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TRENDING # park_spy # tree_connections # risk_management # wire_rope # new_products # and_much_more

Adventure Park Insider The Harness: A look into its history, current products, and future trends.


The Evolution of Adventure: How the industry got to where it is, and where it may be going.

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EDITORIAL OFFICE P.O. Box 644 Woodbury, CT 06798 Tel. 203.263.0888 / Fax 203.266.0452 Email: Website: Publisher Olivia Rowan Editor Rick Kahl Senior Editor Dave Meeker Associate Editor Liz Mettler Digital Editor Sarah Ebbott Art Director Liz Mettler Production Manager Donna Jacobs CONTRIBUTORS Cameron Annas Peter Oliver Scott Baker Michael R. Smith Aaron Bible Don Stefanovich April Darrow Don Stock Sarah Ebbott Paul Thallner Moira McCarthy SPECIAL CONTRIBUTOR Paul Cummings ADVERTISING/MARKETING OFFICE 70 Pond Street • Natick, MA 01760 Tel. 508.655.6408 / Fax 508.655.6409 Advertising Director Sharon Walsh Marketing Manager Sarah Ebbott CIRCULATION / SUBSCRIPTIONS 70 Pond Street • Natick, MA 01760 Tel. 508.655.6409 / Fax 508.655.6409 Circulation Manager Sarah Ebbott A subscription to Adventure Park Insider is COMPLIMENTARY to industry professionals. Visit our website, www.adventurepark­ and click on “Subscribe” to make sure you are on our list to receive the publication and online content. ADVENTURE PARK INSIDER — Vol. 3, No. 2, SpringSummer 2017, published by Beardsley Publishing Corp., P.O. Box 644, Woodbury, CT 06798. Copyright 2017 Beardsley Publishing Corp. All rights reserved. POSTMASTER: send address changes to Beardsley Publishing, P.O. Box 644, Woodbury, CT 06798.




The industry’s rapid growth is resulting in constant change of technology, design, training, standards, and participation. This makes it increasingly challenging for operators to stay current and make the most informed decisions for their staff, their business, and their customers. The evolving landscape assures only one thing: you can’t operate in the future as you did in the past. Operators are now stakeholders who can affect or be affected by the professionalism of our industry, both in how we conduct ourselves internally and in the public eye. Our goal should be to continually refine our professionalism, and to collectively hold ourselves to a higher standard. Luckily, resources exist to advance your knowledge, business practices, and your staff’s education. In this issue we present several articles to help you keep pace, and maybe even stay one step ahead. We suggest you start with “The Evolution Of Adventure” (p. 57), which presents an overview of how the aerial adventure industry has grown and morphed over the decades. Author Michael R. Smith also identifies emerging trends and predicts future debates. Next, see “Training and Certification” (p. 60) for a review of the complex arena of educational options. On the management side, check out “Lessons From Coach: Run Your Park Like a ‘100 Best’ Company” (p. 42). Our leadership expert, Paul Thallner, covers steps to ensure you are hiring, and keeping, great employees. And Paul knows what he’s talking about—he is a partner at Great Place to Work, the company that manages Fortune’s annual “100 Best Companies to Work For” list. Lastly, we encourage you to dive deeper into Adventure Park Insider’s “State of the Industry Report.” We released some highlights from it in the Winter ’17 issue. Now you can order the entire 17-page report on our website, See how your operation compares to others in the industry, and use the data and insights to inform decisions about staffing, wages, marketing, future capital investments, and much more. It’s a fascinating snapshot of our industry, and will provide a benchmark for tracking the industry’s rapid growth moving forward. If you didn’t take part in the survey this year, be sure to participate next year. This summer, the Adventure Park Insider staff would like to come visit you! Email us if you have a story or innovation we should check out. In the meantime, stay connected with our free e-newsletter, Park Beat, which brings you industry news and exclusive online articles. Best of luck this season!

3  Spring/Summer 32017


VOL. 3 | NO. 2 | SPRING/SUMMER 2017


Clever Adventure Park Elements

The Harness

Some creative, odd, and cool features. By Sarah Ebbott

Insights about all things harness, with our editors’ guide to the latest products. By Don Stock

The Evolution of Adventure




22 Holding On To bolt, or to block? Key considerations for tree attachments. By Scott D. Baker

42 Lessons from Coach: Run Your Park Like a ”100 Best” Company Staff hiring and retention best practices for aerial adventure parks. By Paul Thallner

3 Letter from the Editors

Focus on Professionalism

6 Park Briefs News from around the adventure park world. A Staff Report 8 New Products Six new items for operators to consider. By Sarah Ebbott 14 Making a New Connection Guest communications can make or break a tour. Here are several tips to improve guide engagement. By Kelsey Tonner

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ON THE COVER Adventure Park Insider asked operators to tell us about their most interesting park elements—and they delivered. » 48

30 Park Spy What are my family’s options for food at your park? By Sarah Ebbott 32 Off the Course Managing risk starts earlier than you think—even before guests arrive at your location. By Cameron Annas

A comprehensive look at the industry’s current trends and future debates. By Michael R. Smith

60 Training and Certification Some clarity about the complex world of staff education options. By Don Stefanovich 64 Down to the Wire The pro’s guide to wire rope inspections. By Keith Jacobs

36 Blowing in the Wind Wind considerations for zip lines, and how to mitigate their impacts. By Aaron H. Bible

READ MORE ONLINE If you see this symbol, you will find additional information at You’ll also find our online-only columns—Insider Man­ agement and Insider Marketing—plus more Park 360, Park Briefs, and New Products.

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ACCT Conference and Expo

The 27th International ACCT Conference & Exposition drew 1,138 participants to Savannah, Ga., Feb 2-5. The mood was upbeat, with well-attended seminars and workshops and a lively crowd in the exposition. Above, left: Mike Smith of Arbortrek visits with the team from ISC. Middle: Jim Wall of Challenge Design Innovations is visited by Sarah Ebbott and Olivia Rowan of Adventure Park Insider. Above, right: ACCT executive director Shawn Tierney presents Don Stock of The Adventure Guild with a “Wedgie” award.

State Regulations Regulations for zip lines and aerial adventure parks are coming into focus in more states around the country. In Michigan, lawmakers are now regulating zip lines under the Michigan Carnival-Amusement Safety Act as a “carnival or amusement ride.” These new regulations will require zip line operators to obtain a permit and state inspection prior to operation. Operators must apply for a permit on or before March 1 of each year. They are also required to demonstrate proof of an insurance policy or a surety bond of at least $300,000, with a lesser amount for those with only one ride designed primarily for children.

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“All owners or operators of zip lines in Michigan must apply for a permit, and each ride must be inspected by the state to protect the health, safety, and welfare of all riders,” said Corporations, Securities, & Commercial Licensing Bureau director Julia Dale. “Given the increasing prevalence of zip lines throughout the country and this state, we want to ensure that they are being properly operated and maintained.” In North Carolina, a new bill filed in late February pushing to regulate zip lines and challenge courses has been met with bipartisan support. The “Sanders’ Law” is named for Bonnie Sanders Burney, the 12-year-old girl who died following a zip line incident at a camp in North Carolina. The bill would give power to the commissioner of labor, who would delegate to the chief of the Elevator and Amusement Device Bureau, to oversee the state’s zip lines and challenge courses. The Bureau would hire third-party inspectors who would issue annual certificates of operation. Reporting of accidents, and a minimum age requirement for all operators, is also included in the bill.

In addition, it would allow companies to use standards developed by one of four agencies: ACCT, PRCA, ERCA, or ASTM International.•

New Park Openings The aerial adventure industry is growing rapidly and new parks are springing up across the country. Ropes Courses, Inc. received the green light for the installation of its premier product, a SkyTrail ropes course, as part of a bigger operation called Aerial Entertainment at the new Seascape Towne Center development in Miramar Beach, Fla. “We wanted something that was affordable and engaging for families with kids. SkyTrail is a unique attraction that both tourists and locals will appreciate,” said Russ Scott, owner of Aerial Entertainment at Seascape. The two-level SkyTrail Navigator will stand 32 feet tall and have a capacity of 35 participants. The installation is scheduled to open in May 2017. Construction has begun on a new zip line in Lockport, N.Y. The zip line is the first to be permitted over a federal waterway. The attraction, developed by Thomas Callahan of Hydraulic Race Co., features two zip lines. The first, at 365 feet long, will send a rider east across the Erie Canal at a height of approximately 65 feet. The second line, zipping participants back across the canal, will be 590 feet long, but a bit lower at 35 feet above the water. The attraction has an anticipated opening date of June 2017.•

ACCT Operator Accreditation: Back on Track As adventure parks, zip lines, and challenge courses come under increasing scrutiny and regulation, and with a rising desire on the part of operators to assure their public of the reliability and professionalism of their facilities and staff, ACCT’s program accreditation initiative has been eagerly awaited by many. Those who were hoping to hear of the latest progress regarding the program during the ACCT conference, though, came away disappointed, as the organization did little to advance the project from the 2016 show. The reason: the organization was fully focused on improving its financial health, and program accreditation was placed on the back burner. It’s likely the program will again receive the attention it deserves. New ACCT executive director Shawn Tierney addressed its status during a session at this year’s conference; he began the session by saying that the organization is moving deliberately (read: cautiously) and hopes the program will be a significant stamp of approval. And he predicted customers will look for it. However, he warned the audience that there’s no timetable for a finished product. ACCT is still inviting feedback on the proposal, and “that will slow down the process,” Tierney said. “But we will do it right.” “This is a rapidly evolving industry. It’s a moving target. That makes accreditation a moving target, too,” he added. He observed that whatever program eventually launches, it will also be subject to evolution as the industry evolves. The intent remains the same as ever: to elevate professionalism and quality in the aerial adventure

WAIT, THERE’S MORE! Check out other current and recent news of park openings, developments, and more in the “Park Briefs” pages at

industry, to give the public a measure of confidence in accredited operations, and create a platform that meets regulatory requirements. Tierney also pointed to other benefits, among them: • the opportunity to gather information on incidents across the industry • the chance to lower insurance rates for accredited operators While accreditation won’t eliminate guest incidents, it’s likely to reduce them, Tierney added. The current draft for program accreditation lays out several minimum requirements. These include: • being in business for at least one year • appropriate insurance • legal agreements (waivers, due diligence) • technical course inspection, similar to existing annual inspections • employee training and certification • operational review Those requirements are not onerous. “If you are meeting ACCT standards, you are most of the way

there,” Tierney said. But he noted that few operators meet all elements of the standards, which require documentation of inspections, training, and other aspects of operations. “Many operators don’t fail to meet standards because they run bad programs, they simply lack documentation. Documentation is key,” Tierney emphasized.

accredit an operation. The site visit might take place every three to five years, with less-expensive annual paperwork updates.

Among the unanswered questions about accreditation: How will owners with multiple sites be accredited? Just what will training and accreditation involve, and how will the trainers themselves be accredited?

Almost all of the two-dozen operators at the session seemed to agree; a show of hands strongly favored the more in-depth route. Two smaller experiential operators favored a simpler, less costly path.

Another big question: how comprehensive should accreditation be? One option would be a relatively simple, paperwork-based program that would be fairly easy for operators to complete. Another option would be more involved, requiring site inspections and more. The advantage, though, is that such accreditation would gain greater respect and weight.

Regardless of which path ACCT takes, there are several steps that remain, including: • creating a pathway for trainer/testers and operational reviewers to become qualified • establishing a “road map” of benefits and fees • vetting the program internally • conducting a pilot program to establish procedures, gather feedback, discover blind spots, etc. • launching marketing and PR efforts

Cost is an issue, of course. A simple paperwork-based program might cost as little as $500 to $1000. A more in-depth site-visit program could run $2000 to $3000—plus travel expenses for the individuals who

“Don’t simply look at the cost of accreditation; ask yourself what you will gain,” Tierney urged. “Reputation, insurance—these make the investment worthwhile.”

Watch for more information from ACCT as work on accreditation resumes this year. •

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HiRope The HiRope by Kanopeo is an adjustable lanyard system specifically designed for

use on ropes courses. It can be used in two positions: locked, allowing only guides and/or operators to manipulate it; and open, allowing for the user to manage the length of the lanyard throughout the course. The HiRope is designed to work as a shock absorber in the event of a fall. It meets EN 358 and EN 15567-1 standards, and can be used with any existing system.

Pulley Pocket Koala Equipment’s new Pulley Pocket prevents equipment from dragging on the

ground, thus avoiding damage. It can be attached to any harness with its two pressstuds. The mouth of the pocket remains open and is large enough to accommodate all types of trolleys, making it easy to drop one inside and take it back out when needed. >>continued

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NEW PRODUCTS The Stepper Ropes Park Equipment is now offering The Stepper by

Monkey Hardware. This adjustable climbing product is a steel foothold that straps around a tree or pole, creating an instant ladder without the use of any bolts or nails. Steppers can be combined in any quantity so that guests can climb practically any height. The Stepper is adjustable, movable, and tree friendly.

Diddy Deluxe Utility Bag The Diddy Deluxe Utility Bag from Aerial Adventure Tech

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allows you to keep tools, notepads, gloves, and snacks right at your hip or back. The main compartment has a double-layered bottom with drainage grommet and two exterior pockets for smaller tools, plus a snap top closure to keep everything secure. The bag is made of 180oz vinyl and 600d polyester, which sheds water and is tear resistant. Its low profile fits any harness belt up to five inches wide. You can also customize bags with your company’s logo. >>continued

Discover our new material for our continuous belay system POULIZ POCKET Avoids equipment from dragging on the ground or hurting people . Can easily be attached onto any harness. Large enough for all types of trollies. It implies less cleaning and maintenance.

POULIZ 3.0 New Pouliz 3.0, available next June. This new Pouliz is covered on top and has a door for emergency rescues which clips back automatically. There is also a swivel for the lanyard.

