Snowtubing claims life in South-Estonia

Ansomäe õnnetuspaik.

PHOTO: Rein Säinas

At Ansomäe ski centre near Otepää, a day of winter fun for company staff finished in tragedy as two «train» tubes broke off and flung into tall pines lining a steep slalom slope.

The accident claimed the life of a woman aged 49. «The death must have been instant. For quite some time, the emergency personnel attempted to revive the lady, but to no avail, sadly,» Police and Border Guard Board press representative Kerly Peitel told Valgamaalane, the local newspaper. Another lady (48), also hitting a tree, was injured. 

Last night, Postimees met with the ski centre owner Aivar Kullamaa, who said the accident happened at 11:40 am.  

«A company party, morning time, an hour and a half of fun behind them. Adrenalin in the max. Looks like they lost the sense of risk,» said Mr Kullamaa to describe the atmosphere at the Hotel Rehe staff event.

According to Mr Kullamaa, there were about 14 people up the slope and the coterie wanted to one final slide. «They formed a train to which we set a numerical limit. Two of our staff were up there and let the train unto the slope. But as the train got going, two more decided to hop aboard,» recalled Mr Kullamaa.

Ousted by inertia

With eight tubes initially in the train, at the moment of the start there were ten. «With this we had not considered and the bad started to concur. Our people sent the train to the central one of the three tracks, but the inertia threw the two last ones unto the one on the side,» recalled Mr Kullamaa.

According to him, the two that joined last were ladies of the heavier kind, and as the tubes veered to the side the last link was no longer able to hold on to them. «Then, the inertia also threw them off the side track and, after that, it was down the slalom slope already,» said Mr Kullamaa. The site of the accident is about 120 metres from the snowtubing tracks. 

«As we were up the slope ourselves, we immediately begun to yell for them to stop, but they even kept clinging to one another. We yelled for them to hop off, roll themselves off, but the ladies did nothing. They never even put their hands down. This, for us, was a totally unexpected course of events,» related Mr Kullamaa, according to whom this was a concurrence of bad circumstances.

Safety nets missing

Hotel Rehe owner Allan Unt begged to differ. «This tube went off the track quite early on as there were no barriers there. The side railing of snow was very small. The tube came off the track, speeding, turned to the slope, and down the steep hill it went into the woods below,» described Mr Unt, wondering how a tube track can lack measures for safety.  

«If one lets people down a slope with tube that cannot be directed, a 110 percent guarantee is needed the thing won’t get off the track. But this one could not keep them on course. Perhaps there were one or two seconds of reaction time. And, before the woods, there was no safety barrier,» said Mr Unt, relating the situation.  

The woman that perished was not a hotel employee, but did the company’s bookkeeping. «We worked with her for several years,» said Mr Unt, adding it was a one-day event. «We went there in the morning, planned to take sole little time in the spa, and to be back in Tartu by noon.»

«The other person is in hospital right now. She broke ribs and hips, they will do surgery. Miraculously, the other one survived. It could well have been two deaths there,» said Mr Unt.

«Perhaps chain-link fences would have saved [them], but when the fence is down a slope and one jumps unto it with two tubes these won’t hold. This was concurrence of very bad circumstances. We do not see ourselves as guilty,» maintained Mr Kullamaa.

«We tend to the safety of the tracks daily and have done tubing for eight years invest daily,» said Mr Kullamaa, admitting that they have had their share of minor accidents. «Sure there have been the minor [accidents], but on the slope everyone bears responsibility for one’s actions.»


* Contemporary snowtubing begun in North-America, in the 1990ies.

* Estonia got its initial tubes in 1999 as enthusiasts prepared a track at Lake Pühajärv.

* Basically, it’s sliding down a slope, or a special track, with big inflated rubber «donuts».

* Due to its round shape, speed and direction of a tube is as good as impossible to control; when braking with hands, it tends to spin.

* In dangerous situations, the best option is to jump tube.