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story.lead_photo.caption A “Magic Carpet” carries riders up the hill so they can tube down it at Snowflex.

It's softer to fall on than hard-pack snow.

It's low maintenance.

FAQ

Snowflex

WHEN — Opened Dec. 1

WHERE — Branson Zipline at Wolfe Mountain

COST — $29.99-$34.99 an hour, with a family package for four at $109.99

INFO — 417-561-0699 or wolfemountainbranson.com

And it never melts.

But an imported British product called Snowflex has just brought all the thrills of snow tubing to Branson for the first time. The 400-foot hill, which opened Dec. 1, is the largest synthetic tubing run in the United States, says Craig Combs, owner of Combs Family Ventures. It's probably also the only one that has people zipping across it in the air: The new tubing hill passes under parts of the Branson Ziplines at Wolfe Mountain.

"That's exciting for everybody," Combs says with a laugh.

Combs says his family has been in the hospitality business in Branson for nearly 25 years but bought the Branson Ziplines "more by accident." It was for sale, and he and his father went to take a look. "We were really impressed with what we saw," he says.

Seven of the ziplines are part of a canopy tour -- defined as zipping from platform to platform without ever touching the ground -- and the eighth is the Blue Streak, a 100-foot free fall. With 33 acres surrounding the ziplines, Combs was looking for something that would be equally outdoorsy and even more unusual. At an attractions expo in Orlando last year, he saw Snowflex.

Created by a West Yorkshire snowsport company called Briton Engineering Developments, Snowflex is recognized as the closest replication of snow, Combs says, and is used to train many U.S. Winter Olympic athletes.

"Looking at it, it does appear to be something kind of simple," he says. "And with the lay of the land around Branson, it would seem like something we could carve out pretty easily. But you don't have any controls when you're in the tube, so it has to be just the right grade and level all across, with just enough air to feel a little zero gravity -- but not enough to be unsafe. So it's definitely more complicated than it looks.

"We've been down it a lot, and it's a lot of fun," Combs adds excitedly. "And we know you'll slide where you're supposed to slide and end where you're supposed to end. If you touch it, it's not like snow -- more like a turf. But it acts like snow would. It's not so hard that it feels like you're sliding on ice, but not so soft you can't pick up any speed or momentum."

Riders get to the top of the hill using a contrivance called a Magic Carpet, which Combs says works much like a conveyor belt.

"Right now, the Magic Carpet can carry 1,200 people an hour," he says, "so it doesn't limit us much at all." But Combs started with just 70 tubes. Riders pay by the hour, "and one thing we wanted to make sure of is people get plenty of action during that hour." It takes about 2 minutes to ride to the top and about a minute to tube back to the bottom.

While the "snow" isn't cold, Combs says Snowflex is equally functional year-round, so riders can bundle up and come out in the cold to get a ski resort experience or come in the summer in shorts.

"We're installing lights right now," he says, "so we can stay open as long as people want to have fun -- until at least 10 p.m.! We plan to be open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m."

The ride comes with few restrictions. Youngsters must be 3 years old to ride and can go either in a parent's lap or with their inner tube tethered to an adult's. Six-year-olds and older can ride on their own, Combs says, and the only weight limitation was set by the manufacturer of the inner tubes -- 375 pounds.

Combs does understand that neither zipping nor snow tubing is for everyone.

"We do have a little walking trail for family members, with cliffs and a creek. So it's really beautiful for them while they watch."

NAN What's Up on 12/10/2017

Print Headline: Let It Snow!

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