When I moved to the Adirondacks in August of 1999, it was after living on Long Island, and working in New York City, for eighteen years. Saranac Lake was a big change for me.
But I was seeking change. After years in the workforce, I was going back to school. After only seeing my brother and nephew on visits, I would be living in the same town. They would become guides to my new life.
I was still in New York, of course, but some things were very different. I had brought my answering machine with me, and this was not something very common in the area, especially for private residences.
I would come home, and find lots of hangups on my machine. Then I would drop by certain businesses because I had not heard back from them, only to be told, "We called and called, but you weren't home."
I enjoyed my classes at North Country Community College and made new friends there. On Long Island, people generally got pouty about the approach of winter. But my new friends were all excited as fall (the most spectacular I had ever experienced) turned towards colder weather. I was often asked what my favorite winter sport was.
They laughed merrily. "Oh, that will change. Winter here is different. You'll see."
They were right. Compared with my previous experiences with New York winters, the Adirondacks really were different. Most of the days were sunny and most of the snow was fluffy and pristine. As my friends spoke happily about all the ways they looked forward to enjoying their favorite winter activities, I found my enthusiasm rising.
My brother, mindful of my lack of experience and general klutziness, knew just where to get me started. He'd been right about the best hikes for my skill level. So when he said Mount Pisgah's new tubing run would be just right for me, and my preschool nephew, I listened.
change is good
I was not the only one in Saranac Lake for whom the year 1999 brought great changes. Local wood carver Karen Loffler read an article about a small children’s carousel which featured woodland animals instead of the usual horses. It would take several more years to make her vision a reality, but we now have an Adirondack Carousel.
For Mount Pisgah Recreation Center, 1999 was the culmination of the dreams of many townspeople. While Mount Pisgah has been the town's beloved skiing hill since 1950, it was with only minor upgrades to its rope tow and warming hut. After much much planning and fund-raising, there was a new lodge, a T-bar lift, and a tubing run.
Tubing is essentially a more organized form of sledding. My attempts to sled on Long Island had been disappointing. There weren't many good hills to choose from. I also remembered how wearying it could be to constantly trudge back up the hill.
Tubing at Pisgah solved all these issues. There's a rope that brings us to the top of a very good-sized hill. (Pisgah itself is about 2,000 feet tall.) This makes it easier on the person, but also keeps the sliding area free of footstep divots and bumpy ridges.
This lets the tuber (yes, that's what we are called) have a fast, smooth, slide down without getting bumped off the track or encounter any obstacles. We don't get worn out, small children can slide with safety, and everyone has a good time.
We chose our tubes from a giant pile and lined up for our turn. I could observe the easy technique. We would sit in our tubes to be slid up the hill, and then choose one of two trails to slide down.
The merry shrieking of the people heading downhill was very convincing.
WINTER FOR NEWBIES
While waiting, my nephew eagerly explained everything, thanks to a previous visit. All small children enjoy feeling like they know more than grownups, but in this case, he was exactly right.
"Last time I sat on Daddy's lap, but this time I'm getting my own tube!"
"You learned a lot in a short time."
"I did! Don't be scared, Aunt Pam. It goes fast but there's nothing to bump into except those yellow things."
"Yes, them. They will keep you from getting into trouble."
"I'm always grateful for that."
He was right. About everything. From my first sliding ride down the hill, I thought it a vast improvement on sledding, with much easier access to hot chocolate.
Tubing is the best way for a person of any skill level to get down a snowy hill.
It's like the lowest common denominator of winter sports. The rope tow and the hill do all the "work." Our only responsibility is to make sure our whoops of joy don't worry anyone, that we are polite about waiting in line, and that we agree with any pre-schoolers about just how fast they were going down the hill.
"I think I was going fifty miles an hour!"
"Really? That's fast."
"It was, it was really fast."
"Are you sure it just didn't feel that fast?"
"Look at them!" We watched someone whoosh by.
"Gosh, you are right. That is really fast."
I remember that afternoon with great fondness. We had a wonderful time together, and my nephew was thrilled to be an expert on something for a change. Tubing is a great leveler. Bigger people go down the hill faster, pulled by their greater mass, and so little kids in tow think they are going just as fast as the adults. Unlike hiking or snowshoeing, when smaller children have to take more steps than adults to cover the same distance.
Over the years, I've expanded my winter activity repertoire. I've worked my way up from tubing to ice fishing to snowshoeing and maybe, this coming year, cross-country skiing. Of course, these have not been the only changes.
Since that first tubing run, my nephew has entered primary school and graduated from high school. I've graduated from college. (Again.) While my first visit to Casa del Sol resulted in my being carded by a cautious waitress, I don't think that is going to happen again.
As another gorgeous fall draws to a close, and another winter brings its promise of fun in the snow, I remind myself that it has been too long since I've gone tubing. I don't have the excuse of making my cute little nephew happy, but an equally good excuse is making big adorable me happy.
Best of all, I regard all four seasons as having something to offer. There are times and places where I actually look forward to what winter can bring.
header photo by Mark Kurtz