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New tubing park at Mont Ripley

RIPLEY – Sledding is just part of childhood in the Copper Country, and everybody’s got a favorite sled hill. But when Mont Ripley opened its new tubing park Dec. 31, it offered a unique advantage.

“You don’t have to walk up the hill,” said Savannah Meyer, one of the lift operators running the specially modified rope tow Saturday.

Mont Ripley General Manager Nick Sirdenis said the hill has been working on the tubing project for over a year. It had a closed-to-the-public trial tubing run last year, brought in 30,000 cubic yards of dirt over the summer to sculpt the park, lengthened the runs by 200 feet, and brought in the reconditioned rope tow that has tubers riding uphill in style.

The hill’s still working out a few kinks – making sure the runs don’t get too fast when they slick up over the course of a day, and that enough deceleration strips and emergency fencing are in place when riders get to the bottom – but the response from the kids that have tried it has been great, Sirdenis said.

“They’re saying it’s awesome,” he said. “I stood there the first day, and my measurement was the shrieks and giggles.”

At the tubing park, visitors Hannah and Olivia Closson, 10 and 8 years old respectively, and their hostess, Houghton’s Isabel Cleary, 12, agreed with the assessment.

“I’ve been (tubing) at Mount Zion,” said Hannah Clossen. “I like this one better.”

“You go very fast,” added Cleary. “This is the fastest I’ve gone.”

Businesswise, the park’s gotten off to a bit of a slow start, with about 50 riders each of the first few days, Sirdenis said. But he expects things to pick up as more people realize the attraction is up and running.

Even if it gets busy, though, it won’t be enough to financially rescue a ski season decimated by El Nino and a lack of snow, Sirdenis said. The hill opened Dec. 24, but while snowmaking has been nonstop once the weather finally got cold enough, only a few of the hill’s runs are open, a tough reality in a business that earns a huge percentage of its revenue during the holiday season.

“It’s not like it’s fully open, but it’s not dead,” said Sirdenis, noting the hill had recently cancelled a Central United States Ski Association race.

Tubes are included in the price of tubing lift tickets, and personal sleds or tubes aren’t permitted. An all-day tubing pass, which is sold separate from regular lift tickets, costs $25, and a 2-hour ticket is $17. Mont Ripley offers special rates for groups of 10 or more. For more information on the hill, go to www.mtu.edu/mont-ripley.