Veteran observers of athletes on Mammoth Mountain know all about “the look.”
They scan the slope, looking for the perfect line. Their eyes flit back and forth, processing the run for bumps, snow conditions, danger zones and, finally, the sweet spot.
So it was a few weekends ago, when Maya Johnson surveyed the scene before her.
“Tube 4 is the fastest,” she pronounced, then positioned her inner tube at the lip of the slope and gave her handler instructions to send her down, with medium spin.
Maya is 7 years old, and she can stomp Woolly’s Tube Park as well as anyone around. She likes her runs fast and breathtaking. At the tube park, that’s no problem.
“She just loves this place,” said her dad, Tom Johnson, a marketing executive at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area. “And to tell you the truth, so do I.”
So, too, does just about everyone else, judging by the “smile meter” on their faces when they reach the bottom of the hill, stopping—sometimes abruptly—on a series of rubber mats that arrest their momentum.
And then it’s off for another run, with the tubers latching their inner-tubes to a rope-tow contraption that whisks them up the hill for another slide, some of them swishing up the sides of the groomed side berms, others taking a more conventional let-’er-rip ride.
“Go fast, have a blast” is the mantra, except perhaps at the toddler area where a carousel (“Woolly’s Tube Rotondo”) takes the youngest of tubers across the snow in a merry-go-round configuration.
Maya, a second-grader, is way beyond that.
A veteran of a half-dozen trips to the hill this season, she is kicking it in the Tube Park while others, further up the hill, anxiously scan the skies for snow at the ski area.
At the tube park, under the care of veteran Mammoth Mountain hand Mike Colbert, the lack of snow this season does not seem to have staunched an onrush.
“Mike does an amazing job keeping the tubes in shape,” said Maya’s dad.
Colbert is no stranger to keeping a groomed area in as best shape as possible.
In the spring, when the snow begins to melt away from the mountains, Colbert’s job is to put the Mammoth Motocross track in top condition—in some years a tough assignment under changeable conditions.
This year, with only man-made snow at his disposal, Colbert might be doing his best work yet as the Woolly’s Tube Park, which replaced the less-than-ideal “Sledz” tube park, moves into its third season.
The centerpiece attractions are the tubes themselves.
There are six of them, each monitored by Mountain employees who give tubers the proper instructions for when to launch, and how to tuck the tube leash properly before sailing down the hill.
Colbert also has to make sure the up-tracks are in good condition and that the bull wheels on the two rope tows are working properly.
If things go right, the tube park operates as one smooth experience, from an opening at 10 a.m. to closing at 4 p.m.
It has become a smash hit, judging by the people waiting for a lift.
During the Christmas Week holiday period, a wait-list to use the park often exceeded an hour, but the people waiting did not seem to have much of a problem with it, hanging out on the deck while kids sipped hot chocolate or soft drinks and the adults sipped coffee, tea, or alcohol drinks.
It is not exactly a cheap date, though.
An adult ticket costs $30 for a one-hour, 15-minute session, while tickets for kids 12 and under are $25. One perk, however, is that all kids’ tickets include a free scenic gondola ride to the summit of Mammoth Mountain, under the proviso that tickets must be redeemed on the same day as the Tube Park visit.
Not that Maya would care a whit about that.
As a liftie latched her tube to the rope tow at the bottom of the hill, he yelled after her, “Go fast, have a blast!”
That was not going to be a problem.