Soaring Adventures

Ever since Hollywood action heroes began flying on steel cables strung between cliffs, buildings and trees, zip lines have captured the imagination of the everyday person. The true birthplace of zip-line tourism, however, rests with the rainforest canopies of Costa Rica. It was here that zip-line excursions took hold, and then spread worldwide, offering an ideal “high thrill-to-skill” activity for almost anyone with an adventurous spirit and average fitness capabilities.

How-To Guide

The zip-line industry is growing rapidly, and keeping up with the latest technology, best procedures and most effective policies can be a daunting task, says Monty Holmes, owner of Captain Zipline Adventure Tours in Salida, Colo., just west of Colorado Springs. A comprehensive source for information is the Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT), a trade association which offers membership and training.

The Nuts And Bolts

Most zip lines are made of galvanized aircraft cable built to military specifications, but stainless-steel cables and connectors are used in some jungle and marine environments.

There are several different cable configurations and braking systems, both mechanical and gloved participant-actuated. Some systems use twin cables–one above the other–where others use two harnesses and a single cable. Alternative braking mechanisms are being developed constantly. For zip-line rides with steep descents, a cable-car assembly may be more appropriate.

Before opting for a mechanical component in a zip-line ride, consider carefully since this decision mandates inspections by the state amusement-ride authority, and adds to operating costs substantially. Captain Zipline Tours utilizes the original Costa Rican zip-line techniques with a single ½-inch cable and gloved-hand braking and cable-rope brakes operated by the landing-area guide with no mechanical equipment involved.

A typical zip-line tour begins with a group of 4 to12 guests and two guides. Prescreening potential zip participants is important to weed out any conditions that could compromise the guests’ health and safety. Explanation of the required liability release and signature are required for insurance regulations, and provide a last check of past and present health conditions. No cellular telephones or cameras are permitted on the tour, as they are an unnecessary distraction. Guide presentation of the tour sequence and discussion of safety issues are followed by fitting the harnesses and helmets. Trolley and carabiner gear are attached to the harness, and gloves are fitted to participants; one final check for proper gear fit and a personal observation of the participants are conducted before the practice zip-line demonstration. Specifically, guides check for the “Five H’s”:

1. Long hair must be tied back and under the helmet.

2. The harness must fit snugly.

3. All hardware should be in good, working order and properly configured.

4. Helmet fit has to be comfortable and secure.

5. The “human” condition is evaluated for readiness and ability to travel on the cables. All guests are assisted “zipping” on the practice (bunny) cable while proper technique is explained until each guest feels ready and willing to continue.

Guides must check each other’s gear before beginning the zip tour. The lead guide goes first, zipping down the cable to the landing to await the customers, and providing rope-assisted braking for them, if needed.

Back at the takeoff location, participants are hooked up individually by the trailing guide; they zip down the cable, are unhooked at the landing platform, and are directed to assemble in a group out of the traffic flow.

The trailing guide follows and unhooks himself/herself, and the group proceeds to walk (between the guides) to the next cable span.

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