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Zip line tours a fast growing outdoor sport

By Knoxville Daily Sun Staff

Snowboarding, running/jogging, and canoeing may be the fastest growing outdoor sports in America, but zip line tours are growing at a rapid pace. Zip-line tours first began in Costa Rica in the mid 1990s and since then have exploded in popularity in the USA. Today they can be found in many tourist areas and are often the highlight of the person's vacation.

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Zipline tour in Gatlinburg

A zipline is a pulley mounted to a cable. The pulley is attached to a harness, which the zip-liner wears and resembles a parachute harness that is strapped under the legs and around the back of the rider. The cable is mounted on an incline (usually between two trees). By gravity the rider propels from the higher end of the cable to the lower end.

Cable lengths vary from tour to tour. The average zip-line tour will consist of a dozen or so adventurous riders and a dozen or so lines. The average time of the tour will be about 1½ hour with the typical tour starting off with a short line (forty or so feet long and roughly 50 feet in the air) and continually progressing to longer lines at much higher altitudes and much faster speeds.

Is it scary? If it weren't it probably wouldn't be so popular. No matter how tough you say you are, the first time you do this you'll be a little bit scared. As I found out on my first adventure at Gatlinburg Zip-Line Family Adventures maybe you're not as tough as you think you are. Then again, doing something in the face of fear and overcoming it is part of the adventure.

No two zip line tours that are the same: While one might take only a half hour, another can take 2 or more hours. Each holds different scenery, different speeds and different lengths of cable. Each has different rules and regulations also: Some allow cameras, some don't. Some allow smoking, some don't. Often the zip-lining tour, which is off the beaten tourist-path, has the best value simply because they have to work harder to get your business. As my sister, Renee, and I discovered on my second adventure at Smoky Mountain Ziplines and Canopy Tours "best" would equate to more lines at faster speeds and high altitudes.

Ziplining is also different in different parts of the world. While a cruise ship zip line or a beach zip line might be just one long fast line a tour in a mountain area is 10 or more different lines starting from the top of the mountain and working its way diagonally down the mountain until you reach the bottom.

A few considerations: Wear casual, comfortable clothes. (jeans, sweat suits, etc.) In the colder months wear warmer clothes than you would wear at street level, especially in the mountain-areas as you will be taken to much higher altitudes where the temperature can drop substantially.

Interesting facts:
Child-safe zip lines are now springing up in playgrounds and gymnasiums.

The fastest zip line in the world is 918 feet in the air, travels 1.2 miles and moves the adventurous zipliner at 100 mph.

It is a fact that zip lines in the United States are the safest in the world, and there are industry requirements to run regular inspections. Safety criteria in the US are high. "Outside of the U.S. you should be concerned," says Steve Gustafson. "Riding zip lines outside the US is 'a crap shoot.'" (Gustafson, owner of Experience Based Learning, Inc., has 24 years of experience designing, installing, operating and inspecting ropes courses and zip lines. His company is accredited by the Professional Ropes Course Association and has set up 13 tours across the U.S. -- among them zip lines in Hawaii, Alaska and Idaho -- since 2002.)

Published December 11, 2010

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