To get a sense of the popularity of Canaan Valley Resort's new summer inner-tube park, watch the squealing kids scurry back up the hill after completing a run.
"This is so much fun!" said Dillon Morris, 11, of Reedsville.
The slopes that thrill thousands of skiers in the winter at this Tucker County resort are no longer idle in the summer. Canaan Valley is one of a half-dozen resorts in North America to offer the tubing runs, which use a new technology that offers dry tracks rather than wet slides.
Two of the other resorts are located in Virginia, one is in Western North Carolina, one is in Oregon, and the sixth tube park is in Ontario, Canada.
"By adding this new feature, it's keeping our ski area business going for the summer," said David Vance, Canaan Valley's assistant ski area manager.
The resort spent $56,000 for two 306-foot runs at the base of the resort's Meadows I slope, using the technology manufactured by Italy-based Neveplast.
According to Neveplast's Web site, the low-friction synthetic carpets, known as Tubby tracks, have the same slippery properties as snow.
"It's a great summer venue source for ski areas, and the customers seem to be enjoying it —screaming all the way down," said Ryan Locher, Neveplast's U.S. sales representative.
Ski resorts have long offered summer luging and bobsledding on slippery tracks without the snow, and some also have wet slides for tubes. The Tubby system is different because it uses inner tubes but no water.
Installation at Canaan was simple. Locher helped assemble the tube runs in about five hours.
The sheeting is fastened to the terrain. Each 4-foot-wide run has raised edges and slightly lowered centers to keep riders on the track. The resort's inflatable tubes already used on winter slopes had shell linings attached to their undersides to help them glide along the orange-and-green track.
For enthusiasts, it's hard to beat the price. At Canaan Valley, two-hour tubing sessions cost $10 per person. The sessions, limited to the first 50 people, are held three times daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Riders must be at least 42 inches tall.
"This is great for kids and grandparents alike and is something we can do together," said resort guest Glen Jarrell of Charleston. "My grandson enjoyed racing me to the bottom."
Neveplast, which also makes artificial alpine and nordic ski slopes and trails, has more than 300 summer tubing installations worldwide. There are 20 proposals out for more U.S. tubing parks in 2008, Locher said.
"It's just catching on here," he said. "Next year should be very busy."
Troy Hawks, the managing editor of the National Ski Areas Association's trade publication, said he was unaware of any similar dry-tubing at U.S. resorts other than those using the Tubby system.
Locher, who also is the mountain manager at Virginia's Bryce Resort, heard about Tubby and had it installed at the resort two years ago. Bryce operates three summer tube runs.
It's too early to tell whether the new tube parks will significantly boost resorts' incomes. At least it's creating a summer niche at some places.
The Tubby runs average about 200 riders at day at Oregon's Mount Hood Ski Bowl and about 100 per day at North Carolina's Sapphire Valley Resort. There are also Tubby runs at Massanutten in Elkton, Va., and Chicopee Tube Park in Kitchener, Ontario.
"It's so simple. That's really the beauty of it," said Bill Rouda, Sapphire Valley's ski school director who financed the Tubby run with his own money because he was looking to open a summer business. "All you're selling is gravity. You get on an innertube and slide down the hill. There's no moving parts."