area was in front of the lodge.  The trouble with that area is that it is a convex slope and difficult to stop.  There was also at least one severe injury incident at the Victoria Overlook on the north slope. 

As a result the snow play area was moved to Sunrise in 1988, according to the ONP winter press release.  "Tubing will be allowed this season at two locations.  The traditional site west of the lodge is conveniently located near the parking lot and the facilities offered at the lodge.  A second area is located approximately one mile from the top along the Hurricane Ridge Road.  Parking is limited and a safe run is provided, especially for large tubes. (As an aside, "Cross country skiing, sledding and sightseeing will be available weekdays when the ski area is not open." ahem)

The tubing area was located exclusively at Sunrise until 2008.  People parked on the shoulder of the road, as many as 100 cars were common.  The sunrise area had several inherent problems, including being located in a known avalanche area.  Unsupervised tubing is a fairly dangerous activity.  As a result, a Ranger was required to patrol the area.

In 2007 a major project to rehabilitate the Hurricane Ridge Road was completed.  One consequence to the rehabilitation is that the radius of the curve at Sunrise was increased, which eliminated the shoulder of the road that provided parking for the tubing area.

The EA for this project did not address the loss of the tubing area in any way or winter use for that matter.

(It was also written by an outside consultant, something the current administration says is not allowed for the ski area improvements.  Using an outside consultant could speed up the lift replacement process much quicker than the ten years estimated for completion by ONP. ahem #2).

The following year, ONP made the decision to eliminate tubing at Sunrise.  They did host a public meeting after the decision was made.

The elimination of the Sunrise tubing area left the small children's area for those under age 8 located west of the lodge, where the tubers cross the busy snowshoe and xc trail to Hurricane Hill.

In response to public demand for an all ages tubing area, the ski club proposed to create a bermed tubing area located to the west of the bunny slope.  The ski club would provide tubes, ski patrol services, and administration.  ONP rejected that idea on the basis that it was an expansion of the operating area (this is a little questionable) and disapproved of the unnatural manipulation of the snow.  ONP also wanted the area to be free of charge. 

Meanwhile, during the seven day trial period the ski club allowed tubing on the intermediate slope on weekdays provided grooming or other activities were not being conducted.  ONP encouraged the ski area to create a tubing area within the existing boundaries of the ski area, which is already tiny by any measure.

Fortunately, a natural wind drift forms in the lee of the trees on the east border of the intermediate.  Using this  natural feature as a base, and the skill of our groomer operator, the current tubing area came to fruition.  The area is controlled by an operator, patrolled by ski patrol, and tubes are provided all for a reasonable cost.  The new area is safer, and more fun than any of the previous iterations.

Unfortunately, the demand for tubing stressed an already limited parking situation.  Each of the weekend operating days since before Christmas the parking lot has filled, creating long lines at the Heart o' the Hills entrance station.  Wait time of more than an hour are not uncommon.  Many vehicles turn around, not willing to wait in line.  Unknown numbers don't even attempt.

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