It's one of the great things about Western New York: You don't have to travel far to find yourself in a different world. We've delighted in this phenomenon several times on our 100 Things journey. Visiting Letchworth State Park, for instance. Or taking in the grandeur of Our Lady of Victory Basilica.
Now it has happened again.
The city of Buffalo was damp with rain and sleet. Two of us from The News called Holiday Valley, the Ellicottville ski resort. A human answered the phone and said, "It's beautiful here."
Less than an hour later, we were there. And beautiful it was.
Not only that, but we were being tugged up a high hill in big doughnuts. Had life improved or what? The air was crisp. The landscape was a haunting, monochromatic ivory. Mountains loomed in the distance. Rows of fir trees were dusted with white.
I was about to go snow tubing for the first time in my life. And I was ready, even if I didn't exactly look chic on the slopes. The day before, I'd gone shopping for snow pants at Kmart, and all I could find was a men's pair -- heavy duty, basic black. They clearly belonged on a construction site. But they did the job, I rejoiced, as the lift pulled me up, up, up. I felt comfy, happy, and free.
Snow tubing is skiing's laid-back cousin. You don't need skill. You couldn't steer this giant doughnut, even if you tried. All you have to do is hang on and enjoy.
You do have to be at least 7 years old, and 42 inches tall, to go tubing at Holiday Valley. But its tubing area, two miles from its skiing, includes a kind of bunny hill for little kids. There's also an outdoor bonfire, and a lodge with hot chocolate and other treats. And they have snow machines if the weather doesn't cooperate.
"Prepare to unload," a sign cautioned me.
In a minute, someone had unhooked my inner tube from the lift, and I was bouncing backwards on my tube down a little hill. Ha, ha! That was fun! A colorful sight awaited me. I had reached the mountain top.
Flags of pink, aqua and yellow waved in the winter wind, a bright contrast to the surreal white.The flags marked the lanes, which had been neatly sculpted so no one would bump into anyone else. Riders waited in their tubes, waiting for clearance.
An attendant yelled: "One, two, three -- go!" And they were off.
For just a moment, I hesitated. An attendant named Pete noticed.
"You should see all the kids who say, 'I don't want to go down that hill,' " he laughed. "Then they go down the hill, and the problem turns into, how do you get them off the hill. They never want to stop."
What the heck, I thought. I liked the Viper, another 100 Things adventure. I'll like this.
Positioning the tube at the top of a lane, I flopped into it and gripped the handles. Next to me, a family was arranging itself elaborately in one of three "group lanes," lanes that are extra-wide so people in a convoy of tubes can go over the brink together. The voyage takes coordination. I heard parents calling kids into line: "Morgan, get Josephine. Everyone ready?"
Then it was time.
"One, two, three -- "
We all kicked off. I zoomed forward into the wild white yonder.
The tube gathered speed. I started laughing and couldn't stop. It tipped a bit. I feared we'd flip. But no, it righted itself, and on we went. Suddenly I was riding backwards. Then the tube whipped around again and I was going forward. The sky spun. Mountains flashed into sight and vanished. Snow flew in my face. I hung on.
Then the ride leveled out, and the tube slowed down. On its own terms, when it was good and ready, it came to a soft, snowy stop.
I struggled to my feet in my huge snow pants. An attendant beamed at me.
"That's a big ol' smile you've got on your face," he said.
Who wouldn't be grinning? I wanted to do this again, and again.
Next I rode the tube on my stomach -- fun, though snow sprays into your eyes. I managed to go down once keeping myself facing forward, and another time coaxing the tube into a spin.
Tubing had only one problem. Thanks to that terrific lift, there's not much physical exertion, and you get chilly. Well, that's why God created hot chocolate and bonfires. Not to mention industrial-strength snow pants.
Speaking of which, what's our next adventure, tobogganing?
I am ready.