by Ted S. McGregor Jr. & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & S & lt;/span & ometimes the simple things are best. In an era when skis are made with the same materials they use on the Space Shuttle, climbing onto an old rubber inner tube for a ride down the snowy slopes can seem ridiculously low-tech. But ask any of the folks who ride the track at Bear Creek Lodge, and they'll tell you it's fun all the same.
On the road up to Mount Spokane, less than five miles from the ski hill, Bear Creek Lodge has 15 rooms for overnight skiers, but on weekends it's the inner tubing hill that fills the parking lot. Pick a tube, lay back on it and grab the rope tow, and you're hauled to the top. From there, it's a long, nicely groomed ride down. Eight bucks gets you two hours of tubing, and if you get cold, you can traipse back over to the lodge for a hot cocoa and a burger.
Sam Deal owns and operates the lodge along with his wife, Karen, and two kids, George and Michelle. Heck, they even live there year-round. After giving up six-figure salaries to escape Las Vegas, they bought the old Kirk's Lodge and set to renovating it, starting with the rope tow and sledding hill. This is their fourth winter there.
Unfortunately, they were hit with two bad winters out of their first three (the tubing hill was only open nine days all last season). On Monday, however, Deal sounded like a sailor sighting land when he said, "Today, we're getting hammered up here. Yesterday we got four inches, and we've got probably another four right now. This should be incredible by the weekend."
Still, the Deals persisted and figured out a business model that works for them. No longer is it a four-month-a-year operation; in the summers, they do high-end weddings and family reunions. Along with live music on weekends, they do weddings in the wintertime, too, with a couple getting married in their finest formal wear -- and ski boots -- earlier this season.
(Note: You can still be the first ones to get married on inner tubes. No one has asked to do so just yet, but Deal says he could make it happen.)
Bear Creek Lodge's inner tubing hill is open on Friday nights, under the lights, from 6-9 pm; on Saturdays, there are two-hour slots available at 10 am, noon, 2 and 4 pm; on Sundays, sessions start at 11 am, 1 and 3 pm. Also open on holidays. You must call ahead for reservations, as only 75 people are allowed on the hill during any one session. Private sessions for 40 people are available midweek for $300. Call 238-9114.