POULIZ HANDLE This handle fits on the Pouliz 2.0 and avoids turning on zip lines. It also assists children, enabling them to move more smoothly on the obstacles.



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This line-setting accessory complements the SherrillTree Big Shot slingshot that gives arborists and other work-atheight professionals the means to hurl throw weights to new heights. The trigger has a quick connect and mid pole adjustment, allowing for reduced fatigue, improved accuracy, and integrated trigger safety.

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Aerial Zip Trolley Aerial Designs’ new Aerial Zip Trolley is engineered with

oversized wheels for use on long, fast, and smooth zip lines that reach speeds up to 60 mph. It is designed for ZipSTOP high velocity braking and Aerial Braking System ­retrieval-free operation. The trolley features dual clip-in holes: the front hole is moved forward for impact reduction so the trolley doesn’t lift up at impact; the rear hole is for clipping fall-arrest backup into. The side plates are thick enough and the sheave wheels deep enough to clip separate handles in the downhill hole.

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MAKING A CONNECTION Communicating with guests is an art form, and can make or break their experience. Great social skills are one of the characteristics that set incredible guides apart from OK ones. Guides are the up-front human element to any operation, and the impression they leave is often more impactful than the adventure itself. Social skills can make a world of difference. Even if you are an aerial course guru, have an encyclopedic knowledge


of local biology, and are a powerful public speaker, you may still struggle as a guide if you cannot confidently connect with guests on a personal level.

with head nodding and participation, and be genuinely curious. As has been said, “It is always better to be interested than interesting.” Take that to heart.

So how do we up our game and ensure our guests have an incredible experience?

A sure way to start a conversation is to simply ask questions. “The easiest way to start is ask, ‘Where are you guys from?’” says Drew Formalarie, director of operations at Alpine Adventures in New Hampshire. “That starts a connection, which is important because it’s all about rapport and building trust.”

First of all, recognize that our attitude, language, and word choice all have a huge impact on our customers. Our job is to make guests feel comfortable, and there are several easy ways to do that. The following are some simple techniques used by super-star guides. >> 1. LISTEN AND BE CURIOUS Top conversationalists listen actively and carefully. Be attentive to what your guests are saying, acknowledge them

It’s also calming for the guest to know you’re interested in them. Guides with great social skills are adept at finding their guests’ passions and interests, simply by paying attention. As any great conversationalist will tell you, find a topic


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CONNECTION that a person loves, and he or she will open up and share that passion with you. And if you have a common connection or share the same passion, say so, but don’t dominate the conversation. “This is about them, not you,” says Formalarie. Korey Hampton, owner of French Broad Adventures in North Carolina, agrees. “It is great for a guide to be entertaining and informative, but a three-hour

monologue is likely too much,” she says. “Better group dynamics will come when the guide can facilitate conversation topics that lead to the guests getting to know one another.” In addition, by listening closely, you’ll be able to glean insights on the needs of your guests. If a mom shares with you that she is nervous about her youngest making it through the course, for example, this is an opportunity to shine by giving the youngest a little more at-

tention and reassuring the mother that you’re keeping a close watch. >> 2. LET YOUR PERSONALITY SHINE If you don’t have much time with your guests, then make sure your first impression is a good one. Smile warmly and individually welcome each guest as they arrive. Even if you are speaking with other customers, a quick wave of acknowledgement goes a long way. Your individual personality should come through in how you present yourself, even if the only exposure you have to the guests is during ground school. Whether you have 10 minutes or three hours with your guests, a robotic presentation is boring, and loses people’s attention. In other words—ditch the script, but don’t lose the message. “Our guests didn’t come to see the same mascots, dressed and waving the same as they were the last time. They want characters who have their own personality,” says Formalarie. At Alpine Adventures, guides are given a script for ground school, but Formalarie says it’s more of a guideline containing the important things to cover, and guides develop their own way of delivering the info. That delivery may vary depending on the crowd, but the message never changes: “All the information must be covered in a clear and concise manner and understood by everyone in the group.”

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>> 3. SPEAKING, WITH STYLE Whenever possible, bring creativity, style, and a sense of fun to your presentations— and you’ll be rewarded with a more engaged audience. There are countless ways you can communicate the required information, so choose one that plays to your strengths. For instance, as a zip tour guide approaches the first platform with his group, he says, “This cable is so strong we could hang a 10,000 pound bus from it. But let’s not, because that would take a bunch of time and I think we’d all rather zip, right?” Here the guide creatively shares a safety feature in a way that is relatable to the average guest. We can all picture



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CONNECTION a bus hanging from a wire, but most of us aren’t familiar with things like tensile strength or kilo-newtons. And furthermore, it’s humorous and appropriate. Transforming our beloved scripts does take a bit of work, but it is absolutely worth your time and energy. You’ll connect with your guests more effectively, they’ll be more engaged and attentive, and most of all, your tour will be that much more memorable. >> 4. MAKE GUESTS FEEL SPECIAL A simple technique to increase rapport with guests is to make them feel good about themselves. Experienced guides use this strategy everyday and are very generous with their praise. Receiving compliments makes anyone feel great and generates good will. Saying to a stressed-out school group leader, “Wow, you guys certainly picked the perfect day to be up here in the mountains!” will help make the organizer feel good about his/her choices.

Also, be specific with your compliments. It will come across more genuine and shows you’re paying attention to everyone, which will also improve your guests’ confidence in you as a guide. “Praise guests individually when they learn a new skill or execute your instructions,” says Hampton. “Making people feel proud of their ‘performance’ helps them feel more confident.” So, rather than just saying, “Great job,” to Sue when she lands perfectly on the platform, say, “That was a fantastic landing, Susan! Very graceful and under control!” Hampton also suggests involving guests in ground school. “On each trip, give one guest a ‘checklist’ of the topics you will cover in your briefing. It’s that guest’s job to help ‘ensure the safety of the trip’ by making sure the guides don’t forget anything. Nervous guests are the best candidates for this task, because they really want to make sure all the details are covered,” she says. >> 5. BE HELPFUL Always look for ways to help your

guests. Take a few minutes before and after the tour to offer tips on your favorite hike, or some sort of true locals’ experience, or even your favorite place to eat in town. This shows you’re looking out for them. Building a social connection with guests can be powerful—and also increase gratuities. “Nothing makes guests feel important like a local giving them the place to go,” notes Formalarie. But it’s important to read the audience. Have some options in mind, and don’t give bad advice. “If they have a crappy meal, they may not remember exactly what they ate, but they will definitely remember who recommended the place,” he says. >> 6. REASSURE YOUR GUESTS This is something great guides do well. Aerial adventure activities can be scary, and guests will have anxieties about it. A great leader will take the time to acknowledge these concerns and put them to rest. If a nervous guest is about to shut down or panic, both Formalarie and Hampton

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S A F E . R E L I A B L E . I N D E S T R U CTA B L E .


This report is an unprecedented look at the status of North America’s aerial adventure industry. It includes aggregated data and insights about operations, staffing, wages, products, planning, and more. Use it to compare your operation to others, and stay ahead of the game.

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CONNECTION say to stop and talk to the guest oneon-one. “Take your sunglasses off, look them in the eye, and let them know you are there to support them,” says Hampton. “The only thing that guest needs to think about is you and him, and what we need to do together to complete the element,” Formalarie adds. Often, other group members’ attempts to encourage a nervous guest create

undue pressure and distract from the confidence you’re trying to build up. Formalarie says reading the guest is the key to making adjustments. “Are they being dramatic and basking in the attention? Are they just a little jittery and need some encouragement? Or are they on the verge of shutting down and we’ve got work to do?” he asks.

mor, especially if it is part of your personality. Just know that what you and your friends think is funny may not be something to joke about when standing on a platform 50 feet in the air.

>> 7. HUMOR Humor is tricky. It can work really well or fail miserably. By all means use hu-

For example, when you and your group are approaching the first element on the adventure course, don’t say, “Man, I hope these harnesses work today!”

3 “Gotta Have” Items for Adventure Parks

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Still, there are plenty of situations in which humor can ease anxieties and take their mind off any apprehensions. Just use it cautiously. Formalarie and Hampton encourage guides to use humor, as long as it’s G-rated and appropriate. Read your guests to gauge what will work and what won’t. Even then, humor might not go over well because you either misread the guests, or had bad timing. “It’s happened to all of us,” says Formalarie. “The most important thing is to immediately recognize it and fix it.” An apology and explanation of what you meant will usually suffice. If not, you may have to remove yourself and have another guide take over. PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT Using the above tips, anyone can develop social skills and effectively communicate with guests. The more practice you have connecting with other people in a quick and genuine fashion, the more comfortable and skilled you become as a guide.

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Take the time to connect with your guests, and good luck this season. Additional Resources • “8 Secrets to Connecting with your Guests - A PDF Cheat Sheet” • Short, practical training videos at













LL 2017


NO. 1












IN G 20

Tree Health

HOLDING ON Facts and insights about attachments for tree-supported structures.


Tree Solutions, Inc. Scott D. Baker is a principal consultant with Tree Solutions, Inc., in Seattle and an ASCA Registered Consulting Arborist, ISA Board Certified Master Arborist, ISA Qualified Tree Risk Assessor, and ISA Tree Risk Assessment Qualification Instructor. A well-known builder and operator of adventure parks contacted me recently to see if I could provide some research references to show why wrapping cables around a client’s oak trees would cause more or less impact to the trees versus a bolted system.

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This is a difficult question to answer. The fact is, very little research or studies have been conducted about tree-supported structures and their short- and long-term impacts to the support trees. Studies do exist, though, about the impact of trees growing into infrastructure, such as building foundations and sidewalks. That information can be helpful, but it isn’t specific to our question. There are a lot of variables that must be considered when building anything in a tree. Expand that to building in a forest and things become even more complicated. Right now, there are several innovative designs of attachments for tree-supported structures that allow long, safe, and useful lifetimes for both the structure and the supporting trees. Different builders use different methods, and have their reasons for doing so. USING BOLTS The impacts from bolts that arborists use to reinforce trees that are failing, or

to protect areas that are prone to failure from extreme loads, have also been studied. During my 40 years working with trees, I have dissected numerous cable fittings and brace rods from trees that were removed. Discoloration of wood is common, but decay is not. Generally speaking, if a healthy and vigorous tree of a suitable species has a bolt, few internal problems result, including decay. Well-informed arborists or experienced builders are likely to understand the characteristics of the species of tree they are working with. Appropriate species are likely to

Below: An example of a double wrapped cable that is now girdling the tree. The blocks have failed under the pressure of the tree expanding, and cambium damage is in progress. Photo: Mike Fischesser

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HOLDING ON ^ A platform installed using simple compression of the framing against the tree trunk. The tree is already beginning to envelop the wood and is cutting off the cambium’s ability to function. This will do significant damage to the tree. Photo: Mike Fischesser

be long-lived species that are good at compartmentalizing decay. Additionally, arborists use their knowledge to avoid drilling a hole into an area where internal decay fungi are already active. This is because they are aware that this may change the tree’s protective boundaries and allow the fungi to move into new areas of the tree’s xylem. Arborists are also aware of the fact that trees become larger in diameter every year, and that their bolts will eventually be enveloped by the tree. In general, this does not present a problem for the type of through bolts and support cable terminations arborists install that hold lateral loads.

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Depending on what is being supported, bolts used in tree-supported structures are for directional loads. For instance, static loads from the weight of a treehouse or platform structure, or a cable under tension in the case of a zip line. WRAP IT UP So, what’s different about wrapping around a tree to secure a cable, or using a compression-type method to attach a platform to a tree? Most important, if no bolts are used to hold blocks in place, for instance, there is ostensibly no penetration and interruption of the cambium. Inevitably, though, a healthy, vigorous tree will expand in circumference every year. How much expansion depends on the species and where it is growing. As I have covered in earlier articles, if a cable or piece of wood or metal is placed in contact with a growing tree, and is unable to move away with the tree’s yearly growth, the tree will envel-

Middle: Beanstalk Builders’ “Halo” system being tested under load. It is designed for heavy loads and to accommodate tree growth. Photo: Mike Fischesser Bottom: Malaysian platform using a system of cables “woven” around the tree to support the loads. The idea is that the loads will be distributed, allow the tree to move, and, hopefully, no envelopment will occur. Photo: Tim Kovar


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HOLDING ON op it. Some tree species will girdle, and the portion above the constriction will decline or die. However, with other tree species, especially those that are fast growing, the tree can envelop the cable or framing member. If the new xylem tissue closes over, sometimes the tree will successfully seal the cable or framing member inside the xylem. The tree now has an intact cambium where the constriction occurred, but the area will likely be a weak spot. Arborists have observed trees breaking where old cables or chains had been enveloped long after the tree closed over the offending material. SPEAKING FROM EXPERIENCE I spoke with several builders of zip lines and challenge courses about their experience with different construction methods. Mike Fischesser, founder of Beanstalk Builders, has decades of experience building challenge courses,

and understands tree biology. He is strongly against wrapping and compression after seeing a lot of damaged trees resulting from it over the years. He mentioned that, in many cases, the problems result from no ongoing monitoring and little maintenance. Let that be a warning.

where the structure is built. He also relies on his experience in many locations. John says that wrapping is problematic with static cable loads of more than 2000 to 2500 pounds. For lighter loads, and with the proper tree species, he finds that cables with carefully designed and placed blocks can work. John also learned that it is not a good idea to wrap cable all the way around a tree. He previously experimented with several wraps that use friction to spread the loads on very slow growing trees, but has since abandoned that practice.

