In November 2011, President Obama signed into law Colorado Sen. Mark Udall’s Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Act—a measure that essentially allows ski areas operating on federal land (such as Vail and Beaver Creek) to augment mothballed skiing infrastructure with ropes courses, zip lines, mountain coasters, and other recreational amenities for summertime visitors.
“What we really want to do is have people spending full days up here, multiple days up here,” says Jeff Althage, manager of Vail Mountain’s Adventure Ridge. “The vibe is so different in the summer. In the winter when people come, they know exactly what they’re doing: they’re here to ski. They hit the slopes and are gone. In the summer, it’s more relaxed. Hopefully the new attractions will keep more people up here during the day.”
By “new attractions,” Althage means Adventure Ridge’s newest summertime toys: vertiginous zip lines and aerial obstacle courses.
Vail Resorts’ proposed “Epic Discovery” Adventure Ridge expansion ultimately calls for a snowless tubing hill, a massive climbing wall modeled after the Diamond of Longs Peak, an alpine coaster, and a zip line that will whisk visitors over its storied Back Bowls on a Costa Rica–caliber canopy tour. But these developments are awaiting approval from the US Forest Service, so they won’t debut this season (although the climbing wall and tubing hill have been approved, those projects are on hold).
As a first step, this August, Vail will christen a more modest Forest Service–approved zip line, which will begin at the top of Eagle’s Nest (accessed by riding the Adventure Skyway and Little Eagle lift), just west of the park’s winter tubing hill, and hurl guests down 1,200 feet of cable five stories above the mountain’s grassy meadows. In addition to the four-line screamer, there also will be a mini zip line for little ones who want to soar through the sky like mom and dad, albeit a few feet off the ground. Nearby, families who want to make like the Flying Wallendas can perform aerial acrobatics (while safely tethered) on two new high ropes courses and a low ropes course for kids.
For the evolution of Adventure Ridge, it’s just a beginning.
“We’ve been talking about it for the last seven years; we’ve had guests talking about it, wishing they had it. Now with the Forest Service approval, we can make it happen,” Althage says of the ropes courses and the zip lines. “This is our phase one. Phase two is the front and backside canopy tours. It is so big. I think we’ll see a huge change in the way people visit Vail.”