Scott: Hi Matt, thanks for participating in the DCSki Interview Series. It isn’t often that a new snowsports facility opens in the Mid-Atlantic region, so the opening of Snow Riders is exciting, especially being so close to Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. Before we get into the details of Snow Riders, I’d like to learn a bit more about you. You’re the President and CEO of River Riders, an adventure company that is perhaps best known for offering white water rafting and tubing rides in Harpers Ferry. What is the history of River Riders, and how did you first become involved with it?
Matt: River Riders started in the 1970’s. I started there as a raft guide in 1994 while in college. My wife and I purchased the business, which was pretty small at the time, from the owner in 1998 when I was 24 years old. He provided owner financing to us. We grew the business a little at a time over the next 25 years, adding ziplining and lodging in 2011.
Scott: When did the idea to offer snow tubing first surface?
Matt: We started thinking about it 10 years ago. It is a substantial investment, and it took us quite a few years to obtain the permitting and funding. We planned to start the project in 2020, but put it on hold during COVID. After taking on investors, we started up again in 2021 to get the project completed earlier this month.
Scott: What were some of the biggest challenges to launching Snow Riders?
Matt: My wife and I both worked at Whitetail Ski Resort in the 1990’s, but I was in Ski Patrol, and she was in retail. Other than that we didn’t have much of a background in snowmaking and magic carpets. Everything had a big learning curve. On top of that, 2022 saw the largest amount of investment in the ski industry’s history so there were major delays in receiving shipments and some items were not available at all. Every person that ended up working on our project was really on board to help us get open through including our staff, the contractors, and manufacturers. That’s the reason that it happened. Local area ski resorts were also very helpful with steering us to the right people to get help when needed.
Scott: Can you share some statistics about the types of tubing lanes you’re offering, and how they compare and contrast with ski resort-based snow tubing facilities in the Mid-Atlantic?
Matt: Our hill is 900 feet long and it’s the longest one in the area. It was designed by an engineer to maximize the fun and provide proper drainage, while taking into account the appropriate amount of drop and run out to slow riders down at the end of the run. We can have up to 16 lanes when conditions permit. Because tubing is our only wintertime activity, we can really focus on it to ensure guests have a great experience. We also have tasty food, winter gear, and souvenirs on-site during their visit.
Scott: How will day and night sessions differ? I see you are offering Downhill Disco with a light show and music at night.
Matt: Daytime is a fun experience. We have the music going all day, and once the sun goes down, our state-of-the-art LED light show coordinated with the music starts. So far the feedback has been awesome. People really enjoy the show.
Scott: Tell me a bit about your snowmaking infrastructure. Assuming the proper conditions, how quickly can you go from bare ground to ready-to-tube?
Matt: Our state-of-the-art snowmaking system from HKD has 17 guns to cover the 2-acre tubing hill. We invested in a substantial system with redundant pumps and compressors so that we can really pump out the snow when conditions are right. We covered the hill with up to 6 feet of snow last weekend in about 32 hours. Any nights that the temperatures dip below freezing we can quickly add a couple inches to keep the snow fresh.
Scott: What type of grooming equipment will you be using to shape and maintain the runs?
Matt: We have a PistenBully Park Pro groomer with a Tube Shaper attachment. We groom out the hill after snowmaking and then run the tube shaper behind the groomer to make uniform tubing lanes along the hill. The manufacturer came and helped us when we first opened up to be sure we understood how the equipment all worked on the tubing hill.
Scott: Do you have a target end date for the season?
Matt: We are hoping to stay open through mid-March, but obviously with the warm winter we’ve had so far, we’ll see how it goes. Keep an eye on our social media sites for details @snowriderswv.
Scott: If someone has never been snow tubing before, what should they expect for their first visit? Do they need any special clothing or equipment?
Matt: They should make a reservation in advance at snowriders.com. We are taking this step to try to spread people out throughout the day to limit wait times. Also, since it’s our first season, we are limiting times to 150 people per session even though the hill is designed to have 220 people per 1.5-hour session. Upon arrival, guests will check in at our main office, get their lift ticket, and then head over to the tubing hill. It’s a pretty simple process. Guests should wear winter clothes depending on the temperatures and weather that day. No other gear is needed. We will provide a tube upon their arrival at the hill.
Scott: What are the safety considerations for snow tubing?
Matt: As with all outdoor-type sports, there are inherent risks involved in snow tubing. The tubing hill was designed by an experienced ski and tubing hill engineer. The hill is a balance of fun with an uphill area at the end to slow riders down. We evaluate the conditions throughout the day as far as which lanes may be faster than others and whether riders can go tandem. We also have staff at the top and bottom sending and receiving riders. Guests do have to sign a liability waiver and also agree to the State Rider Responsibility Act which covers proper conduct of visitors on-site. We do our best to be sure every guest has a safe and fun experience, but there could always be variables outside of our control.
Scott: What other facilities are available at Snow Riders? Can guests purchase food and beverages while tubing?
Matt: Snow Riders is located at River Riders Family Adventure Resort. There is a main base area near the tubing hill where guests check-in, and there are changing rooms, lockers and bathrooms available in the building. We also have several food and beverage choices on site as well as a retail store with a wide variety of gear and souvenirs for visitors.
Scott: Any other comments you’d like to share?
Matt: We are very excited to bring this activity to Harpers Ferry. Snow Riders is the closest snow tubing hill to Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. There are many people who want to slide on the snow, but don’t feel comfortable skiing or snowboarding. Snow tubing is a quick way to get outside that doesn’t require as much time or preparation as skiing. Harpers Ferry is a popular tourist destination from Spring until Fall, and now there’s a reason to come in the winter. We are very excited to share this experience with our visitors! Follow us on social media for updates and special offers.
Scott: Thanks again for chatting with DCSki, and congratulations on the launch of Snow Riders.
M. Scott Smith is the founder and Editor of DCSki. Scott loves outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, kayaking, skiing, and mountain biking. He is an avid photographer and writer.
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