Would you like to try a new adventure? One guaranteed to thrill?
As a rule, everything surrounding the tube ride is horrible. The bus is hot, crowded, and (since most of your bus-mates are inevitably high schoolers) ridiculously loud; your tube, while walking, is unwieldy and smelly and chafes your arms; and you have to wrestle the cooler, which has unfortunately taken on the ultra-gravity of enough supplies (chips, jerky, fruit, cookies, drinks) for a mid-sized Super Bowl party, into its own snug-fitting tube, then drag it across the frozen parking lot.
But soon the miracle happens: The tube lends you its magical buoyancy and the slide (if that’s the word for an ambiguous, two-miles-per-hour general trend) sweeps you away. It’s hard to overemphasize the passivity of tubing. It is sloth ingeniously disguised as adventure. Though you are outside, you may as well be in your living room watching television. The tube forces you into a nearly horizontal recline, a posture easily mistakable for someone taking a nap. Nature rolls effortlessly by, and in response you alternately breathe and eat.
You float downhill for about five hours, gauging the length of the trip only by the emptiness of the ice chest. This indolence is broken up by a minimum of functional walking: to the cooler (which quickly becomes the most important member of the expedition) or courteously down hill when nature calls.
You try to keep your distance from the convoys of high-school tubers, who tend to slide in circular formations, like threatened wagon trains, around stashes of illegal beer. Occasionally you wave, with veiled condescension, to a fleet of passing skiiers, trapped in their aluminum handcuffs and actively assaulting the mountain with sticks.
Tubing immediately exposes the hypocrisy of other winter sports: Traditional snowboarding, from a tube, looks like an artificial, intrusive, arrogant, faux-refreshing extension of the landlocked ego; snowboarders use the mountain as a fluid blacktop, another surface to conquer with the aid of a board. (I shouldn’t even have to mention the blasphemous walk-on-water hubris of skiers.) Tubing, on the other hand, is fluvial Buddhism: It asks you to submit humbly to the hill, to meet it on its own terms and have a long talk with it in its native language, rather than just flitting around on top of it.
There are no tricks or stunts. You don’t visit, you merge. It is your motor. Aside from a tube, the only equipment you need is spiritual: respect for the mountain, an instinct for meditation, and a high regard for inaction.
A 1980s arcade game called Toobin once tried to enliven the water component of this sport with danger—your animated tuber threw aluminum cans at rivals while navigating the waterfalls, fishhooks, and crocodiles—but the game was unconvincing. Tubing on a hill is nothing like that. It is remarkably harmless except, of course, for the danger inherent in all winter sports, especially when mixed with alcohol); nevertheless, a friend of mine, who grew up on in Aspen and always acted as our local guide, often tried to spice our trips with danger. She once told us, for instance, that it was mating season for winter snakes, that cottonmouths were copulating in giant snowbanks as we slid by, and that if we touched them with a stray dangling foot they would spring out in all directions fangs-first.
More credibly, a local informant told me that the Aspen has recently taken on the atmosphere of an international border: He said local police set up a dragnet across the mountain, stopping tubers and arresting anyone carrying illegal substances, handcuffing them in their snowsuits.