The best in snow tubing
With their multiple lanes, conveyor lifts and snow-making, these aren't your grandma's hills.
On a 13-lane tubing superhighway, it's easy to feel 8 years old again.
When my daughter begged me to take her tubing at Elm Creek Park Reserve near Minneapolis, I wondered if I was too old to rocket down an icy hill.
But a professionally run tubing hill is nothing like a neighborhood sledding hill. Each lane is groomed, graded and separated by snow berms, so you don't have to worry about careening into a tree or someone's knees.
There's no need to trudge back to the top, because a moving sidewalk takes you there. And when there's not enough snow, the hills just make some.
In the western suburb of Maple Grove, Elm Creek's Winter Recreation Area is a megaplex of snow. A mild winter day had brought out crowds to snowboard, ski and tube.
After my 8-year-old daughter and I paid for two hours of tubing, we picked out red and blue tubes and waited for a lane.
Who was scared? Not my daughter. "It's not really scary at all," she told me reassuringly.
In a few seconds, we were barreling down our lane like greased lightning. I screamed, closed my eyes and felt 8 again, telling myself I would be just fine.
Meanwhile, my daughter was laughing. She leaped up at the end, crying, "Wasn't that fun?"
The 10-story Magic Carpet took us back to the top. I started feeling braver, and pretty soon we were tying our tubes together and going down backward, bouncing off the rails. Some people made convoys of eight tubes, until an announcer asked them to stick to four or fewer.
Before each run, we stood in line for about five minutes, until we decided to wait for what one attendant called the "Terrible Lane" — longer and faster, with a sharp bend at the end. That's when my daughter ditched me and blazed ahead on her own.
After I finally caught her at the bottom, we headed for the chalet cafeteria, which sells everything from burgers to espresso drinks.
The great thing about tubing is that anyone can do it. There's no learning curve, it's not expensive and the only gear required is warm clothing.
And while you're maxing out your adrenaline, gravity does all the work.
Trip Tips: Snow tubing hills
Costs: They vary from $10 for two hours (Winter Park in Kewaunee, Wis.) to $49 (Wilmot Mountain near Lake Geneva). Most charge $17-$25; rates are higher at destination ski resorts. Many offer weekday specials.
What to know: Many hills have a height minimum of 42 inches for children or an age minimum of 4 years. Everyone has to sign a waiver before tubing.
Most hills have either a handle tow, where people ride their tubes up the hill, or a "magic carpet"/"moving sidewalk" conveyor lift — some of them even covered.
Before you go, check for hours (many hills are open weekends only), special deals, conditions and to make sure the hill isn't closed for a private party.
All of the hills below have lighted runs, snow-making capability and heated chalets with snacks.
Maple Grove, Elm Creek Park Reserve Winter Recreation Area. The tubing hill in this park in a northwest Minneapolis suburb has 13 lanes and a conveyor lift.
There's also downhill skiing, snowboarding and nearly 18 kilometers of groomed cross-country ski trails.
Minneapolis, Wirth Winter Recreation Area. The tubing hill in Theodore Wirth Park, on the Grand Rounds on the northwest edge of the city, is served by a tow rope.
The park also has cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and snowboarding.
Burnsville, Buck Hill. This downhill area in the south Minneapolis suburbs has multiple chutes with a covered conveyor lift.
Taylors Falls, Wild Mountain. This downhill area an hour north of St. Paul and seven miles north of Taylors Falls has lanes of various widths with conveyor lift.
For more about the Taylors Falls area, see Sightseeing on the St. Croix.
Nisswa, Mount Ski Gull. This community-owned downhill area includes the Ricochet Alley tubing hill, with three runs and a hands-free tow lift. It's on the northwest shore of Gull Lake, seven miles west of Minnesota 371 on County Road 77.
Many resorts and hotels offer their guests discounts at the hill. For more, see Brainerd Lakes in winter.
Kensington, Andes Tower Hills. This downhill area, half an hour west of Alexandria, has multiple chutes, a handle tow and a magic carpet lift.
