When I try something new there is always a brief moment when I think to myself, “Why am I doing this?” This tiny moment of doubt is usually coupled with an impending sense of excitement. I felt this way in early July when I took my sons and one of their friends ziplining with Zip Adventures near Vail, Colorado. My older son and his friend had ziplined at a ropes course on a school trip. Being 15, they are a bit jaded. While they’d had fun, they’d only zipped on one short line and according to them, it was slow. My younger son and I had no previous ziplining experience, so we weren’t sure what to expect when we jumped off the cliff.
As we drove up to 4Eagle Ranch, where Zip Adventures is based, we passed several take-off and landing platforms and could see people ziplining over the canyon. The older boys suddenly realized that this wasn’t going to be a simple tower-to-tower flight, but that we’d actually be out in nature, flying up to 200 feet above a rocky, craggy river in the bottom of an actual canyon. We’d be flying next to and over trees. The excitement began to build.
While we waited to meet our guides, a truck roared up, and a group of happy, excited, and now experienced zipliners jumped out. Looking at their beaming faces, our slight frissons of anxiety evaporated. Bring on the cliffs, we were ready to jump.
More Gear Than You Need: That’s A Good Thing
The first order of business was to get geared-up. The Zip Adventures staff swooped over us and quickly got 15 people of widely varying shapes and sizes into climbing harnesses and helmets. Buckles were adjusted, straps tightened and everything was checked and double-checked. We loaded into the truck, the wheels spun in the dust and we were off, driving a couple of miles back to the canyon rim.
Safety is important for an operation like this and our guides, James and Oliver, reassured us that we were wearing much more gear than we actually needed. So long as we didn’t individually weigh more than 5,000 pounds, there was no reason to worry. That was our safety talk. As for ziplining instruction, it went something like this: once you’re strapped in, jump, run, walk or frolic off the platform and you’ll be flying! That’s it.
Six Ways to Fly
Our group was 15 people ranging in age from 6 to about 70. Some of us had ziplined before, most had not. Some were adventurous, some more timid. But to a person, on the first line, we held on tight to the taut harness strap in front of us. Taking that first step off the platform was a step into the unknown, over an actual void, but once our feet left the ground and the motion began, smiles erupted on each face. By line number two, many of us were flying hands-free.
Zip Adventures has six ziplines. These lines crisscross the canyon, meaning that guests essentially fly from one take off point to the next. There is about ¾ miles of hiking during the tour, but you never double back and the very last line brings you back to the starting point. It’s pure brilliance, because the lines build in speed and length (as your confidence builds, too) and the experience is never the same.
The first line breaks you in. It’s short and not too fast. At line two, the guides advise you to jump off backwards, sight unseen over the canyon. By line three, you’re flying near the tops of tall pines and firs, brushing close to the canopy. And you’re doing this in tandem. Line four is super fast with a challenging uphill landing (but don’t worry, the guides are “professional people catchers” and are there to help). Line 5 is a high-flying tandem. Finally, there is Line 6 which is about 1000 feet long and takes you from a point near the mouth of the canyon back to a platform near the tour starting point. If line 4 was fast (at about 25-30 miles per hour), line 6 looks and sounds supersonic. Riders reach about 40 m.p.h. and the corresponding friction sounds like a jet engine warming up. It’s totally cool!
When we got back to our truck, everyone was smiling, laughing and thrilled to have spent the afternoon flying through the Colorado sky. Not only that but 15 people who had been mostly strangers less than 3 hours earlier, were now bonded, through smiles, fun and adventure. Many of us will never see each other again, but we knew we’d shared something special.
When You Go…
I was blown away by the high-quality of our Zip Adventures experience. Our guides were outstanding. James and Oliver were both friendly, informative and fun. They were totally professional and helpful. We had a lightning delay during our tour. The guides held our group for about 20 minutes until the danger passed, never getting visibly stressed or concerned about time. When we could zipline again, they didn’t rush us to get back on schedule. It was all about our experience.
As you might have guessed, what truly sets Zip Adventures apart is its location. Flying over the canyon, taking in the Colorado mountains and sky, and finding a new way to explore some rugged sidecountry adds a unique dimension to the zipline experience. It’s not just flying, but where you’re flying.
Other nice touches include water and snacks along the trail, and plenty of interesting anecdotes and information about the canyon and surrounding area. What can I say? Ziplining with Zip Adventures is a good time. Or as all three boys put it, “It’s a lot more fun than scary!”
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