Mike’s goal is to interrupt no more than 10 percent of the cambium of a tree at each level where an attachment is made. He admits there is no science to back up his 10 percent rule, but it’s been successful. In addition, his team calculates the approximate amount of time it will take for tree growth to conflict with an attachment, which is an important metric for a long service life of the structure. I also spoke with Bonsai Design founder John Walker. I have worked on courses with John that used wrapped cable with wood blocking, and platform attachments that used bolts backed by wooden blocks. John thinks the choice of attachment method should vary with the tree species and environment

Experience with certain species in specific areas has helped guide John’s building methods. For instance, in Asheville, N.C., he says that white oak and turkey oak hold up well with blocking and cable, with no discernible problems to date. At properly designed adventure park courses, John says blocks can allow for easier adjustment and easier “tuning” of installations. Another technique, he says, is to use a spring washer on the platform support


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HOLDING ON bolts placed on the outside of the block. The idea is that the tree will be able to expand as the washer collapses. Additionally, each year—or as needed— they back off the bolt a bit to allow for expansion. He and I have a difference of opinion about this. In most cases, I believe that the new xylem tissue that is pressing against the bolt will be injured when the bolt is moved, and this could cause issues for the tree. However, I’d be curious to see builders experiment with this idea. That will require building experimentally in trees that can eventually be cut down and dissected to understand what the longterm effects might be in different tree species.

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John generally guys his support trees, and in cases where it will be difficult to access and inspect those trees, he will use a bolt with ample room left for the tree to grow.

Robbie Oates of Phoenix Experiential Design prefers to use bolts in his installations, but he has become more open to cable wrapping after seeing evidence of trees doing well despite the cables. Robbie still avoids placing framing members or knee braces flush to trees using bolts. He is particularly critical of platforms that are held to trees using compression of framing members against the trees. Robbie wants longevity in the courses he builds and a lot of his design thinking reflects that goal. He cites this as a reason that bolts are most often his choice. Another builder who prefers using bolts is Erik Marter of Synergo. His team does inspections, and is familiar with cable wrapped and compression attachments. I have worked on Synergo courses, and I like the use of a long vertical metal piece that has many anchor holes in it, allowing adjustment or tuning of the system. Platforms are constructed with ample room for tree growth, ensuring a long life for the system.

Arborist Mark Craven of Liminal Feats recently helped decommission a few trees he had wrapped and blocked in 2010, removing platforms and zip lines from chestnut oak and hickory trees. In all cases, the trees showed little or no visual damage. “There was likely an impact under the bark, but the trees all had healthy new growth in the portion of the column directly above,” he reports. “These days, I bolt almost exclusively, but it’s nice to see that my work from nearly a decade ago hasn’t caused any catastrophic damage (yet).” TREE SCIENCE All of these builders have some things in common: they have observed trees used for support for many years, they have seen what happens over time, and they have studied tree biology. They are also continuing to learn from their experience and are interested in science that may help them make better decisions. >> continued on page 69

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PARK SPY THE QUESTION: “My family and I are planning to spend a good portion of the day at your park and I was curious what our options for food are?” People need food and hydration to stay energized and happy. As a park operator, this is something to keep in mind. You don’t need a restaurant on-site, nor is it a requirement that you sell snacks and drinks (although it helps), but you do need to be prepared to point people in the direction of sustenance. If your operation is miles away from the nearest restaurant and you don’t sell food or drinks, let guests know in advance so they can be prepared. Most of the parks we called handled this question well. And some, of course, didn’t. Have a question we should ask for Park Spy? Send your question to Sarah Ebbott (sarah@ and if we use it, you’re immune for that issue! We present nine Spy missions here. Check out all 10 online at

Park #1, FL

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First contact: Female. API: Stated question. Staff: Sounds like a great excuse for a picnic! We offer a variety of snacks, but unfortunately no prepared or hot foods. That being said, you are more than welcome to bring in a cooler and enjoy a picnic while you are here. API: Are there areas for us to set up and hang out while the kids are doing the course? Staff: Absolutely. We have plenty of space for you to put out a blanket and relax as a group, or if you have anyone who isn’t interested in climbing, they can enjoy the scenery and watch the rest of the group from the ground. API: Sounds great! Staff: Great, did you have any other questions? API: No, that answers my question. Thanks. Staff: Great, well if you have any other questions, please feel free to give us a call back or visit our website! Score: 8 Comment: Upbeat, friendly, and provided options for how we can stay fed.

Park #2, MN First contact: Male. API: Stated question. Staff: Well, we don’t serve food here. We have some snacks available in the store, though. API: What if we brought our own picnic? Is there some place we could all sit down and eat together?

Staff: Oh yeah! We have a small picnic area and you and your group can hang out there and have some food, we just don’t serve any. Oh, and we have grills you can use too, if you want to bring hot dogs or hamburgers or whatever. API: Grills? That’s great, maybe that’s what we’ll do. Staff: Cool, when are you planning to come? API: We’re still trying to decide on a day. Staff: Cool. Well, give us a call back and we can get you booked for a tour. API: Will do! Score: 6 Comment: I love the grill idea, bonus points for that. Minus points because it sounded as if he forgot what the park offered.

Park #3, AL First contact: Male. API: Stated question. Staff: Well, we don’t sell any food on site, but we’d be happy to make recommendations to local restaurants in the area depending on what type of food you’re looking for or the size of your party. API: That sounds great. If we were to bring our own picnic, would there be a place for us to hang out and enjoy that? Staff: Unfortunately, because of our location, we have limited space for guests to really stretch out an enjoy a picnic. However, you are more than welcome to bring some snacks or drinks with you and then, as I said, we could certainly provide recommendations for area restaurants or

places to go if picnicking is more your thing. API: Thanks so much. Staff: Have a great day. Score: 8 Comments: “No” is a perfectly acceptable answer, just back it up with something positive or some alternative options like this guy did.

Park #4, NC First contact: Male. API: Stated question. Staff: Well, I’m sorry to say we don’t serve food here. API: That’s no problem. Is there a picnic area we can all hang out and eat if we brought our own food and snacks? Staff: Not really, uh, I mean you can put a blanket down outside the welcome center or sit on the grass, but we don’t really have picnic tables. I also need to ask my manager if we allow outside food. API: OK. Staff: I’ll just put you on hold for one minute while I find that out. (I was not put on hold, but instead it sounded like he covered the phone receiver with his hand.) Staff: (muffled talking) They’re coming to zip, do we allow outside food? Manager: You mean they want to bring food on the zip line? Because that wouldn’t be OK. Staff: OK, I’ll tell them. (removes hand from receiver) So I am sorry, but we don’t allow food on the zip line tour.

kitchen can accommodate those? Staff: Certainly, if you give us a heads up the kitchen can certainly accommodate most needs: gluten free, vegetarian, whatever you guys like. Just let us know in advance and we can make arrangements for you. API: And if we decided to pack our own food, would that be OK? Staff: Of course, a lot of people pack a picnic and lay out on the grass after their zip tour to eat. So you are more than welcome to do that as well. API: Great, thanks so much. Staff: You’re welcome.

Score: 4 Comment: Mini-kudos for asking when you didn’t have the answer to the question. However, the “hold” button on a phone is a great thing. Please use it.

Score: 9 Comment: After talking to this girl, I am craving one of those brick oven pizzas. Beyond that, she thoroughly explained how they can accommodate my group.

Park #5, TX First contact: Female. API: Stated question. Staff: We have a café, which sells, like, hot dogs and nachos and hamburgers and things like that. And then we have another shop that sells sweets, ice cream, and cookies and things like that. All of the sit-down restaurants nearby us are in a town about eight miles down the road. API: OK. We have a couple kids with some dietary restrictions, would it be OK if we brought some food in? Staff: Yes, of course, it would just not be allowed inside the attractions. API: Great, is there a place we can all sit down and eat together? Staff: Yes, there are picnic tables all throughout the property and at our visitors’ center. API: Great, thanks so much. Staff: You have a good day now. Score: 8 Comment: Friendly and concise. It’s nice to have options, too. Though my imaginary kids are going to have a sugar high after we visit this place.

Park #6, AZ First contact: Female. API: Stated question. Staff: We do have a great restaurant here. We serve burgers, delicious brick oven pizzas, sandwiches, salads. We use a lot of local ingredients and have our own garden as well. We have a lot of really delicious options you can pick from. My favorite is the pizza, though. The kitchen makes the dough from scratch and cooks it in a brick oven. API: Excellent, we have a couple kids in our group who have dietary restrictions. Do you know if the

Park #7, NY First contact: Female. API: Stated question. Staff: We have a café on site that does breakfast and lunch. (YAWN) Excuse me. For lunch we do sandwiches, salads, we do paninis, and then we do, like, basic stuff, too. Hot dogs, chicken tenders, French fries, all that stuff. API: Great. Do you know if the café offers anything for people with dietary restrictions? Staff: We do always try to make sure we have at least one gluten free and vegetarian option on the menu. API: Excellent. Alternatively, if we were to bring our own lunches would that be OK? Staff: Certainly. We don’t allow outside food inside our dining room, but we do have outdoor seating available if you want to do that. (YAWN) API: Thank you so much. Staff: You’re welcome, no problem. Score: 6 Comment: Thanks for the good information, but did you have to make me feel like I was putting you to sleep?

Park #8, IL Ringing….ringing….ringing…. Score: 0 Comment: I called this park five times. The phone would ring for more than two minutes and then disconnect. Always, always have at least an answering machine if you do not have the staff to answer the phone.

Park #9, VA First contact: Female. API: Stated question. Staff: We have a bunch of great options for you. The snack bar serves some tasty snacks on the patio during most operating hours. We also offer snacks and drinks in the store if you’re just looking for a little pick-me-up. We’re also very close to the boardwalk with a ton of great local restaurants. API: That’s great. Staff: Were you planning to come in the next couple of weeks? API: Yes, the kids have a mini spring break so we wanted to do something fun, but we have a couple dietary restrictions so we always have to check. Staff: Of course! Completely understand that. I ask because we are running a promotion through the end of next month, climb with us and then bring your climbing tag to one of the four participating restaurants to get a discount. I can’t speak to their menus and any dietary restrictions, but I am sure you can find the information you’re looking for on their websites. The full list of participating restaurants is on our website, so you can spend the day with us and then enjoy a nice local meal as well. API: That sounds great, I’ll check it out. Staff: Any other questions I can answer for you? API: That’s it for the moment. Staff: Great. Well, be sure to call back or check out our website if you come up with any others, and we hope to see you soon! Score: 10 Comment: Very friendly and informative. Plus, on-site snacks and partnerships with local restaurants? They must read Adventure Park Insider. Well done! Identity revealed: The Adventure Park at Virginia Aquarium

Debrief: Food is one of those extras that not every operator can offer, and it’s not something you need to have. What you do need to have is options: food on site, a place for guests to go and eat their own food (bonus points to the park offering grills), or recommendations for other options. I would like to specifically call out Park #9, The Adventure Park at Virginia Aquarium. First, the girl answering the phone was friendly, accurate, and informative, which are primary considerations when scoring Spy missions. But in addition, the park is taking advantage of an opportunity by partnering with local restaurants. Creating relationships with restaurants, or any local business, is great for marketing, great for establishing strong ties to the community, and gives you an opportunity to enhance the experience for your guests without dropping cash into infrastructure. Thumbs up.

31 Spring/Summer 2017

API: Well, I wasn’t asking about bringing food on the tour. I was thinking more of a picnic lunch after the tour. Staff: Oh, OK, let me check on that. (muffles receiver again and re-poses question to manager) Manager: I guess that’s OK. We don’t really have a rule about it, they just have to clean up after themselves. Staff: (removes hand from receiver) OK, so a picnic lunch would be fine. You would just have to be sure to clean up after yourselves. API: Ok, sounds like a plan. Staff: OK, great, bye!

OFF THE COURSE Safety and risk management considerations kick in before anyone even puts on a harness.

A surprising number—35 percent—of all incidents related to the aerial adventure industry occur off the course. We often focus on the safety and risk management of the zip line or aerial adventure park itself: proper rescue procedures, reducing the amount of collisions into trees and platforms, etc. However, far too often we neglect to address all the risks surrounding the guests’ visit. These areas of risk management are just as important to address as the actual safety of the course.

We will review these points of risk in the order that participants are usually exposed to them.

Let’s explore some practices that can be implemented for your operation.

Does your site have photos of participants in sit harnesses going upside


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WEBSITES The customer experience begins online, before anyone steps foot on your facility. Your website is your first opportunity to establish the safety and risk management “tone” for your operation. Make the most of this! Show customers that you truly care about their safety and educate them throughout the user experience on your website.

down on the zip line? Are participant requirements and expectations clearly stated? How easy is it to find out what I need to bring and what I should/ shouldn’t wear? Make sure your online presentation of safety and risk management practices is consistent with what visitors will find at your physical location. PARKING LOT As soon as participants pull into the parking lot, the adventure begins. Kids are piling out of the car, excited about what they’re about to experience. At that moment, they’re not thinking about safety. With this in mind, here are some things to consider for parking lots: 1. Make sure your parking lot is clearly defined and organized so participants know where to park. An open field with no organized parking pattern is confusing, and can lead to hazards. 2. Do your tire blocks and landscaping materials create hazards? For example, if you use round logs as tire blocks or landscaping edges, secure them to the

3. Are there clear directions, signs, and pathways pointing where to go, or do the participants have to wander around to find the proper place? Good wayfinding creates a predictable pattern of pedestrian traffic. CHECK-IN BUILDING This is the single most influential time you have to capture participants’ attention and educate them about the experience, and the risks involved. Some important considerations include: Signage: Conspicuous locations and clear messages. (More about this soon on Stay tuned.) Customer interaction: Be engaging. Be friendly. Be caring. Be informative. Weighing in: Weighing all participants is a must in today’s aerial adventure world. Use a digital scale that reads

behind the check-in counter, so only the employee can see the weight. Staff can give thumbs up or thumbs down, and have a side conversation with participants who are above the weight limit. You may also want to record the weight in a section on your waiver. Waivers: What are your procedures to ensure that everyone has signed a waiver? What are your procedures to ensure that the correct person signed the waiver? Remember, a waiver is only enforceable if a parent or legal guardian signs it. Only a court can grant legal guardianship to someone. This is something you should have on your website so people know in advance. A simple statement saying, “All waivers must be signed by a parent. No exceptions” is preferable. ATVS AND VANS We have seen some significant accidents involving ATVs and van usage. Anyone using an ATV or van should be required to go through a training program for vehicles. This can be done in-house and does not need to be fancy, but not just anyone should be allowed

to operate a vehicle. Have an approved list of drivers who are more than 25 years old with acceptable motor vehicle records (checked yearly), and who have passed your annual ATV/van training. The ATVs and vans should have a maximum speed (ATVs kept in low gear at all times) that all drivers abide by. PREMISES AND NATURE TRAILS Nature trails and/or the trails between platforms can be the biggest risk a course has. Nature trails are often on steep terrain, and if these are unguided and something happens to the participant, response could be delayed, which could greatly impact the injury. Make sure all the steps, rocks, and walkways on the nature trails are as free from undergrowth, moss, and slippery substances as possible. While it is an outdoor environment, and these elements are natural, the more you can do to reduce or prevent these hazards, the better. CONTRACTUAL AND LEASE AGREEMENTS We could spend a whole day on contractual risk transfer, which includes

33  Spring/Summer 2017 

ground. That way, if a guest stands on one, the log can’t roll over and cause him or her to break an ankle. This incident has happened.

