Central Valley

Old MacDonald would love this farm, with its snow hill here, its reindeer there

There's snow at 25 feet this year — if you're in Lathrop. That's where Dell'Osso Family Farm has created a winter wonderland with a 200-foot-long tubing hill, a snow-play area, four real reindeer, wagon and train rides, a mile-long, drive-through light show, Santa Claus and more.

The star attraction of Holidays on the Farm is Snow Tube Mountain; its eight lanes already have been fully reserved on a number of weekend days.

"It's very fun. They did a good job," said Becky Gowdy of Stockton, who was among a group tubing the 34-foot-high hill Monday evening. "I don't know how fast I was going, but it felt really fast."

Ninety minutes of tubing costs $15, and because Dell'Osso strongly encourages reservations and limits walk-ons, the slope isn't crowded, Gowdy said. The adults and kids in her group were able to tube down the hill and take the conveyer back up over and over without any wait. "You can get a lot of runs in that time," she said.

Gowdy, who likes to go snowboarding in the mountains, said the hill "is great for the valley, because there are a lot of kids here who've never been to the snow and this is a good way to introduce them to it."

Eleven-year-old Jacob Smith of Stockton said Snow Tube Mountain even has one big advantage over its natural cousins at higher elevations. "If you're getting cold, you can escape it," he said, which is a lot harder to do in the mountains.

The Dell'Osso family began Snow Tube Mountain by hauling in 55,000 cubic yards of dirt. Once the hill was formed, it was given a base of snow a couple of feet deep for insulation. "We keep replenishing the top layer to keep it nice and soft," said Susan Dell'Osso. The family bought two machines from Japan that produce a combined total of 100 tons of snow a day. "We actually blow snow 24/7, and it takes three people, minimum, during those 24 hours" to operate the machines and groom the hill, which has a roof to protect the snow from sun and rain. The machines use water from the farm's 100,000-gallon holding pond, and runoff from the snowmelt goes back into the pond.

"There was a lot of 'farmer ingenuity,' as my husband puts it," to constructing and operating the snow hill, Dell'Osso said.

The investment of time, energy and money has been met with enthusiasm by snow-craving valley folk. "We're selling out on the weekends pretty well," when hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Dell'Osso said, but there are times available weekdays, when hours are 4 to 10 p.m. During Christmas vacation (Dec. 20-Jan. 3), the facility will be open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Adjacent to Snow Tube Mountain is a covered 35-by-150-foot snow-play area, where the snow machines simulate snowfall. "We really want this to be a destination place for Christmastime," Dell'Osso said, "where you can come out and buy a Christmas tree, sit around and have hot chocolate and a piece of pecan pie, then go play in the snow, then go look at reindeer and have your picture taken with Santa."

And for parents who want to ensure that their children children sleep well, snug in their beds, as visions of sugar plums dance in their heads, Holidays on the Farm can provide a good workout, too. On Monday night, several children were climbing a pyramid of heavy-equipment tires, pedaling four-wheelers and tricycles on a racetrack, and jumping on in-ground, inflated pillows that dwarf nearby bounce houses.

"My 2½-year-old can jump for hours," said Dell'Osso employee DeAna Kier, who was supervising the bounce pillows Monday evening. "The other day, he was asleep before we even left the parking lot."

For more on Holidays on the Farm, including hours and prices for various activities and an online reservation calendar for Snow Tube Mountain, visit www.holidaysonthefarm.com or call 982-0833. Dell'Osso Family Farm is at 501 S. Manthey Road in Lathrop. From Modesto, take Highway 99 north to the Highway 120 Manteca Bypass. Take Interstate 5 south; Manthey is the first exit.