TRAVERSE CITY — Who said sledding is just for kids? Grown-ups across the area are conquering slopes with sleds, saucers, tubes, toboggans and youthful enthusiasm.
The 240-foot-tall Dune Climb at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Empire may be the mother of all sledding hills.
“It’s not for the faint hearted,” said former race car driver Paul Skinner.
Skinner first tackled the giant dune at age 50. The speed-loving president of Empire Chamber of Commerce speaks from experience. He estimates the ride from the top clocks at 20 miles per hour — or more.
“When bouncing along with only a thin piece of plastic between you and the ground, it feels like 80 miles per hour,” he said.
Skinner noted that the climb is somewhat more difficult in winter because of heavy clothing.
The dune is open for sledding whenever there is snow cover, according to park visitor center assistant Joy Blair — also an adult veteran of monster dune sledding.
“It’s fabulous,” she said. “But be prepared for a long hike up the hill.”
Whether sledders make it to the peak, or only part way, it’s a fun ride, she added.
Sleds, tubes and toboggans are all permitted within the designated downhill area. A National Park pass is required for entry into the area. Passes are available at the Visitor Center in Empire.
Soni Aylsworth is a sixth generation Empire resident who grew up sledding the Dune Climb.
“I still have the sled my great-grandfather built in the 1920s hanging in my garage and still use it,” he said.
Wilco Road is an Empire sledding hot spot, according to the insider. Closed for the winter, the steep road provides thrills and spills. Aylsworth stresses the importance of sledding safety. He warns that bumps and ice may create unseen danger.
Aylsworth will be on the slopes again this winter to share the sledding experience with his children.
“I have as much fun as a grown-up as when I was a kid,” he said.
At Traverse City’s Mt. Holiday Ski and Recreation Area adult-only times set the grown-up crowd loose on its newly improved tubing run with tow. The 100-foot vertical run provides a 400-foot downhill cruise.
About 40 percent of Mt. Holiday tubers are adults (many accompanied by children), according to the ski area’s executive director Ann Pettyjohn. Mt. Holiday allows tubers to hold hands to descend as a group. The greater mass and weight increases speeds — and squeals, she said. Call for the adult dates. Reservations are recommended.
Freewheeling and cost-free sledding happens at neighborhood parks across the region. East Bay Charter Township’s Grace Mcdonald Park and Ellsworth Community Park in Antrim County provide old-fashion hill experiences. Kalkaska’s Chalker Park and the former ski slope at Bahle Park in Suttons Bay invite the chance to conquer the slope.
Those who prefer a ride to the top, groomed runs and access to lodge amenities have a number of regional choices. Boyne Highlands Tubing Park at Harbor Springs offers an 800-foot run. Boyne Mountain at Boyne Falls has four dedicated tubing lanes. Bellaire’s Shanty Creek has a multi-lane tubing park. Timberlee Hills offers all the fun of sledding without the hike.
Ski areas typically charge by the hour. Fees include tubes. Some facilities offer season tubing passes.