OFF THE COURSE contracts with builders and inspectors, as well as lease agreements. Contracts are documents used to transfer risk to another party. So the question is: what risk(s) is/are being transferred to you through this document? Can your insurance program(s) handle the risk being transferred to you? These are all great questions to ask your insurance consultant and legal counsel. Always

read and understand each contract you are signing. There are three main things a lot of contracts either ask you to do, or you should be asking the other party to do: 1. Additional Insured: When you add someone as additional insured to your general liability policy, that means you are now sharing your limits of insurance with someone else. If you have $1 million of liability coverage, you are now

splitting that $1 million of coverage between two parties. Just think how many additional insureds you add in a year, and the number of parties you could be sharing your liability limits with. 2. Primary and Non-Contributory: This is an endorsement that can be added to the general liability policy that essentially says: “Whichever party is adding this to its GL policy is stating that its liability policy is primary (will respond first), and that the general liability policy of the organization that is requesting this will not contribute in any way, shape, or form.” 3. Waiver of Subrogation: Let’s say you are an operator and an employee gets injured on the course. After workers’ compensation pays for the claim, the company finds out the employee was injured because the builder goofed on the build. So essentially the employee injury was the builder’s fault. In this scenario, your workers’ compensation company would sue the builder to collect for the amount it paid for the employee injury claim. This process is called subrogation.

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When you add a waiver of subrogation to your policy (auto, general liability, or workers’ compensation) you are legally waiving your insurance company’s right to “subrogate,” or recoup, its claim payments from the responsible party. Keep in mind, if you did not add this provision to your policy, the carrier can re-collect from the responsible party and it will not show up on your loss history. Which, in effect, will keep your premiums lower. Adding the waiver of subrogation endorsement could eliminate an avenue to clear a loss from your record, if it was in fact someone else’s fault. Here is a general rule of thumb: if you are adding any of the above three provisions to your policy, you are accepting more liability. If you are able to get these added to someone else’s policy (builder, property owner, etc.) then you are pushing away more liability. It all comes down to who has the greater negotiating power. These are just some examples of offcourse safety and risk management issues to consider. If you have any questions, contact your insurance consultant.

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BLOWING IN THE WIND You can’t control the wind, but you can take steps to mitigate its impacts on park design and operations. BY AARON H. BIBLE

Kokanee Mountain Zip Line near Nelson, British Columbia, offers six lines that weave down a steep valley surrounded by high alpine peaks to the north and a large lake to the south. The geography provides stunning views, but also interesting weather patterns, according to co-owner and GM Jay Manton, who runs the operation alongside his brother, Todd. Kokanee experiences katabatic, or downslope, winds, which flow down the valley from a large mountain glacier. As a result, late afternoon gusts pick up almost daily, bringing a consistent 15-20 mph tailwind to zip-line riders around 4 or 5 p.m.

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“Our longest line is located directly down the valley, and riders can gain excessive speed if the right gust catches them,” says Manton. Though an engineer by trade, Manton says wind was only a minor consideration during Kokanee’s design and build phase. The revelation that high winds would be an issue happened after the zip lines were already operational. “We had not realized the extreme weather fluctuations we would be dealing with daily in our valley,” he says.

designed and tested considering the wind conditions at that site. The wind considerations are also going to vary based on the course construction—a course in the trees will be affected differently than a course out in the open, or a course utilizing man-made structures.” DESIGN/BUILD According to Aerial Designs owner Valdo Lallemond, understanding prevailing winds during initial site analysis is the first and most important step. “We try to understand, what are the main winds? We try to understand the seasonal changes, and we try to understand the force of the winds,” says Lallemond. There’s a lot to consider when planning a course around wind. For example, headwinds, tailwinds, and crosswinds—in any combination—can have varying effects on speed and braking over the length of a single zip line. “Wind can affect whether or not a guest makes it to the other side of the zip, or could cause them to zip faster than normal,” says Pingle. “These conditions can change throughout a day, throughout a season, and over the course of the year.”

Kokanee is not alone. As with any operation in the outdoors, it takes time to learn your area and understand what it can throw at you. Still, it’s easier to design things right at the beginning versus trying to retrofit after you’re operating.

Lallemond says Aerial Designs strives to understand the geographic factors that make winds stronger. The topography of a mountain or a canyon, for example, creates interaction between cool and warm air flowing upslope or downslope, resulting in consistent mountain-plains wind. 

“It’s important to think about your specific course and the conditions that occur there,” says Lori Pingle, co-owner of Get a Grip Adventures in Columbus, Ohio. “The course should be

In certain cases, “builders may allow for seasonal adjustments in the tension of the lines, just as they would in cases of extreme swings in heat and cold,” he says. “Lines sag more when

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IN THE WIND they’re hot, and they’re tighter when it’s cold. On any particular zip line, it’s the extremes that are the focus of attention, whether that means temperature, length, pitch, or wind exposure.”

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“Once we have that understanding,” adds Lallemond, “we take into account what kind of zip lines we are building.” And once a course is designed, they adapt to the variables through the design and operation of the braking system. “If you have a very long or very fast zip line, you have to do a lot of braking,” Lallemond notes. “In those cases, we often use a ZipStop, but after the ZipStop, we put a second system, such as an ABS, that allows us to do even more braking, and to pull people in if they don’t make it to the arrival platform.” Trees are also a major consideration in a wind-prone environment, says Scott D. Baker, Registered Consulting Arborist and Board Certified Master Arborist with Tree Solutions Inc.

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“All trees are able to move around substantially when loaded by wind forces,” says Baker. “Every different forest ecosystem will have different species, and all of them will have specific characteristics.” In the design and building phase, Baker looks at the support trees closely, testing, if necessary, for decay using acoustic tomography and micro-resistance drilling. “We can also test for stability and fracture safety,” he says. “We look at any tree within range of the course elements and if conditions of concern are present, those trees would receive a close inspection.”

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Each course should have its own wind parameters provided by the manufacturer—and sometimes refined by subsequent vendors, says Pingle. Still, as Kokanee discovered, sometimes the precise impacts of wind aren’t measurable until a course is put into use. Therefore, “It’s not uncommon for builders to test elements and converse with clients on a regular basis over the course of a year or two post-build to learn the parameters,” says Lallemond.

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OPERATIONAL IMPACTS In response to its unanticipated afternoon downdrafts, Kokanee had to tweak operations variables for guest safety and comfort. “We set our brake system out further to give the participant more time to slow down,” says Manton. “We also decreased our weight limits to mitigate any issues.”

Zip Grip

Grip Link

Kokanee also learned to employ a classic cannonball at times to move folks along. “During the day the wind is moving up the valley, which can cause our smallest participants to come into landing areas extremely slow or, in rare instances, not make the end of the line. We’ll use the classic cannonball position to try and get those participants to the end.” On the flip side, using the starfish position to slow guests down has had limited success. Lallamond says that some operators will even add weight to people on a headwind day. “You want to avoid a backpack


Consulting • Management Construction • Design

or something dangling,” he says, “but it’s typically put on the person, like a weight vest or belt, as long as it doesn’t cause discomfort or pain. Or, you do tandem zipping, where an adult goes with a kid, for combined weight.” One solution for lines that run too fast or too slow in wind is to change the curve of the zip line, adds Lallamond, often done by the operators per manufacturer’s recommendations, and mostly accomplished using Quicklinks. Aside from the obvious safety precautions, guest comfort—both mental and physical—is a huge consideration on gusty days. “Not only can wind affect the speed which people travel on the zip lines, it can also make platforms shake or move and can create a noisy environment,” says Pingle. “I have seen guests get motion sick from being on platforms in trees that were swaying, even though the course was operating within the established wind parameters.” Guides at Kokanee are trained to inform guests about wind factors, and discuss the higher speeds and greater forces on the guest when the brake engages. “Being honest with guests about what they are going to experience has been the best way to accommodate for guests’ comfort,” Manton says. In fact, Kokanee’s training course for guides evolved along with the park’s operational wind considerations, so guides can recognize unsafe conditions specific to the enironment they operate in. “During operations, your guides are your best source of information for conditions on the course, and must be willing to change procedures to accommodate for a safer course for all involved,” says Manton. That inlcudes delaying or canceling tours if the winds are blowing too fast.

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DON’T BLOW IT OFF There are a variety of potential wind impacts for park designers and operators, and various ways to mediate or counter them. Adding weight, changing stance, thoroughly training guides, and understanding the prevailing winds within your area prior to finalizing your park design are all key. “It’s easier to design the line slower or faster at the beginning than try and retro-fit the lines after you are operating,” reminds Manton. “This means getting data from local resources (i.e., airports) and from the valley you intend to operate in (i.e., anemometers, weather stations, etc.).” This data will help determine the most efficient way to manage the guests’ speed. Manton won’t make the same mistake twice. He says Kokanee staff is working on opening another operation a few hours away, and wind has become a major topic of discussion. “Prior to finalizing any lines, we need to understand the prevailing wind, and any lines that are running with the prevailing winds, we decrease the grade of the line.” In the end, we can’t control Mother Nature, we can only work with her.



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[1] Behavioral Interviewing


LESSONS FROM COACH: RUN YOUR PARK LIKE A “100 BEST” COMPANY Each year, Fortune magazine lists its “100 Best Companies to Work For” in the United States. This list was one of the first of its kind, and remains the industry standard for comparative evaluations of what makes companies attractive to employees. The selections are based on several criteria, not the least of which is a company’s “people practices”—or, more accurately, how leaders treat their employees.

During an interview with Bruce “Coach” Brown, director of operations and training at Royal Gorge Zip Line Tours and Castle Rock Zip Line Tours in Colorado, it dawned on me that many of the strategies he uses are very similar to those used by Fortune 100 Best companies—only adapted for the adventure park industry. Coach has many years of experience hiring and training staff. His parks have low turnover, very high staff return rates, and a very high percentage of staff who stay the entire season. The following six strategies, which Coach is using at his park, are also being used at some of the most successful companies in the United States.

Make More Money, Serve More Clients, with

When conducting interviews, Coach engages in a conversation rather than a Q&A. He gives interviewees a chance to get comfortable and “burn off the nerves.” He probes candidates’ purpose rather than their qualifications. He looks for examples that show they have taken responsibility for something that has gone well, or has gone wrong. This is a test of character that, he says, indicates how the interviewee may behave when the boss isn’t around. He also listens very carefully for clues that may reveal the interviewee’s passion and excitement for the job, which he sees as an indicator of how he or she will interact with customers. “100 Best” Practice: A leading retailer of plush toys uses a “First Impressions Test” when screening applicants. The interviewer gets feedback from anyone who has encountered the interviewee throughout the interview process—this could include the person at the front desk of the office, or a greeter at one of the

• Feasibility Studies • Business Plans • Marketing Plans • Operations Reviews • Sales Training • Management Coaching • Secret Shops

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Insider Management stores. This helps to get a sense of the “real” candidate, which isn’t always the same personality that shows up during the interview. They notice if the person smiles, says “thank you,” “hello,” etc. Feedback from frontline associates who had interaction with the candidate helps this retailer see if he or she is a good fit.

such as informational interviews or notifications of conferences the students may like. This positions the company as an innovative employer while keeping the talent pipeline full.

[3] Benefit of the Doubt

Coach invests time to learn about his interviewees. He tries to find their online presence (e.g., Facebook or Instagram profile) to get a sense of how they spend their time. If he sees something he does not like (excessive partying, inflammatory language, etc.), he knows to steer clear.

Coach talked a lot about an interviewee’s personal history as a predictor of future performance. Coach believes in people, and is comfortable giving people the opportunity to succeed, even if they’ve made a mistake or two in their lives. Giving the benefit of the doubt— assuming the best in someone—is a key driver of workplace trust. He also noted that he never lowers the bar for anyone, and all employees are held to a high standard of performance, regardless of their backstory.

“100 Best” Practice: A global consulting company puts a twist on Coach’s strategy. Instead of looking at social media to double-check behavior, it’s leveraged as a scouting tool. The company identifies high-performing students in college (through Facebook affinity groups, etc.) and offers opportunities

“100 Best” Practice: A global insurance and financial services company has a robust intern program that focuses on bringing in associates from a variety of regions, backgrounds, socio-economic classes, races, etc. The company partners with organizations that provide opportunities to talented,

[2] Proper Pre-Screening

entry-level candidates who want to work in its sector, but may not have the experience or network to easily do so.

