Zip-lining: Adventure in the Treetops
by Betsy Miller
In 2009, there were 62 ziplines in the United States. Two years later, there are about 200, three of them in our area. Investors, get out your checkbooks. Treetop zipping is coming to a neighborhood near you.
The use of cables and harnesses to transport people between two fixed points has been in use for hundreds of years. Whether crossing chasms, waterways or other more inaccessible terrain, it has always been a speedy and easy way to get from here to there. Today, it is also a sport—no, make that, an amusement. Since there is no skill involved, just thrills, it ranks with roller coaster rides.
Participants are fitted with state-of-the-art harnesses and helmets, then are hooked onto cables strung from treetop to treetop, or tower to tower, the higher, the better. Then, all one has to do is take a flying leap off the starting platform and presto!, a rider is out in the open air, flying like Superman. Speeds can range from 20 to 35 miles per hour. Heights obviously vary, based on the size of the trees, but can start as reasonably as 30 feet and go up to over 80 feet above ground.
Once addicted to zipline riding, participants can log on to www.ziplinerider.com to locate the extremes: world’s highest (5,000 ft. in British Columbia), longest (1.2 miles in South Africa), fastest (100 mph in South Africa), and the one with the most spans (27 in Colorado).
Ziplining for amusement is believed to have begun in Costa Rica, where traveling through the treetops of the rain forest gave visitors a bird’s eye view of eco-systems they might not otherwise have been able to see. Today, zipline parks must meet ecological and safety standards before they can open. First an arborist must affirm that the trees are healthy enough to be used as platforms and that the hardware will not damage their future growth. Then one of two professional organizations must sign off on all cables, pulleys, lines, harnesses and guide training. Finally, the Department of Labor needs to give its O.K. for the site to open as a commercial amusement park. All so participants can fly without a hitch.
When traveling from tree to tree, span to span, smoothness is a factor. A zipliner lands on one side of a treetop platform, unhooks from one cable, then hooks up and takes off again from the other side. Vistas can be woodland, open land, a waterfall, hayfields or long views of surrounding terrain.
At Big Bear Ziplines in Hyde Park, the views include forests, valleys and open fields—with a bit of wild life thrown in for good measure. That park, open since February, has 8 spans and took over a year to plan and build. General Manager Carolyn Beisiegel says her favorite part is how the rides change with the seasons. “The personalities of the lines are different,” “Colder lines run faster,” she says. “Humidity slows things down. And you can see so much more when the leaves are off the trees.” Other ziplines in the region are at ski facilities.
At Catamount in South Egremont, MA, the course includes not only ziplines but rope ladders and rope bridges to get you from one place to another. Not exclusively a zipline park, Catamount challenges visitors through levels of agility. Kids as young as 7 or adults with little or no confidence can start on the most basic course, then literally work their way up to higher ziplines and less stable-seeming, more challenging bridges and ladders. The site has 11 separate courses. Two courses feature 2,000 foot ziplines.
Jiminy Peak in Hancock, MA includes ziplines as part of courses that also have rope bridges, ladders and cargo nets. Participants must complete the less challenging courses before moving on to those that require more agility. a similar rope course with ziplines included. There are five courses varying in elevation and strenuousness. All courses are self-guided and require participants to be hooked into a guideline at all times.
David Scott, a 32 year-old electrician who lives across the street from Big Bear Ziplines, is already addicted. “I took my first ride right after they opened,” he says. “It was cold and I was a little scared to leave the platform. But the guides explained everything and showed me how it all works. They always make sure I am tied off so there was no danger of falling. It was a really good experience.”
So far, Scott’s been back four times, bringing a total of 15 people with him to experience the feeling of flying. Now he jumps off the flight deck. “I thought the sensation would wear off,” he says, “but it’s been different each time.” It’s only a matter of time before his Mom comes back, too.
Big Bear Ziplines
Riders must be 12 or older and weigh between 80 and 250 pounds.
8 courses: $79/Monday – Thursday; $99/Friday – Sunday
Prepaid reservations required.
Catamount Adventure Park
South Egremont, MA
Riders must be 7 or older and at least 48” tall.
11 courses: $49/age 12 and over; $39/age 10 and 11; $29/age 7 - 9
Daily through September 5
No reservations required.
Jiminy Peak Aerial Adventure Park
Riders must be 6 or older and at least 48” tall
5 courses; $45
Daily through September 5
Prepaid reservations recommended.