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SIOUX CITY -- The cold temperatures might make some think twice about working in a city park where tasks include routing people down snowy inner tube lanes.

But then, there's the freedom of being outdoors, plus, yes, free hot chocolate.

So, while patrons who come to Cone Park enjoy their skating experiences and tubing at thrilling speeds, the primarily young people who serve as park workers for the city also relish their jobs.

"You get to play in the snow, and there's nothing better than that," said Cone employee Gabbie Jansen, 18, of Sioux City.

Admittedly, conditions can be brisk working outside, Jansen said. The cold spell that enveloped the Upper Midwest and Siouxland resulted in closing of Cone Park on Tuesday and Wednesday, due to way-below-zero wind chill readings.

"That wouldn't have been fun for anyone," said Jansen, a West High School graduate who is a Briar Cliff University freshman.

"If you don't like the cold, this isn't the job for you. But if you bundle up, it isn't bad."

Jansen is working at Cone Park now for a second winter season, which matches the number of years the park has been in operation, at 3800 Line Drive in the Singing Hills area.

More than 20,000 people visited Cone Park during its first winter, from mid-December to mid-March. The tubing hill, which usually has at least six lanes open, can accommodate up to 225 users during three-hour sessions.

Additionally, there is a 5,400-square-foot ice skating rink. Next to the main tubing hill this year is the new Blue Bunny Hill, a shorter hill designed for people of all ages. Riders on both hills utilize a carpet lift to get them to the tops.

Parks and Recreation Department Director Matt Salvatore said the crew of primarily part-time employees, who work under the direction of John Byrnes, are a strong group. Byrnes worked as an intern at the park last winter, and was promoted to be the on-site manager this year, due to his exuberant performance of Cone tasks, Salvatore said.

Byrnes, 26, is a University of Northern Iowa graduate who has a background in winter recreation activities.

"I truly love it. Truly, it is so much fun. Managing Cone Park is awesome," Byrnes said.

He manages 40 workers, the overwhelming majority of which are teenagers working part-time, termed Winter Recreation Attendants, in the city parlance.

"They are a little bit older this year. I really like this group," Byrnes said.

Jansen said the learning curve is easier for second-year workers like herself, so "this year has gone a lot smoother."

Most nights, there are 10 employees, with seven working outside duties. Through cross-training, many perform multiple tasks, from routing patrons up the hill to overseeing the downhill descents to working inside the lodge selling concessions.

"They are charged with the safety of the hill, and we don't take that lightly," Byrnes said.

Like lifeguards at a swimming pool, they rotate duties throughout a shift, plus get breaks from the sometimes cold temperatures. That's where the free hot chocolate comes in.

"We don't freeze them to death," Byrnes said.

Additionally, a few Cone Park workers don't work directly with the public, and begin an overnight job many days. After the park closes at 9 p.m., those employees minutes later drive equipment to sculpt the hill after the impact of the tubers.

"It is just a good time to groom when the sun isn't out," Salvatore said.

In working the five- or six-hour shifts, Jansen prefers the outside to inside duties.  The inside tasks include selling concessions, admissions and making reservations for busy days, such as weekends and the popular Snow Glow evenings that sell out.

"I love working outside, because you get to interact with more people, and get the fun parts of it, like spinning them at the start of the (tubing) ride," said Jansen.

Reese Miller, a senior at East High School, is another Cone Park worker.

"Everyone really gets along pretty well. Obviously, when you are with people a lot, it can be like with siblings, with a bit of bickering. But it is good camaraderie," Miller said.

His favorite task is routing people riding tubes at the top of hill, where the key point is spacing them out, for safety sake, until the prior person reaches the bottom of the hill.

"I really enjoy a chance to work outside, even in the winter," Miller said. "It is usually not too cold."

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County & Education Reporter

Government and education reporter.

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