Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Wonders of Winter Zip Lining

Alpine Rush Zip Line at Copper Mountain - photo by Tripp Fay
It’s all about the rush, the sense of flying through the towering treetop canopy, with a bald eagle’s view of the immense whiteness of a winter wonderland. Winter zip lining started spreading around North American ski resorts in the mid 2000s, adding yet another activity-based après ski alternative.

Winter Ziptrek at Whistler - Courtesy of Ziptrek EcotoursWinter Ziptrek 
This was part of the ski industry’s push to diversify, appealing to a wider demographic, keeping visitors on the hill longer into the evening, and providing a menu of non-skiing options. Zip lining also adds a significant cool factor and helps provide all-season appeal for ski areas.

Jori Kirk
One of the early pioneers of zip lining in Canada is Jori Kirk, who started Cypress Hills Eco-Adventures Ltd in 2010 after graduating from the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary. “If I'm not mistaken, the first commercial canopy tour in the U.S. was built in 2005 in mainland Ketchikan, AK,” says Kirk. The first in Canada was at Grouse Mountain, Whistler.

Super Fly Ziplines at Cougar Mtn
Since the early days, there has been some confusion in terminology between canopy tours and zip line tours. “Canopy tours are guided, with a series of zips and suspension bridges through the natural canopy of trees,” Kirk explains. Zip line tours, on the other hand, take participants through a series of manmade structures. However, even the industry has used the terms interchangeably. 

The wide appeal of zip lining, says Kirk, is the “storytelling factor” as well as the social aspect: it can be enjoyed by any age-group, both genders, and in relatively large groups of family or friends. “It is also very inclusive as it takes very little expertise to conquer a zip line tour,” Kirk adds. Although most winter zip lines were originally summer structures, it is relatively cheap and easy to winterize them and keep them running year round. “People are already there, the zip line course is there, staff are there. Close it down or make incremental revenues? I would choose the latter 10 times out of 10,” says Kirk. “I don't believe the places that do this are expecting to operate at full capacity, but it is a great way of offering another option for guests.”

Zip lines vary considerably from resort to resort – some have seats, some dangle participants from ropes and hooks, some are single, others double lines, and some have more of an assault course set up with climbs and platforms.

Take off at Copper Mountain - photo by Tripp Fay
Copper Mountain’s ‘Alpine Rush’ is a village experience with dual zip lines strung 30 ft above West Lake, enabling tandem riders to traverse the ice rink between condos, shops and restaurants. The Guided Canopy Tour at Crested Butte Mountain Resort has five lines ranging from 120 - 400 feet long, connected by three wooden suspension bridges and massive platforms designed for winter use with tough grips and snow grates. “It’s about a two hour tour, with two guides, that make it fun and interactive,” says Director of Innovations, Erica Mueller. “It is something different for people to do on a day off from skiing or after skiing and really attracts all age groups,” she adds, although participation is limited to those weighing between 70 and 250 lbs. It is open summer, fall and winter, with some weather-friendly modifications in the colder months.

Vail’s all-season, four-line, 1,200-foot-long zip line provides another après ski experience, next to the tubing hill at Adventure Ridge. The Purgatory Plunge at Purgatory Durango Mountain Resort drops zippers on two lines off a massive tower, offering vertical as well as horizontal plummeting. Gunstock MountainNew Hampshire has five ziplines, the longest 1.5 miles, with speed control and opportunities to stop and appreciate the scenery and wildlife.

Dual seated Zip Line at Park City - photo Dan Campbell/Courtesy Park City Resort
The longest zip line in Utah is at Canyons Resort with two different routes over mid-mountain pine trees. The Flying Eagle Zip Line at Park City, Utah is a two-person circuit, 110 feet above the resort, starting and finishing at the same spot.

Ziptrek Ecotours Twilight Winter Tour
Two companies operate zip lines at Whistler Blackcomb, Canada. Ziptrek Ecotours runs a network above Fitzsimmons Creek between the two resorts offering Twilight Tours in winter. And the Adventure Group has multiple side-by-side Super Fly Ziplines connected by trails and boardwalks at Cougar Mountain.

So is zip lining here to stay? “I really do not know. I don't seeing it going away any time soon,” says Kirk. “There will likely be less development of new tours and closures of poorly managed ones as the profitable one rise above the rest. If the current zip line companies place their focus on providing a great experience, it is doubtful that they will disappear from the scene.” Kirk’s company was named the 2014 Canadian Tourism Small to Medium-Sized Business of the Year.
Super Fly Ziplines at Cougar Mtn

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