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40-foot-high 'Snowzilla' towers over Canalside, offers challenge to sledders

The imposing, 40-foot-high sledding hill at Canalside is artificial.

But everything else about the Snowzilla ride at Championship Village is real: The bitter-cold weather, the liability waivers that all riders have to sign and the 4-second plunge that is thrilling kids and former kids alike this week.

"You're never too old to have fun," said Brandon Palmer, of Buffalo, who went down in one tube while his girlfriend, Shannon Szczublewski, of Lancaster, rode down at the same time in another.

Snowzilla is a four-story, inflated hill that sends inner-tube riders careening down a steep slope until they hit a flat stretch at the bottom and crash into a cushioned wall and come to a stop.

The free ride is part of the Championship Village outdoor experience set up at Canalside to coincide with the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship, which started Tuesday at HarborCenter and KeyBank Center and runs through Jan. 5.

Snowzilla, a 40-foot-tall toboggan slide, awaited daring riders on Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2017. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Championship Village, which opened a few days before the tournament, features live music, entertainment, food, hot beverages, a hockey skills competition and a display of team jerseys frozen in blocks of ice. (Did we need reminding that it gets cold here?)

But a highlight is Snowzilla, which organizers say is the only attraction of its kind in the United States or Canada.

Imagine an inner-tube water slide, but riders are slipping down a hill made out of the same material as their inner tube. And it's freezing cold out, so there's snow pooled at the bottom instead of water streaming down the hill. And riders are bundled up like Arctic explorers instead of wearing swimsuits.

A sandwich board sign includes standard cautionary language warning the ride is not recommended for guests who are pregnant, who have heart trouble or — unnecessarily — who don't have a shirt.

Tuesday, the temperature at 1 p.m. in Buffalo was 12 degrees, or minus 5 degrees counting the wind chill. That sounds like ideal weather for a creature named Snowzilla, but it's less than pleasant for humans.

Still, this is Buffalo, and the late morning and early afternoon found a trickle of hardy riders taking on the challenge of the sledding hill.

Palmer and Szczublewski had tickets to one of the World Junior Championship games Tuesday and decided to check out the village beforehand. Palmer was surprised at how quickly the tube went down the hill and said his only thought was, "Hopefully I stay inside."

The workers periodically spray the bottoms of the blue-and-black tubes with silicone to make them fly even faster.

"I didn't think they were going to do that," said Libby Kibler, 12, of Attica, after trying out Snowzilla with her sister, Grace, who is 17. Their dad found out about the Canalside sledding hill online and their mom, Mary Beth, took them to the ride while he took their other sister to one of the World Junior Championship games.

"I didn't think it would be as fast as it was, especially at the end where it straightens out," Grace said.

The ride takes between 3 and 4 seconds, depending on how heavy the rider is.

A worker helps Jackson Turner, 6, pull his tube up the stairs of the 40-foot-high toboggan run. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Mark Goveia, of St. Catharines, Ont., checked it out with his daughter, Talia, who is 9.

"You get a little bit of butterflies up at the top," Mark said.

Talia went on Snowzilla at least five times. Once, she hit some of the snow piled at the bottom of the ride and sent it spraying in all directions, including into her face, but she was unfazed.

"It was kind of like a roller coaster, because it went down really fast," she said.

Aidan Gould was working at the bottom of the sledding hill late Tuesday morning.

He said the ride had steady use over the weekend and he expects it to pick up now that the tournament has started. "It's been good," said Gould. He said crews deflate the ride at the end of every day and inflate it each morning, a process that takes about 15 minutes each time.

Josh Britzzalaro of Hamburg asked Gould if he could ride with his 3-year-old daughter, but Gould said riders have to go down alone, so Britzzalaro left her with family members and went down solo.

"It was fun, as an adult, but I don't think she would have survived," he said.

As for the wind chill, Britzzalaro shrugged.

"We live in Buffalo — what else are we going to do?" he said.

Snowzilla and the rest of Championship Village are open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Jan. 2, 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Jan. 3 and 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Jan. 4 and Jan. 5.

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