SIOUX CITY | While growing up on a farm in the country, Phil Choquette recalled hooking a washing machine lid to a truck and "sledding."
One could argue that the Salix, Iowa, man will get a much safer and smoother experience flying down Cone Park's 83-foot-tall hill on a snow tube.
"We figured they got something new, we better try it out," Choquette said while dozens of children, teens and adults began forming a line at the base of the hill on a sunny but frigid December afternoon. Choquette, who like many other park-goers was visiting Sioux City's new winter attraction for the first time, flashed a thumbs up before grabbing a red snow tube and heading for the carpet lift with daughter, Jacey, 17, and son Colton, 15.
Besides an impressive sledding hill, Cone Park, 3800 Line Drive, boasts a day lodge, a refrigerated skating rink that will be converted into a splash pad in the summer, and a 2-mile trail loop that connects with Sertoma Park to the east.
Cone Park, which was built in honor of the late philanthropist Ruth Cone whose bequest in 1981 grew to $2.9 million, opened to the public on Dec. 21. The hill can accommodate 300 users at a time, who must be at least 5 years old. Tubing sessions are divided into four-hour increments and range in cost from $7 to $10.
Matt Salvatore, Sioux City Parks and Recreation director, said consistent cool temperatures in the upper 20s make for ideal sledding conditions on the hill, where snow is made with automated equipment.
"It's better to groom the hill when it's a little cooler. When it gets warm, it gets soggy and slushy. When it gets cold at night, that slush just turns to ice," he explained. "We're looking for consistent cooler temperatures. The colder it is, the more snow we make."
"Fun and fast" was Cael Johnson's review of the sledding hill. After the 10-year-old Wakefield, Nebraska, boy's tube jerked to a halt somewhere between the end of a lane and a high berm of snow, he jumped up and began dragging the tube back to the carpet lift for Round 2, as the latest pop hits blared from speakers.
Arlene Ummach, who was sledding with her twin grandsons, had a look of shock mixed with glee plastered across her face as she slid to a stop.
"It was great!" the 67-year-old Sioux City woman said wide-eyed and slightly out of breath. "It scared the devil out of me when I went backwards."
Abbi Gerholdt, who said she had been eagerly awaiting Cone Park's opening for some time, wasn't disappointed either.
"It was super fun! I went backwards the whole time. It was crazy!" the 20-year-old Sioux City woman said.
Salvatore doesn't have any additional advice for first-time park-goers, other than making sure they follow the rules. He said only one person is allowed on a tube at a time and they are to go down the hill feet first.
"Pay attention to our attendants at the top and the bottom of the hill and you'll be in good shape," he said.
When park-goers need a break from the snow-covered slope, they can warm themselves while sitting on benches positioned around a brick fire pit or walk a few extra feet to the day lodge.
Sunlight spills through the modern-looking building's floor to ceiling windows. The lodge, which features a flat-screen TV and LED fireplace, is furnished with picnic and pub tables. The building also has a row of lockers and a concession area where food and hot and cold beverages can be purchased.
Having recently undergone knee surgery, Cindy Spenner, of Sioux City, was playing it safe lurking by the fire pit. In the past, Spenner, who was at the park with her son and five grandchildren, said the kids only lasted about an hour sledding on the Sertoma Park hills just west of Cone Park.
"It was that trekking up hill that made them tired," said Spenner, who was skeptical whether her crew, even with lift assistance, would last the full four hours at Cone Park.
Spenner's 13-year-old granddaughter, Caitlin Renson, of Muncy, Pennsylvania, said Cone Park's hill is bigger and faster than a snow tubing hill she visited at a park in Lake George, New York.
"It was good. Fun and fast," she said of Cone Park.
Although Spenner sat on the sidelines this time, she'll likely return to Cone Park and maybe even try cosmic tubing sessions, which are held Fridays and Saturdays from 9 to 11 p.m. The sessions, sponsored by Sioux City Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, allow users to tube through a laser light show set to music.
"This is nice," Spenner said gazing up at the white mound. "It looks pretty fun."