[4] Tuning Into Staff’s Needs

Being aware of what employees want is an important aspect of maintaining high morale and employee retention. For example, some of Coach’s staff asked if they could set up an archery range in a remote, employee-only area so they could do something fun during downtime or after their shift. He OK’d it, and the staff love it. This outlet is a “win” for the staff, but it’s also a venue for co-workers to get to know each other better, which fosters trust and builds a consistent culture. “100 Best” Practice: An outdoor apparel and gear retailer offers its employees the opportunity to field-test private-brand products. Not only does this provide valuable feedback to the R&D department, it also gives employees first-hand experience with the items they will be selling. Employees can request a specific product to test based


is seeking a construction and project manager. This position will oversee build teams working on a variety of construction projects. This position requires frequent travel around the United States and occasional international travel. Build experience required. For more information, job requirements, and to submit an application, contact Gerhard Komeda at

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ZIP LINE MANAGER: Angel Fire Resort, located in the Sangre de Cristo mountains of Northern New Mexico is currently seeking a zip line adventure tour manager. This position is responsible for directing and coordinating the activities of zip line operations. For more information or to apply visit and select “Manager- Zip Line Adventure Tour”. FOR MORE INFORMATION AND TO SUBMIT YOUR LISTING VISIT ADVENTUREPARKINSIDER.COM/CLASSIFIEDS

DIRECTOR OF CONSTRUCTION AND MAINTENANCE: Outdoor Ventures (OV) is a leading designer, builder, and operator in the U.S. aerial adventure park industry. The position will be based in Connecticut and serve as the head of OV’s build division. This role will be responsible for performing maintenance and inspecting OV’s eight aerial adventure parks and its various customer parks. The position manages all new construction, special projects, and supervises the build crew staff. For more information and to apply, submit a resume, cover letter, and three references to ASSISTANT GENERAL MANAGER: Anakeesta, a Gatlinburg, TN based family outdoor experience, is seeking an assistant general manager. This role will assist the general manager in overseeing day to day operations, staff management, and business management and provide direct oversight of all Anakeesta adventure elements and all adventure staff. Email cover letter and resume to

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Insider Management on their interests and location. After the test period, they write a product report with recommendations based on their experience, and post it to a private intranet.

[5] Smart Rewards and Recognition

Recognizing employees is vital to keeping them engaged for a full season. Coach believes that, at minimum, em-

ployees must know how to do their jobs and know how to treat guests. But it takes more than that to make a guest’s experience special. At his parks, if an employee’s name is mentioned in a fivestar TripAdvisor rating, he or she earns a free lunch at a local restaurant. This encourages employees to maintain a professional standard of behavior even when the boss isn’t watching them. “100 Best” Practice: A leading video game creator and publisher recognizes

heroics, not heroes. Inspired by the Stanley Cup, this company created a “Champion’s Cup” award that acknowledges outstanding teamwork. The cup is engraved with the names of the team members who were recognized, and then passed around to various offices. The intention is to create one award (rather than lots of individual ones) to symbolize a growing collection of stories about those who exemplify the culture.

[6] Career Pathing

Finally, Coach encourages his employees to think beyond the “seasonal” aspect of the job by showing them pathways to future employment in the industry. In particular, he encourages all of his park staff to obtain ACCT certification, as well as to work at other parks for a few months. This gives staff a foundation of transferable experience, which they can use to build a career of their own. Coach believes in building the capacity of his staff, even though he knows some will take their skills elsewhere.

SINCE 1857


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“100 Best” Practice: A mechanical construction company has a program to train new employees in a specialty trade that will help them acquire the skills for a great career. Many of these apprentices are family members or friends of existing employees. The program has five phases. Phases 1, 3 and 5: classroom instruction with performance labs. Phases 2 and 4: onthe-job training under the guidance of a mentor. After graduation, they’re fully qualified at the entry level in their primary trade. Some continue training for a second trade once they are qualified in their primary trade. Having multitrade knowledge and experience puts them on a path of growth and success. Take a lesson from Coach—and some “100 Best” companies—and you just might find yourself in Fortune magazine one day. Paul Thallner is a partner at Great Place to Work, which manages Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” selection process. For more info on becoming a certified Great Place to Work, email, or call Paul at 267-566-8985.


CLEVER ADVENTURE PARK ELEMENTS A bit of ingenuity and an eye for local color can create some unusual and iconic elements for an aerial course.

Flying Dolphin Zip Line The Adventure Park at Virginia Beach Aquarium, Va. Builder: Outdoor Ventures

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The dolphin is iconic throughout Virginia Beach, home of The Adventure Park at Virginia Beach Aquarium, so naturally, it became the inspiration for the park’s popular Flying Dolphin Zip Line element. The Flying Dolphin never fails to bring a smile to guests’ faces, both young and old. Visitors to Virginia Beach can tell their friends at home, “Yup, I rode a dolphin.”

Over the past several years, we have seen a memorable variety of elements in aerial adventure parks. Which got us thinking: what oddball and outlandish features have parks created to wow and challenge guests? We asked operators and builders to show and tell us about their coolest aerial adventure elements. Here’s a look at what we turned up (with still more online at

Abandon Ship Mohican Adventures, Ohio Builder: Challenge Design Innovations The design team at CDI worked closely with river outfitter Mohican Adventures to create custom elements unique to the park’s environment. As a result, the Mohican Adventures course incorporates rafts, kayaks, and canoes as aerial obstacles. The Abandon Ship element has guests make their way across a bridge of suspended river rafts—which are all missing their floors.

Broadmoor Bridge Broadmoor Soaring Adventure, Colo. Builder: Bonsai Design The Broadmoor Soaring Adventure’s Fins Course came to life after Bonsai Design installed a suspension bridge across the steep, rock canyon terrain of Seven Falls. One of the greatest challenges was to install poles and platforms on the steep cliff faces connecting bridges and zip lines. The Fins course consists of these custom-built suspension bridges, zip lines through Seven Falls Canyon, and a 180foot rappel to the canyon floor.

Ridgecrest Conference Center, N.C. Builder: Signature Research The DNA Bridge is designed to look like a single helix DNA strand. Guests must maneuver their way across the bridge, maintaining balance through the twist of the strand.

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DNA Bridge

Running Boards Epic Sky Trek Park, Colo. Builder: KristallTurm This ninja-warrior inspired element is a mental game. Looking down through the gaps between beams to the ground below can be a scary challenge for some participants. In reality, the element is not physically strenuous; instead, it requires balance, rhythm, and most of all, commitment. At the outset, the element can look terrifying, but once you’ve made it to the other side, you realize that it’s much easier than it looks. A clever and ego-boosting feature.

The Log Roller Treetop Trekking, Ontario Builder: In-House The Log Roller, part of the extreme level course at Treetop Trekking’s Barrie, Ontario park, is a test for the most adventurous of guests. Participants must make their way across the log while it spins, testing participants’ balance and nerve.

Flying Bicycle Butter and Egg Adventures, Ala. Builder: In-House

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The bicycle element at Butter and Egg Adventures is one of the most unusual of the many features at the park. Guests hop on the bicycle at the start platform and pedal their way across a specially designed track. The bike is connected to the overhead cable by metal rods that are affixed to the wheel hubs for stability and a fun ride.

Rainbow Serpent Terrapin Adventures, Md. Builder: Inner Quest The Rainbow Serpent at Terrapin Adventures is as much a mental element as a physical one. Guests are belayed through the element as they dive headfirst down the rope tunnel, which expands and contracts as they make their way through to the ground below.

WAIT, THERE’S MORE! For the complete list,go to

The Mix Trollhaugen Outdoor Recreation Area, Wis. Builder: Absolutely Experiential/In-House The Mix was a happy accident at Trollhaugen Outdoor Recreation Area. Originally designed as a zip line, builders realized that the original design would cause participants to come into the landing platform too fast. The solution was The Mix: a combination bridge and zip line element that tests guests’ balance as they make their way across the wobbly bridge before zipping across to the next platform.

Talley Wine Barrel Bridge Vista Lago Adventure Park, Calif. Builder: Absolutely Experiential The Talley Wine Barrel Bridge is another clever example of incorporating a local element. Wine barrels donated by Talley Vineyards, a vineyard near the park, comprise the bridge. Participants must make their way across the barrels’ rounded surfaces to get to the next platform. We suggest guests navigate the course before sampling the vineyard’s wares.

Louisville MegaCavern, Ky. Builder: In-House MegaCavern is not lacking in uniqueness, considering that the entire course is underground. Even so, the Double-Basket Cross is especially noteworthy, as it is the only enclosed element on the course. Many of the obstacles at MegaCavern are free-hanging, wide open, and challenge strength and balance. The Double-Basket Cross constricts movement to a confined space, requiring participants to crawl on their hands and knees. It has been affectionately referred to as “The Panic Crate” because, rather than an obstacle for the body, it’s an obstacle for the mind.

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Double-Basket Cross



ORIGINS, OVERVIEW, AND CURRENT PRODUCTS I was first introduced to the world of zip lines and challenge courses—and thus challenge course and zip line harnesses—in the late 1990s through my work as a youth minister in upstate New York. At that time, I was searching for ways to work with my students that would make a lasting impact on their lives. Something powerful and real. I found it during a trip to Cross Bearing Adventures in Colorado, where we climbed, rappelled, and zipped for a week. That experience changed the direction of my life and ministry. Back at home, I dove headlong into outdoor adventure, particularly traditional rock climbing and challenge courses. HUMBLE BEGINNINGS The original challenge courses put together by groups like Outward Bound in the 1970s were designed to mimic the kinds of challenges one would find in a rock climbing or mountaineering environment. So, naturally, climbing equipment and techniques migrated into the challenge course world, and subsequently into the evolution of the challenge course or zip line harness. Looking back on those days with our intense modern-day focus on safety, what a wild and wooly world we find!

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By the end of the 1940s, rock-climbing pioneers Hans Kraus and Fritz Wiessner had been logging dozens of first ascents at the iconic Shawangunk Ridge, aka “The Gunks,” in upstate New York. Their equipment included hobnail boots and soft-iron pitons. The “harness” was a hemp rope tied around the climber’s waist. It was not for naught that the saying in those days was, “The leader never falls!” In the intervening years, huge strides were made in harness design and construction, beginning with simple inventions such as the Swiss Seat and Studebaker Wrap, which are harnesses made either from lengths of rope or flat tubular webbing. They were a marked step up from ye olde wrap-the-rope-around-your-waist solution, but still not something you wanted to hang in for any length of time—or take a fall in. My first rock climbing harness, a Black Diamond Bod, was more refined. It had a padded waist, padded legs loops, belay loop, adjustable buckles, and nifty little gear loops.

The use of rock-climbing harnesses in the challenge course industry has been ubiquitous. The traditional sit (or seat) harness—which encompasses the waist and legs, and a geometry that causes the wearer to generally rest in a sitting position when hanging—is the mainstay. For particular elements where a participant could invert during the activity, a chest harness can be added to either prevent inversion or keep the participant from sliding out of the sit harness if they do invert—especially common for participants who carry their mass above their waist. EVOLVING NEEDS As the commercial aerial adventure industry blossomed, new technology, new apparatus, and new goals began to drive the search for different harness designs. And that’s good, since the variety of different activities and operations now requires an assortment of options. Lisson addressed this in the Harness Standards Summary: “Harnesses for humans differ considerably based on their style (full body, seat, chest) and connection points (dorsal, sternal, waist, shoulder). This diversity reflects the variety of activities in which harnesses are used. ... There are significant differences among harnesses—no single best harness exists. Instead, a suitable harness reflects the particular circumstances of the activity.” So, in great measure, it was the uniqueness of newly emerging aerial adventure activities that drove some to look for new and different harness alternatives. Visionaries looked to other industries and recreational pursuits for inspiration. For instance, a harness originally designed for parasailing was modified by companies like ERi for use on long-span, high-tension zip lines, where rider comfort and proper rider

orientation are important. And the harnesses used on hang gliders inspired the development of the “Superman” harness that allows a person to zip in a prone position. CURRENT REGULATIONS Very few regulatory bodies require the use of a specific harness type for participants. More often, regulators simply refer to a specific industry standard(s) regarding harness applications. Two of the most widely adopted standards in the aerial adventure industry are ANSI/ ACCT 03-2016 and ASTM F2959-16. The “Harnesses” section of the ANSI/ ACCT 03-2016 standard covers five main topics: type, fit, strength, quality assurance, and inspection and evaluation. Each topic has a description of related requirements. For instance, “Fit: Harnesses shall be correctly sized and fitted based on the age, size, and body type of the individual.” Others are more technical. “Strength” specifies minimum breaking strengths depending on the harness’ use. “Quality Assurance” lists several specific standards for which “Harnesses shall meet performance, construction and testing requirements of.” The ASTM F2959-16 standard references a variety of other standards when addressing sizing, construction, and performance requirements for harnesses used as aerial adventure course equipment. (Read the harnesses portion of each standard in the full online story at The standards state that the responsibility for choosing the appropriate harness for a given aerial adventure course or activity lies with the course or ride designer, or with another qualified person whose knowledge and expertise informs his or her ability to take all related factors into account and choose a harness that best meets the needs and requirements of that particular course or ride. For this reason, an operator should always consult with the course designer/builder/manufacturer before even considering a change from the type of harness that was originally supplied. They will know if the different harness

is appropriate for the application and whether it will create unanticipated issues or come with hidden risks. Keep in mind, we are discussing participant or patron harnesses. Employee harnesses are governed by OSHA code, which mandates full-body harnesses for all employees working at height and provides specific allowances for harness connection points based on potential fall heights. Operators should know what OSHA requires for staff and implement procedures accordingly. GENERAL PRACTICE, EMERGING TRENDS So where are things going? In the U.S., at least, I expect to see a majority of commercial aerial adventure operations going to full-body harnesses for participants in the coming years. At our ZIPStream aerial adventure parks, we have always used a custom-made sit harness and supplemented with a chest harness for participants who need them. However, starting in 2017, our company will move to full-body harnesses for participants—for a number of reasons. First, it takes the guesswork out of whether a person should be issued a chest harness based on his or her body type, thus eliminating the awkwardness of singling that person out. Second, though some might disagree, I think full-body harnesses are, as a general rule, more secure. I have watched in horror as a participant’s sit harness slipped off his waist and fell to his feet as he stood on a high ropes course platform. Even a less-than-perfectly-fitted full-body harness will be far less likely to have that kind of issue. Finally, I believe that the general public expects this standard of care for the types of activities we are engaged in. I’d rather not try to explain why we chose to use a harness that a participant could fall out of when a different, and potentially better, option existed. One thing is for sure: Harnesses, along with the entire aerial adventure industry, will continue to evolve. A look at the current market follows. >> continued

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It was more in line with what Adventureworks! founder Brian Lisson described in a Harness Standards Summary he wrote for the ACCT: “A harness is an arrangement of straps and fittings designed to connect a body to another object. The primary benefit of a harness is its ability to distribute forces across larger sections of the body than is possible with a direct connection point.”





