Tubing and sledding were regular winter activities while growing up along the foothills of Spring-ville, but I haven't done either for at least 15 years. There aren't enough places to go anymore, and the thought of trying to injure myself no longer sounds fun.
Since replaced by houses, my favorite sledding and tubing hills were the best around. The steep slope, sharp turns and obstacles surrounding the runs are what made them so enticing to me and my cohorts. If you left the run, which usually was the case, you crashed into an oak bush or a fence. Yes, as a teenager, it was very enjoyable to watch one of my friends pull himself out of a bush or lie wounded alongside a fence. It gave us that daredevil feeling, the thrill of living on the edge.Unfortunately, most teens today feel the same way I did. It's not enough to slide down a hill. The hill must have danger lurking on both sides.
That's why tubing is such a dangerous pastime. I was lucky, but dozens of people are seriously injured in tubing and sledding accidents each year, and the injuries are usually caused by crashing into objects.
And as we all know, nowadays the combination of injuries, crashes and objects results in lawsuits. That's why the winter tradition of tubing is becoming a thing of the past. The Forest Service discourages tubing, and property owners are closing their land to tubing. Insurance carriers have advised cities to take extra steps to make sure nobody use tubes or sleds on city property.
"Given the nature of tubing, the equipment used, the lack of ability of riders to control the speed and direction of bouncing tubes, the typical age and wisdom of tubers and the historically high incidence of significant injury associated with tubing, the potential liability is significant," said Craig Bott, attorney for the Utah Local Governments Trust.
But one city is sticking its neck out and saying "we're tired of sue-happy people mandating our recreation." Payson now operates a tubing run on Gladstan Golf Course, against the advice of Bott. But even Bott admits that cities are not likely to prevent tubing, so they might be better off to manage it.
To reduce liability risks, Payson has taken the precautionary steps recommended by Bott. Spectators are separated from tubers, the run is free of large bumps and obstacles, tubing is supervised when the run is open, and the area is secure when closed. Most importantly, signs warn tubers of the inherent danger of tubing.
When I first heard that Payson had opened a tubing run, I thought city officials had popped a gasket. And from a liability standpoint, they probably have. But I admire their willingness to buck a trend and take precautions to keep a tradition alive. Before we jump on a tube we know the hazards, just like skiing, playing football or riding motorcycles. But that doesn't mean we eliminate the activity. We let those willing to take the risks do so. Rather than stop tubing, we need to make tubing safer and provide safer tubing runs. That's what Payson is trying to do.
The city needs to put up one more sign at the top run: "Any accident you have is your fault, but that smile on your face is our fault."
Jim Rayburn, Springville, is a staff writer in the Deseret News' Utah County bureau.