For more about the area, see Alexandria's enigma.
Bemidji, Buena Vista Ski Area. The tubing park has a tow lift.
Duluth, Spirit Mountain. The Adventure Park of this downhill area includes a six-lane tubing hill with handle tow. There's glow tubing at night.
For more about the area, see Relishing winter in Duluth.
Superior, Mont du Lac. This downhill area on the St. Louis River, on the south edge of the Duluth area and just east of Jay Cooke State Park, has five chutes and a handle tow.
Hudson, Badlands Snow Park. This family-run tubing operation, six miles east of Hudson, has five runs of varying lengths and steepness and four rope tows.
For more about Hudson, see Getaway on the St. Croix.
Dresser, Trollhaugen. This downhill area in the St. Croix River Valley has 10 tubing lanes with varying curves and pitches and a conveyor lift.
Bruce, Christie Mountain. This downhill area in the Blue Hills of western Wisconsin has six chutes of varying steepness with lift.
Merrillan, Bruce Mound Winter Sports Area. This county-run downhill area is 15 miles from Black River Falls and Neillsville and has eight tubing chutes with rope tow.
Wausau, Sylvan Hill Park. This municipal tubing hill, on the northeast edge of Wausau, has six runs on two slopes, each with a wire tow.
Wausau also has excellent alpine skiing, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. For more, see Winter in Wausau.
Mount Morris, Nordic Mountain. This downhill area, 38 miles west of Oshkosh and 23 miles south of Waupaca, has five chutes with large rollers and is served by a handle tow.
Phelps, Afterglow Resort. This lake resort, north of Minocqua near the Michigan border, doesn't make snow and offers tubing only to guests, but it's quite unique.
For an hour each day, the owner hauls guests via snowmobile to the top of a steep, groomed and graded hill, where they tube to the bottom. There's also excellent cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
For more, see Snow asylum.
Green Bay, Triangle Sports Area. This park just south of Bay Beach has four lanes and a towline. Daily lift tickets are only $5.
Kewaunee, Winter Park. This county-run downhill area just west of this Lake Michigan town near Green Bay has six runs served by a handle tow.
Kewaskum, Sunburst Winter Sports Park. This downhill area, in the kettle moraine between Milwaukee and Sheboygan, has 42 lanes and two Magic Carpets.
Portage, Cascade Mountain. This downhill area between Wisconsin Dells and Madison has five lanes of tubing and a conveyor lift.
Wisconsin Dells, Christmas Mountain Village. This downhill area four miles west of the downtown Dells has a tubing hill with handle tow.
Mount Horeb, Tyrol Basin. The tubing park has a dozen runs and its own warming chalet.
Wilmot, Wilmot Mountain. This downhill area, just across the Illinois border between Lake Geneva and Kenosha, has 20 lanes, a covered conveyor lift and a kiddie hill for children under 5.
Franklin, The Rock Snowpark. This hill on the south edge of Milwaukee has a conveyor lift and glow tubing on Friday and Saturday nights.
Upper Peninsula of Michigan
Ironwood, Mount Zion Recreational Complex. This downhill area is part of Gogebic Community College, four blocks north of U.S. 2 on the northeast side of town.
Its tubing hill has three chutes and a lift.
Sault Ste. Marie, Sault Seal Recreation Area. This downhill area on the south edge of town has seven runs, two lifts and a heated chalet.
Bartlett, Villa Olivia. This downhill area just east of Elgin in the western Chicago suburbs has an 800-foot tube run with tow lift.
Andalusia, Ski Snowstar Winter Sports Park. This downhill area in the Mississippi River bluffs west of Rock Island has a tubing hill with five lanes and conveyor lift.
Boone, Seven Oaks Recreation. This downhill area 15 minutes west of Ames has multiple runs served by a handle tow.
Honey Creek, Mount Crescent. This downhill area along the Missouri River north of Council Bluffs offers "extreme sledding" using the European steerable plastic sleds called Zibob. The run is served by chairlift.