1. Prone HD (Superman style) A prone harness designed especially for high-speed zip lines, the Prone HD is available in one size and features six D-rings to allow for various rider angles, two quick release rear shoulder buckles, and half-inch foam padding. It is EN 1651 certified. Warranty: 1 year limited. Lifespan: 10 year retirement. Weight: 1815 g. Price: $377.


2. Zip Standard A seat harness designed for zip line use, it features step-in leg straps, waist buckle, and chest buckles. It is EN 1651 certified. Warranty: 1 year limited. Lifespan: 10 year retirement. Weight: 1360 g. Price: $325.



3. Indiana Full A full-body, universal-size harness featuring different color leg loops, six buckles for size adjustment, a wide aluminum D-ring at the waist to attach lanyards, and 44 mm webbing. It is certified CE 12277. Warranty: 3 years on manufacturer defects. Lifespan: 10 year retirement. Weight: 935 g. Price: $218.

Misty Mountain

4. High Country Guide A full-body harness designed for staff use, it features padded waist belt and leg loops, three cranked aluminum ISC D-ring attachment points (2 ventral, 1 dorsal), quick adjust steel alloy buckles, and two gear loops. Meets ASTM F-1772-12 standard. Warranty: Lifetime on materials and workmanship. Lifespan: 5 years retirement after continuous service, 10 year retirement after manufacture. Weight: 1361 g. Price: $250.

Liberty Mountain

5. Singing Rock Technic A full-body harness featuring padded hip belt and leg loops, independently adjustable leg loops and shoulder straps, easy lock buckles for quick adjustment, and lightweight alloy D-rings. ANSI certified. Warranty: 3 year, plus 10 year limited. Lifespan: 10 years for sporadic use, 5 year retirement with daily use. Weight: 1620 g. Price: $150.


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Adrenalin Gear U.S.A.

by FrenchCreek Production, Inc. 6. Full Body #4310 A full-body harness built for all-day use, it is constructed of 1 ¾-inch-wide 6,000-pound reflective webbing and features several attachment points; multiple waist, leg, and torso adjustments; fixed buckle connections; and padding on back/ shoulder straps, lumbar, and legs. Warranty: 1 year limited. Lifespan: 5 year retirement. Weight: 1814 g. Price: $205.


7. Full Body #4330 A full-body, universal-size harness constructed of 1 ¾-inchwide, 6000 lb. webbing. It features multiple waist, leg, and torso adjustments; fixed buckle connections; girth and front chest connection points. Warranty: 1 year limited. Lifespan: 5 year retirement. Weight: 1814 g. Price: $165.

SPS Filets

8. Beal Bambi II A full-body harness designed for climbers that weigh less than 88 lbs., it features two automatic adjustment buckles on the leg loops and on the shoulder straps, color-coded body straps and leg loops, and four autolock buckles. Warranty: 3 years. Lifespan: 15 years, 10 years in continuous use. Weight: 350 g. Price: $31.




9. Avatar Deluxe A full-body harness designed for all-day use, it features AustriAlpin Cobra quick release, color-coded buckles; adjustable, integrated upper and lower harness sections; and spring-loaded buckle at dorsal and waist attachments. It meets NFPA 1983 and ANSI Z359.1 standards. Warranty: 1 year on material and workmanship. Lifespan: Maximum potential lifetime is 10 years from the date of manufacture, regardless of history and use. Actual lifetime may be much shorter if the product doesn’t pass frequent and thorough inspections. Weight: 2721 g–2821 g. Price: $510–$521.

10 9

Ropes Park Equipment

10. Quick IIIs A full-body harness designed for participant use, it features step-in leg loops and easily adjustable straps, and comes in two color-coded sizes to assist park staff with sorting. It is EN 12277 Type C certified. Warranty: 1 year. Lifespan: 3-5 years based on usage. Weight: 1360 g–1587 g. Price: $165.



11. Plemistis A full-body harness designed for use in commercial zip line operations, it features three connection points, Presto steel buckle for the chest strap, and mesh-lined EVA foam padding on legs, waist, and shoulders. It meets ANSI Z359.1-2007 requirements. Warranty: Lifetime on workmanship and materials defects. Lifespan: 10 year retirement. Weight: 907 g. Price: $195. 12. Streak Racer A full-body harness designed for use in commercial zip line operations, it features a quick-release aluminum chest buckle, six adjustment points, and EVA foam padding on the leg loops. It meets ANSI Z359.1 requirements. Warranty: Lifetime on workmanship and materials defects. Lifespan: 10 year retirement. Weight: 816 g. Price: $95.



14. Radialis Comp A universal-size full-body harness, it features six “Easy-Glider” buckles, fully adjustable webbing construction, and multiple connection points. Warranty: 1 year. Lifespan: 10 years. Weight: 907 g. Price: $129.

>> continued



55  Spring/Summer 2017

13. Radialis Pro A full-body harness designed for aerial adventure park use, it features three “Easy Glider” buckles; padding on leg loops, shoulder, waist and back; and water-resistant outer fabric. Warranty: 1 year. Lifespan: 10 years. Weight: 680 g–907 g. Price: $139.



15. Ophir 4 Slide A multi-purpose sit harness that features four “Slide Bloc” buckles, making it easy to adapt it to different body sizes; and two-part webbing that’s breatheable and allows the user freedom of movement. Warranty: EU Standard. Lifespan: 7 years in frequent use, 10 years from manufacture. Weight: 470 g. Price: $70.




16. Universal A sit harness designed for use in challenge courses, it features rear attachment and the choice of a standard double-pass buckle or the EZ pull to adjust buckle system. The Universal harness is manufactured entirely in the U.S.A. Warranty: Lifetime on materials and workmanship. Lifespan: 10 year retirement. Weight: 340 g. Price: $38–$45.

SPS Filets

17. Beal Aeropark IV A universal-size sit harness featuring a reinforced tie-in point, three autolock buckles and loosening paws, interlocked and color-coded thigh straps, and foam padding on waist and thigh straps. It is CE EN 12277 certified. Warranty: 3 years. Lifespan: 15 years, 10 years in continuous use. Weight: 400 g. Price: $33.

Petzl 19


18. Panji A universal-size sit harness with a single tie-in point, it features protective tubing, DoubleBack buckles, narrow-webbing equipment loop, and webbing with different internal and external colors to help with donning and verification. It is CE EN 12277 type C, and UIAA 105 certified. Warranty: 3 years. Lifespan: 10 year retirement. Weight: 460 g. Price: $80. 19. Falcon A universal-size sit harness featuring a metal ventral attachment point (plus lateral and rear), semi-rigid waist belt and leg loops, and self-locking DoubleBack buckles. It can be turned into a full body by adding accessories. It is CE EN 358, CE EN 813, EAC certified. Warranty: 3 years. Lifespan: 10 year retirement. Weight: 840 g. Price: $185.


Kong USA

20. Indiana A universal-size sit harness that can be used for climbing or as a seat harness for zip lining. It features fast-adjust buckles on the waist and leg loops and 4 mm webbing. It is certified CE 12277. Warranty: 3 years on manufacturer defects. Lifespan: 10 year retirement. Weight: 350 g. Price: $75.58.

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21. Alpine Backcountry This mountaineering harness provides light weight, comfort, and adjustability. Quick-fit buckles at the waist and legs adjust for different layers of clothing and body types. Reinforced polyester resists abrasion. Other features: sliding waist belt, four gear loops, reflective trim, and elastic rear strap with quick release buckle. CE EN 12277 Type C certified; meets ASTM F1772 standards. Warranty: 1 year on material and workmanship. Lifespan: Maximum 10 years from the date of manufacture, regardless of history and use. Actual lifetime may be much shorter if the product doesn’t pass frequent and thorough inspections. Weight: 473 g. Price: $63.



EMERGING TRENDS AND FUTURE DEBATES Ours is the story of a market that emerged from unlikely roots: military training, the green air movement, education, and human growth theory. Initially, challenge courses were designed to test the physical prowess and agility of individuals and small groups. Later they were adapted to support mostly educational, development, or therapeutic outcomes. Today, the market is a mix. While basic engineering principles remain constant across course types and structures, the philosophies, methodologies, and experiences are very different.

Dr. Donald Perry was the first to utilize and popularize zip lines as a means to explore otherwise undocumented reaches of the forest canopy in the early ‘80s. Credit: Dr. Donald Perry

At one end of the spectrum are traditional challenge course programs—intensely therapeutic, developmental, or educational. In the middle are programs that are purely recreational. At the far opposite end are elements designed to thrill and amuse, in which participants are merely riders, and the structure or operator controls the experience. This is a look at how we’ve evolved, emerging trends, and future debates in the marketplace.


Early high element courses “borrowed” the hardware and installation practices of utility companies. After realizing the forces imposed on challenge courses created unique stresses, the industry has since developed leading practices, new hardware, and guidelines for design, installation, and testing of materials. Modern courses use a variety of support structures, including trees, utility poles, rock walls, and engineered steel structures. They can be found in a variety of locations, including wood-

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Since the late 1950s, ropes courses have evolved considerably. Modern ropes courses incorporate sophisticated belay and life safety systems using wire rope, friction devices, and fall protection harnesses to manage what before were unmanaged risks.

ed areas, open fields, rock canyons, or heated buildings. A recent trend of themed courses (i.e., ropes course meets Disney World) has created a whole new genre of challenge course aimed at recreational pay-to-play users. Mobile ropes courses, climbing walls, and zip line rides built on flatbed trucks or trailers make recreational challenge courses readily available to the public, and also generate publicity.

Times, use of zip lines and tree climbing entered the mainstream.

dustry has grown by double digits each year, according to

amount of land required to install a zipline attraction.

AERIAL TREKKING COURSES Aerial trekking courses (aerial adventure parks, treetop trekking, treetop obstacle courses) are an offshoot of the traditional challenge course. Innovations made in Europe from the late 1990s forward, largely sparked by regulation, led to the development of high-volume commercial courses. Many of the elements are analogous to traditional challenge courses, but participant lanyards and life safety systems have been engineered for high throughput and minimal staff.

ZIP RIDES & RAIL ZIPS New zip-line concepts are emerging that test the very definition of zip line. From rides that span more than one mile to systems that utilize hybrid trolleys to propel riders along a span of cable with zero or positive slope, it is no longer clear whether the term “zip line” requires a flexible lifeline system or that the rider must descend by means of gravity alone.


Joaquin von der Goltz of Rain Forest Adventures (first tram installed in 1994), and Darren Hreniuk of the Original Canopy Tour, are among other innovators in the early 1990s. Early tours began appearing in Mexico at the turn of the century and in the United States and Canada in 2003. Since 2005, the in-

Large-scale commercialization first reached Quebec in 2002, and has quickly spread to the United States. New hardware, belay systems, and installation techniques—funded by commercial growth and private equity—have led to larger parks, increased visitation, and increased regulation. Growth trends for aerial adventure parks are expected to exceed zip line canopy tours for the foreseeable future, in part due to the

Flagstaff Extreme in Arizona features a range of courses, each containing a mixture of obstacles including rope swings, scrambling walls, hanging nets, and wobbly bridges. Credit: Michelle Koechle & Flagstaff Extreme


The look of the “challenge course” is ever expanding. The zip line canopy tour and aerial trekking course are two of the newest trends; the former evolving from techniques used to study of the upper rainforest canopy in Central America, the latter spurred by growth and development in Europe. A variety of other zip rides or zip line concepts have also recently entered the market.

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ZIP LINE CANOPY TOUR/ZIP LINE TOURS While military and civil application of zip lines dates back hundreds of years, the commercial popularity of sliding down tensioned cables is relatively recent. There are many innovators, but Dr. Donald Perry was the first to utilize and popularize zip lines as a means to explore otherwise undocumented reaches of the forest canopy in the early ‘80s. His innovations in tree climbing and high-wire rigging are the foundation of many techniques used today to install and operate zip line canopy tours. Many credit his research, awards—including the 1984 Rolex Award for Exploration— and publications with the popularization of the canopy tour and the growth of eco-tourism. Money from the Rolex award was used to develop one of the first aerial trams used to study and provide commercial access to the rain forest canopy. When his work appeared In Newsweek, Life, and the New York

Most pay-to-play aerial trekking courses are designed to allow users to move through under their own power at their own pace, and the focus of the operation is on novelty and recreation. Despite the presence of some gravity-fed elements, user input is required, which many advocates say differentiates commercial aerial courses from amusement park devices.

Further adding to the confusion is something we’ll call rail zips, in which harnessed riders descend a length of bent rail or steel tube, allowing for designs with drops, climbs, articulated turns, and spirals. Some designs allow riders more control of their speed and direction; others are designed to remove rider input from the system altogether. The lack of user input and the popularity of such rides have further anchored these rides in the category of amusement park device.

Free Fall/Swing/Jump Concepts A variety of new swing, free fall, and jump concepts have entered the market in recent years. Propelled by new technology that allows for a controlled descent of the participant following a free-fall experience, the size and scope of many of the new designs are beyond concepts previously imagined. Jumps and free fall concepts are often used as a means of egress from aerial courses and zip line tours, but they are also designed as standalone events, with drops sometimes as high as 100 feet or more.

courses, canopy zip lines, and aerial adventure parks. Outside of the U.S., a number of standards have developed, the most popular being the European Ropes Course Standards, EN 15567.


The dichotomy between adventure education and amusement, contrasted with the similarity of structures, is at the heart of many of the challenges the market is currently facing as policy makers, regulators, standards writers, and the general public work to balance public safety with the public good. Pervasive terms like “zip line” and “challenge

da for the past decade. Growth of the commercial market will begin to slow until replaced with a new variant. Current trends would suggest that the new drivers will be: 1) programs located in densely populated urban areas; 2) more extreme variants similar to American Ninja Warrior; and 3) an increase of more expansive indoor courses that can be operated year-round at lower cost. Programs will be brought to the user. Users will continue to frequent desirable destinations and high-quality fixed programs. Eventually, programs will be

The dichotomy between adventure education and amusement, contrasted with the similarity of structures, is at the heart of

Giant swings continue to be popular in the challenge course market, although many states have confined them to status as an amusement park device.


The Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT) was formally organized in 1993 by a group of practitioners, builders, and educators to set minimum standards for challenge course installation, operation, and management. Following eight editions, the current edition is ANSI/ACCT 03-2016 Challenge Courses and Canopy/Zip Line Tours Standards. While ACCT Standards remain the most widely accepted in the U.S., several other standards that guide design, installation, inspection, and operation have emerged in recent years. Some regulators and pay-to-play ride designers have adopted ASTM F2959 Standard Practice for Aerial Adventure Courses, and those standards that reference the design, operation, audit, maintenance, and performance testing of amusement park and related devices. An alternative option in the U.S. is the ANSI/PRCA Standard, which covers ropes challenge

course” are used to describe structures rather than potential outcomes. Central to this is a confused public that does not always understand what it is buying, or the risks they are exposing themselves to by participating.

brought closer to populated areas and become more mainstream. As a result, certain adventure experiences will be manufactured and presented in new ways, to make them more accessible to the masses.

Traditional-use operators and educators rightly fear over-engineering and blanket regulation will eliminate the multi-faceted benefits of structured experiences that expose participants to risk, and foster behavioral change. Balancing this is the need to eliminate unnecessary risks in situations, such as aerial adventure parks, where actual risk doesn’t contribute to the outcome of having fun.

The profession will mature through self-examination. Increased concern over litigation and loss of funding will force continuing research into leading practices and new applications. The environment will become more regulated. Increased popularity, a rise in publicized accidents, and increased exposure of recreational programs to liability claims will result in greater scrutiny by government regulators and policy makers.

Although it is impossible to know the future of the industry, several predictions can be made based on current trends. Aerial adventure parks will continue to grow in popularity. Increased demand for leisure activities and opportunities to address society’s problems will lead to increased participant numbers and revenue. Large-scale commercial zip line canopy tours and aerial adventure parks have grown at a rate of 30 to 50 percent in the United States and Cana-

All course types will be regulated to the highest standard. While some jurisdictions and standards (i.e., ASTM F2959) have made exemptions for educational-use/traditional-use courses, all course types could well be regulated in the future to the highest standard. Technology will become a driving force to mitigate risk. New technologies and >> continued on page 68

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many of the challenges the market is currently facing.


Aerial adventure parks have several options for preparing employees to maximize fun and minimize risk for guests—and themselves.

TRAINING AND CERTIFICATION Due to the nature of aerial adventure parks and zip lines, safety for workers and customers is of the utmost concern. The industry has used standards developed by organizations such as the Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT), the Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians (SPRAT), and the Professional Ropes Course Association (PRCA). These measures have been codified in the ANSI/ACCT 3-2016 and ANSI/ PRCA 1.0-.3-2014 standards, among others, and there’s also the separate ASTM F2959-14 standard. While state and local regulations vary, the industry as a whole largely follows one or the other of these standards.

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On the other hand, existing OSHA laws, which have been highlighted recently in OSHA’s “Zip Line Employee Pamphlet,” apply uniformly to all work-at-height employees. OSHA laws aren’t optional— they’re laws. Whether or not your jurisdiction requires adherence to a specific industry standard, park operators and staff should be educated on their particular course(s) and the standard to which it was built. To that end, there are a variety of third-party training and practitioner certification programs available, molded around current standards. While the content for training and

practitioner certification is often similar, there’s a big difference between receiving training and becoming certified. Training programs typically cover a variety of topics, from basic safety and operations to maintenance and repairs. This training is usually tailored to a specific site, and the trainer has discretion to decide what to spend time on during the training. Participants in training programs often receive documentation of their attendance, but that does not mean that their skills have been tested to ensure they have mastered the training material. Practitioner certification requires a greater commitment of time and money. It typically involves instruction, followed by a written test and/or a practical demonstration of skills. Those steps may include additional training and preparation. In addition, certification requires periodic renewal, often annually. All this comes at a cost. At present, most park operators opt for training, and not certification, according to Joel McComb, director of training and certification for Challenge Towers, an ACCT Professional Vendor Member (PVM) that offers both training and certification programs based on the ANSI/ ACCT standard. But he says that training, by itself, is still a very good thing. Training is often tailored to a particular

park or aspects of construction and operation, and that can be of great value. “Accidents are almost always due to human failure,” he says. “It’s rarely equipment failure, and when it does involve equipment, it’s usually misuse. So, again, it really comes down to training.” He cautions, though, that people often refer to their training documentation as a “certification.” It is not that at all. With the likelihood of increased regulation in the future, there’s a growing consensus that park operators should invest more heavily in training, and even certification, for staff. This will not only help keep the industry one step ahead of future regulations, it also limits liability and helps keep everyone safer. Here’s a look at some of the types of training and certification that are available. CERTIFICATION BY PVM One form of training and practitioner certification focuses on staff and their skills. ACCT has created standards and requirements that are used as the basis for staff training and certification testing. The training and certification programs themselves, though, are administered by a “certifying body,” typically the association’s PVMs who have become accredited in practitioner certification.

^ Zack Green, a trainer for Challenge Towers, conducts ground school for the zip tour staff at Camp Greystone, Tuxedo, N.C. Photo credit: Alicia Green, Creative and Marketing Director at Challenge Towers

your jurisdiction has adopted ASTM 2959—which exempts educational and experiential programs—it’s important to work with a company that understands the ASTM regulations. So how do training and certification work? We asked McComb at Challenge Towers, North Carolina, to describe the process. Challenge Towers was among the first companies to be accredited by ACCT. Like many PVMs, it offers training, as well as practitioner certification courses, for park staff who perform various jobs, from inspection and operations, to administration and human resources. Challenge Towers’ certification programs fall into three distinct categories: Site Specific Certification, Full Certification, and Course Manager Certification.

Becoming a PVM is no easy process. It takes 12 to 18 months to complete. In order to become accredited, a company’s business practices are scrutinized thoroughly. PVMs can become accredited to perform installation and inspection, training, and practitioner certification. There are currently 40 ACCT PVMs. Each company’s knowledge, technique, and experience is different, and their

respective approaches to training and certification reflect that. It’s important to ensure that a PVM’s expertise fits with your operation and course design, and what you want staff to gain from training. Keep in mind that many PVMs have a background in building traditional challenge courses, and the training they offer may be geared more toward experiential operations than pay-toplay parks and zip lines. If, for example,

Full Certification, which is not as tailored to a specific course, is held at Challenge Towers’ own facility, and is broader and more conceptual. It covers general industry standards for employees that interact with customers and participants on a daily basis. Like Site Specific Certification, two levels are offered. Course Manager Certification focuses on administrative duties as they pertain to the industry, from accounting to insurance regulations and human resources. >> continued

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“Accidents are almost always due to human failure. So again, it really comes down to training.”

For Site Specific Certification, Challenge Towers offers an on-site evaluation and develops a customized program specific to that park’s operation. Courses are very different, as are parks. Two levels are offered: Level 1, which applies to most day-to-day operational staff; and Level 2, which is considered “advanced expert” for higher level staff.

McComb says often operators ask “how they can certify their staff as ‘certified trainers.’” Short answer: that’s not possible. “There is no such certification backed by ACCT at this time,” he says. “Conducting staff training is one thing. Certifying staff is another.” In cases such as this, McComb refers managers to ACCT’s Qualified Course Professional guidelines for them to use as a metric in arguing if staff is qualified to conduct training. As long as operators are clear about what they’re looking for, they can find a fair number of training facilities that offer a variety of different programs and practitioner certifications. With so many options, though, the question is: what’s right for each park? “Get to know the company you’re bringing in and how well it matches your operation,” says McComb. “While most vendors cover certain basics, some specialize or go more in-depth on certain aspects. Invest in on-site customized programs if possible. They can actually be more cost-effective.”

At the heart of its training is the Petzl PPE Competent Person Certification, a program designed for professionals such as park staff and trainers, as well as third-party equipment inspectors. In the equipment-intensive aerial adventure park industry, that last part is pretty important when it comes to liability, says Petzl Technical Institute manager Jesse Williams. “It’s up to employers to qualify their employees,” says Williams. “Having an equipment inspection done by a Petzl-trained Competent Person has real value.” OSHA AND EMPLOYEES While most operations focus on equipment, procedures, and staff training aimed at safeguarding paying customers, some overlook their obligations to employees, according to Cliff Kirk, owner of Vertical Axcess in Knoxville, Tenn. Some may be violating OSHA rules, often without knowing it.

“The majority of [parks] do not comply with OSHA law. They don’t even think they have to follow it. There’s a mentality that adventure parks are ‘just recreational.’ Regardless, it’s still an employee working at height,” says Kirk. “Simply putting a harness on an employee doesn’t meet the requirements. It doesn’t matter what your job title is, or what industry you’re in, if you’re off the ground, you’ve got to comply with OSHA rules.” To that end, ACCT offers a 10-hour OSHA course at its annual conference. Focused largely on fall protection as it applies to course construction and builders, operators are encouraged to attend as well, as the rules apply equally to aerial guides. In the same vein, Vertical Axcess offers training and education, including Petzl and SPRAT certifications, with a focus on fall protection and equipment. That focus is applicable to everyone from engineers servicing wind towers to adventure park guides. All are subject to OSHA laws. OSHA’s recently released zip line employee pamphlet is intended to inform aerial adventure park operators about their obligations and how to meet them. Any time an employer puts an employee


EQUIPMENT SUPPLIER PROGRAMS Several leading aerial and climbing safety equipment manufacturers, including Petzl, offer their own training programs. Petzl, for example, focuses on certifying

individuals on the use of its equipment. One of the largest providers of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the adventure park industry, Petzl is more broadly a leader in work-at-height industrial applications and emergency rescue. It conducts training and certification programs in its 15,000-squarefoot state-of-the-art training facility in Salt Lake City.

Aerial Adventure Academy training can lead to several different levels of certification.


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Rope access training with Vertical Axcess.

Speaking of equipment: it’s important to obtain and outfit employees in proper equipment in the first place. When choosing gear for staff who work at height, especially harnesses, it’s imperative to check with the vendor to ensure that it complies with OSHA requirements. Many harnesses aimed at participants do not. Kirk says that park operators sometimes hesitate to invest in training and/ or certification for seasonal employees due to high turnover. While avoiding the initial investment is tempting, the ultimate cost isn’t worth the risk, he says, citing substantial OSHA fines and the possibility of litigation. “If someone gets hurt and you haven’t trained them, that’s negligence,” he says. AERIAL ADVENTURE ACADEMY Beyond the standards and certifications of bodies like ACCT, PRCA, SPRAT and equipment manufacturers, there are other options available. One such op-

tion is the Aerial Adventure Academy, a non-profit built on the belief that there is a need for standardized operating procedures and best practices. The organization was founded in 2014 by leaders from Outdoor Ventures Group. This operator of a dozen parks across the U.S. saw a need to develop a forum to create consistency across all its parks, and offers its training services to all park operators for a nominal fee. “We want to share the knowledge,” says Nick Krotki, safety operations manager for Aerial Adventure Academy and Outdoor Ventures. Achieving consistency is not easy. “We may have trained all the parks, but they had a tendency of ad-libbing and loosely interpreting the way they do things,” says Krotki of OV’s own parks. Creating the Academy “was a way to standardize operating procedures and best practices. The idea is to go from a park in Maryland to a park in Connecticut to a park in Michigan and know they all have the same standard of training,” he says. The non-profit has worked with consultants out of Europe, where the adventure park industry has been around for a longer time, to create its curriculum

and tailor it very specifically for parks. It has borrowed heavily from the European Ropes Course Association as well as largely adhering to ACCT standards (though it is not accredited). AAA’s certifications fall into “Monitor” levels. Monitor 1 and Monitor 2 are the basic programs, with the former focusing on ground operations, the latter on aerial. A Monitor 3 course is available for advanced rope staff, and Monitor Trainer certification gives park staff skills and knowledge needed to conduct Monitor 1 and 2 training in-house. Krotki adds that the goal for AAA—as with the industry as a whole—is to hold itself to a higher standard, and thus to reduce the chances for serious incidents in the industry. That will also protect the public image and reputation of aerial adventure courses. “If there’s an incident in the industry, it doesn’t just affect that one [operation], it affects all of us,” says Krotki. Whether standards are self-imposed or handed down through government regulation, the value of training and practitioner certification programs is sure to grow.

^ The focus on training and certification is a global concern: the Association for Challenge Course Technology conducted Inspector Training in Singapore in both 2015 and 2016.

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in a hazardous situation (such as work at height), the employer must explain the hazard to the employee, give them tools and equipment to safely operate in that hazard, and the training and education to use the equipment.


DOWN TO THE WIRE PROFESSIONAL WIRE ROPE INSPECTION IS VITAL. HERE’S A LOOK INTO WHAT THE PROS ARE LOOKING FOR. Daily, periodic, and annual inspections are required on zip lines, challenge courses, and aerial adventure parks. This article will explore the basics of wire rope inspection in the aerial adventure industry, but it is not a substitute for professional training and on-the-job experience. Your manufacturer/installer should provide you with basic information on wear limits for their products, and how to assess them during your daily and monthly in-house inspections.


Wire rope is a consumable product, in that it gets “consumed,” or wears down, when in use. Wear needs to be measured and analyzed to determine if the wire rope is still able to function as the designer or manufacturer originally intended it to. Simply put, as the inspector, you must assess whether the wire rope will continue to perform its job before the next regular inspection or maintenance.

Rope distortion: A kink is a deformation created by a loop in the rope that has been tightened without allowing for rotation about its axis. This causes permanent, irreparable damage to the wire rope. The wire rope must either immediately be shortened to remove the area containing the kink or retired.

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^ The Mil-Cert is an important docment that operators should always have on file. It includes details about the wire rope’s construction and specs, which is vital information for inspectors.

Requirements for wire rope inspections can be found in the different industry standards (ANSI/ACCT 03-2016; ASTM 2995; ASTM 770; PRCA; EN15567) and the various regulations of jurisdictions having authority (TSSA; OSHA; state and provincial regulations, etc.). Being familiar with these standards and the requirements for inspections and documentation is an important part of maintaining overall course safety and compliance with standards.

Keep in mind that this article does not cover personal fall protection systems or OSHA/ANSI fall protection policies during the inspection process, but assumes you must be able to reach and see the wire rope during the inspection. The gear and equipment needed to do this slowly and safely requires training to use. INSPECTION PREP Before starting an inspection, it’s important to prepare by gathering some information and resources. First, find a copy of the Mil-Cert for the wire rope—many standards and regulations require it to be on file. The Mil-Cert tells us about the wire rope, including the manufacturer (or who commissioned the manufacturing), the type of metal used in the wire rope’s construction, the lay or style of construction, the type of coating ap-

In addition to the Mil-Cert, these tools and materials are also recommended for performing an inspection:

•T  he Wire Rope Users’ Manual - published by the Wire Rope Technical Board • tension meter (strand dynamometer) • caliper • wire rope wear gauge (S) • sheave gauges • cheese cloth • pencil • paper • camera • binoculars • magnet • tape measure • torque wrench • swage sleeve go/no go gauge

plied to the wire rope, what testing was completed and when, etc. (see example). This is valuable information that helps you look for what is acceptable and unacceptable when inspecting wire rope in the field. The standards for what is acceptable wear will change based on the wire construction and treatment, as well as how the wire is being used in its particular application (zip line, guy wire, element support, running or moving cables, etc.). TAKE A CLOSE LOOK The following steps can typically be done in any order, with one exception: never put yourself or another human onto a wire rope (lifeline) without basic assurances that the life support system is reasonably safe to do so. Based on the type of wire rope, length, and ability to look at “the other end,” the steps outlined here may need to be completed in a different order. Look at the wire rope from the ground. Look at the entire length and see if you can identify any bumps, kinks, rust, or deformity. To get a closer look, use binoculars or a zoom lens on a camera. Look at the wire rope terminations. Are they the correct type and size for the

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For further information, ACCT and NAARSO offer inspector certification that is relevant to the adventure industry. There are many professional trainings and certifications that will prepare you to perform wire rope and other rigging component inspections. Organizations such as the Crosby Group and Columbus Mckinnon offer reasonably-priced trainings all over North America.

wire rope? Are the clamps or terminations installed correctly? Are they properly torqued? An incorrect cable termination creates a significant reduction in strength and reliability.

ing of the maximum tension allowed on it when in use. This maximum tension is the tension of the cable when loaded with a participant(s) and the design load for a rescue staff, if necessary.

to examine the cause, document why the change occurred, and determine whether the cable system is still safe for use, or must be failed and closed until the issues are fixed.

Look for wire breaks near the cable termination at the base of the clamp—this is a common spot to find them.

SENSING TENSION To check tension you will need a wire rope tension meter or dynamometer. This tool is calibrated for the specific

CLAMPING UP If wire rope clamps or fist grips are used, check the spacing of the clamps (typically 6x the diameter of the wire

wire ropes in use. Professional inspectors should have these tools calibrated for a variety of wire rope sizes, since many can be found in the field.

rope size) and the torque of the nuts on the clamps. Each clamp manufacturer may have a different catalog listing for torque. Many resources exist for finding this information, including the manufacturer’s web page or catalog.

^ A wire rope tension meter, or dynamometer, is calibrated for the specific wire ropes in use. Use it to measure the standing tension and a loaded tension with a known weight.

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Look for damage caused by moving clamps or replacing clamps and installing them in other areas. When a clamp is moved, a dimple or dent of crushed cable is left exposed, and broken strands can be found in there. This area represents a reason to fail most critical cable systems, since the cable has more damage than it should. Check the wire rope size using a caliper or wire rope wear gauge. Compare the size of the wire rope you find to the size listed on the Mil-Cert. Reduction in diameter of wire rope is caused by many things, including normal wear and tear that leads to peening or the flattening of the wires, which is typical on the top side of zip line cables, for instance. Reduction in diameter may also indicate the wire rope is overloaded. Every type and size of wire rope has a catalog list-

When checking tension on wire rope, it’s important to measure the standing tension (no load on the cable) and a loaded tension with a known weight (say, 250 lbs. or more). Document the weight used, as all future inspections should use the same weight. Review the new measurements against previous ones to see if there has been any significant change in the system. A change in tension over a few months or years can tell us various things, but specifically it’s telling us something has changed, and we should examine why. Many factors can create a change in cable tension, including: initial over-tension of the wire rope; stretch from typical use during the first few months; cable termination slippage; guy anchor movement; pole settling (sinking or shifting) at new installations; or an adjustment to the cable may have been made by other people. You will want

One way to minimize over-torqueing clamps is to use a torque indicator line on the clamp. If the manufacturer didn’t put one on, you can do it. Once a clamp is properly torqued, draw a line down one face of the nut and onto the clamp body or threaded bolt. In the future, you will only need to check that clamp to see if the lines match up. BY A STRAND Check for broken strands. Broken strands can be seen with the naked eye in a controlled environment, but are impossible to see while zipping at 35 miles per hour. So how do you inspect a 300- to3,000-foot-long zip line? That’s where cheesecloth comes in handy. Slide the cheesecloth around the wire rope and, holding it tightly with a gloved hand,

^ An Inspector using an electromagnetic, non-destructive testing tool to inspect a zip line. He never complains about the view from his office.

Once you identify the breaks and types, you will need to determine how many broken strands exist in a lay. This is when you pull out your standards and your Wire Rope Users’ Guide to determine if the wire rope is still good to use based on the number of broken strands allowed per lay. If it’s good to use, document the location of the breaks, so in future inspections you can determine if additional wires have broken. How many breaks are too many? If there are six or more broken wires within one lay, or three or more broken wires in one strand within a lay, the cable should be retired and replaced. Wire ropes work like a machine: when too many parts are broken, the loads get shifted to other parts of the machine, eventually overloading them and leading to failure. A wire rope inspector should also take the time to inspect the equipment being used with the wire, including trolleys, pulleys, and safety hooks. The metal components that ride or travel on the cable are sometimes made of harder materials, and a little nick on the trolley can do a lot of damage to the wire rope

over time. Use a sheave gauge to make sure the trolley sheaves are in good shape and are the proper size. And finally, always document what you’ve done. Take pictures, sketches, and notes. Document the time of day, the location of any damage found, the steps to remediate the problem, and the timeline to complete the work. Document the tools used to make the assessment and the calibration dates of those tools, if applicable.

While safety is everyone’s responsibility when working or playing at height, a large number of staff and guests rely on the inspector to take his or her time and look for minor issues before major issues occur. Being a properly trained, qualified, or competent professional is key to performing this task. Having the correct tools and materials, and the necessary on-the-job experience to make critical safety calls, is essential to get the job done right.

FROM ANSI / ACCT 03-2016 E.2.4 Inspection and Evaluation: Inspection of both metallic and non-metallic rope used in lifelines shall include an assessment of the entire span, including termination points, operational wear and fatigue points. The designer, manufacturer, and/or inspector shall determine if and when additional non-destructive test methods are required in order to assess the integrity of the wire rope. E.2.4.1 A wire rope lifeline shall be retired from service when any one of the following occurs: • The reduction in nominal diameter due to tension, wire breaks, surface wear, metal loss, or corrosion amounts to 5% or more from the diameter measured under tension at commissioning. • The crown (surface) wires are worn by approximately 1/3 or more of their diameter. • There are 6 or more broken wires in one lay. • There are 3 or more broken wires in one strand in one lay. • There are 1 or more broken wires within one wire rope clip diameter of an attached fitting due to fatigue.

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slide it down the cable during the inspection. The cheesecloth will catch and pull on broken strands. Visually inspect any section that catches, and count the broken wires to determine if they are “crown breaks” or “valley breaks.”

cated at the local mall, family entertainment center, museum, or fairgrounds. While commercial pay-to-play courses account for a bulk of user experiences and revenue, they account for a fraction of the overall number of courses.

>> The Evolution of Adventure continued from page 59 design techniques including, but not limited to, the use of steel columns and structures, auto-belay devices, self-retracting lanyards, smart-belay lanyards, and continuous belay systems seek to reduce the manufactured and inherent risks associated with aerial adventure courses. New technology will evolve to address existing challenges, and tackle new challenges created by larger, more ambitious projects that serve greater volumes of users. Increased popularity of pay-to-play courses will change the field. The use of steel structures, smart belay, and auto-belays in the design of challenge courses has made the field accessible to more recreational participants. This trend will accelerate the need for practitioners to adapt programming and curriculum for high-paced urban environments. Zip lines, aerial trekking courses, and climbing walls will become as accessible as amusement rides, lo-

Double the Fun under a new or existing

with a

Increases to labor wages will be a disruptor. Wages will burden traditional programs that are staff-intensive and will popularize systems that reduce or even eliminate the need for highly qualified instructors. High labor costs will accelerate several trends: popularity of self-guided versus fully-guided adventures; the development of courses in densely populated areas; and more mergers and acquisitions. Ironically, increasing labor costs might be the main catalyst to falling ticket prices.


The aerial adventure park and challenge course markets present a wonderful story of growth, innovation, entrepreneurship, educational theory, and leadership development. The marketplace now finds itself in a period of immense growth. In coming years, there will

Probably most important in this dialogue—which will involve education of the public, regulators, policy makers, designers, and operators—is the need to differentiate between the structures common to challenge courses and aerial adventure courses, and to the different programming behind each. Despite concerns about escalating standards and regulation, the future appears bright. We are constantly wowed by the experiences and structures being imagined and created. And we’re regularly reminded of the power that novel adventure experiences have by the smiles of participants who delight in it. So how did it all begin? From principles rooted in Greek philosophy to the early days of Outward Bound, check out a historic timeline of the challenge course industry in Part I of this series at


Ropes Course!


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be many chances for factions of the market to branch off or resolve to come together.

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>> Tree Health: Holding On continued from page 28 There is currently a lot of research into tree biomechanics. Arborists want to know more about how trees adapt their structure over time, because that will allow us to make more informed decisions about the stability of trees that might fail and impact humans. Several scientists are looking specifically at the effects of attachments that are used to support various structures. Many of these are folks based in Europe, and their interest is driven in part by the regulatory environment there. As I understand, most adventure parks built under the European standards use wrapping and blocks, and require inspection and adjustment on a regular basis. It appears that a primary reason for not using attachments that penetrate trees is because trees are managed with the understanding that they will eventually be harvested! The pressure on the environment there is arguably greater than is typical here.

Scientists interested in tree biomechanics are studying the effects of attaching structures or cables to trees. Consultants such as myself are using technology and engineering science to increase our ability to measure and monitor trees’ strength and stability. That is the kind of information arborists can provide to designers, builders, and inspectors of tree-supported structures. I have had recent conversations with two adventure park operators who said their ACCT accredited inspector won’t approve the course without an arborist signing off on the structural condition of the trees in use—something many in the industry expect to become more commonplace. Tree experts interested in the aerial adventure industry will continue to learn and be a resource so builders can provide clients with long-lasting tree-supported elements.

AND NOW, SOME BASIC ADVICE • A system that wraps cable around a tree using blocks to hold the cable off should only be used for low loads. In these cases, know the growth rate and the bark characteristics of the tree species used, use the least number of blocks possible, do not bolt the blocks in place if it can be avoided, and do not make a full wrap around the tree. • If using blocks and cable: have a monitoring and maintenance plan that allows for inspection and possibly shifting of the blocks on a regular basis. • If using bolts or other penetrations of the tree: limit the area of the penetrations to 10 percent of the tree circumference, plan carefully to avoid mistakes, and design to allow at least 20 years of tree growth.

we move. you smile.

INTERPRETIVE SIGHT SEEING TOWER DISCOVERING THE WORLD AROUND YOU AT NEW HEIGHTS By lightly pulling on the rope, with the help of a motor; the tandem seat ascends the length of the tower.

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69  SpringSummer 2017

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We take inspections and maintenance seriously. Lives depend on it. When it comes to the safety and reliability of your adventure park, you need a team you can trust. ESI has the knowledge and expertise you can count on. Our inspectors stay up to date on the current safety standards. And with over 30 years of experience, we are a leader in the industry. We provide quality inspections on zip lines, aerial adventure parks, challenge courses and climbing structures. Protect your participants and safeguard your investment by hiring one of our certified inspectors today.

• • • • • •

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Adventure Park Insider Spring/Summer 2017  
Adventure Park Insider Spring/Summer 2017