What’s a ski resort to do when the snow is gone but the bills for maintenance are still coming in?
Two Northeast ski resorts have solved the problem to the delight of thousands of youngsters and oldsters alike. They’ve built zip lines that even for the greatest daredevils will often take your breath away.
Camelback Mountain in Tannersville, PA and Mountain Creek in Vernon, NJ have both installed amazing zip line adventures that are guaranteed to excite even the most staid adult and bored kid.
Camelback’s location is an easy ride from most of Metropolitan New York, virtually all of New Jersey from the mid-section northward and from Pennsylvania. Throw in a bit of Connecticut too while you are at it.
While other zip lines may be higher and faster, the Zoom Zip Line complex at Mountain Creek is unique in what it has to offer. Tops amongst that is the cadre of competent, friendly and courteous young guides who accompany each and every group of “flyers,” as zip liners are called.
Group starting times are spaced well so that no group encroaches on the other. At the office you’ll be required to sign a waiver and then gear up in a harness that will later hook onto a “trolley” that will carry you along the zip cable.
One thing unique to Zoom at Mountain Creek is the first line. Both experienced and novice flyers are required to go here first. It is a short, 200-foot line that familiarizes the participant with a zip line and the scariest past of all…stepping off a wooden platform into an abyss and then flying down a cable at considerable speed.
The guides for our group, Lordy and Jess, were two totally patient young women, answering questions and suiting everyone up. Then comes the moment of reckoning: You are in the harness, the trolley is placed on the cable and you lean back. The release is pulled and you are literally flying down the line.
Flying? What’s going to stop you? How bad will the jolt be?
Those thoughts went through the minds of everyone as each stepped up to the edge of the platform. That feeling intensified as you realized you were coming in full tilt to the end of the line.
The stop, while abrupt, was surprisingly gentle. The trolley hit the springs and they compressed rapidly absorbing the shock of the sudden stop. That’s when the impatience sets in…impatience for the rest of your crew to finish so that you can hit the next stop.
OK, this was 200 feet. The next stop is at the top of the mountain. You’ll walk to the cabriolet ski lift and pile in, enjoying the view as you head up mountain. The view is amazing and on most days you can see three states: New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. In the distance is the High Point Obelisk marking the highest point in New Jersey. It looks, from this distance like a giant toothpick pointing to the sky.
The next run is the highest, steepest and longest. It rises some 200 feet over the forest and a lake and runs for more than 1,500 feet. This is where a zip line gets its name because you are moving at quite a pace over the lake and the platform ahead, that looked like a speck when you started, is rapidly growing in size.
Relax, let go. Enjoy the ride. The only time you really have to hold on is when you are coming in to the platform. You don’t even have to take pictures. A photographer is on hand and will offer you amazing photos on a disk, better than any you could take. There is also the opportunity to rent a helmet camera and shoot your own videos of each run.
These options are surprisingly inexpensive. One New York ski area takes pictures and offers one 8×10 print that you must download yourself on your computer for $20. Zoom has a disk with a photographic showing of your entire journey for less than $20.
Walking from the second to the third and then the fourth zip line of the adventure is an exhilarating time. The last run comes in low over the lake and although it looks as though you could run your toes through the water, you’d have to be bigger than Michael Jordan.
The scariest part of the entire day is walking from the last run to the field where an old German military truck is waiting to take you back to the cabriolet. You’ve got to cross a rope-style bridge of sturdy wires and a metal plank walkway.
Looks easy? Don’t kid yourself. People who took the zip in stride were hanging on to the bridge supports for dear life as it swayed back and forth. Stepping off at the far end onto solid ground presented the greatest feeling of accomplishment.
Mountain Creek is easily reached from the George Washington Bridge with either Rt. 4 or Rt. 80. Rt. 4 to Rt. 208 South to Rt. 23 North. Take that to the Vernon cutoff. It is also marked for Mountain Creek and signs are quite visible.
If you take Rt. 80, go right to Rt. 23 North and follow the above directions. For more information, reservations and complete directions, check out www.zoomziplines.com.
Camelback only has a vertical of about 800 feet, somewhat small for a ski mountain but that has not eroded its wintertime popularity.
That being said, a zip line is a far cry from a pair of skis or snowboard to make the transition from top to bottom. There is a platform adjacent to the zip line popular with visitors who have their picture taken with the valley below and showing just how high up 800 feet truly is.
The ride to the top by shuttle bus and ski lift provoked some nervous laughter and silly jokes from passengers headed to the kick-off point of the zip line. No one would give in and ask the question going through everyone’s mind:
“What the heck am I doing here?”
We boarded a slow moving ski lift and then transferred to the shuttle. Everyone debarking the bus walked slowly, apprehensively. Even the young daredevils seem to be having second thoughts.
The “Jumpmasters” at the top of the zip line beckoned riders with a crooked finger. To back out now would be an act of abject cowardice. But it might be better than suffering a heart attack. One look at the accompanying 13-year-old grandson eager to try the zip was enough of an impetus to drive out the devils…maybe.
There are two parallel lines. The inside line was assigned to…guess who? No way out now. The exit was blocked by the 13-year-old. Riders climb up three steps, much as those Frenchmen ascending the platform for the guillotine. A flat seat and straps hold the rider in. The “jumpmaster” does an excellent job of fastening straps across your chest, firmly holding your legs in place and around the waist. If you are going to crash down, the entire contraption is coming along with you.
Once strapped firmly in place with no opportunity to run, you are told to place your feet up against a vertical trap door in front of you. This is by far the most agonizing few seconds of the entire experience. It’s like the aforementioned Frenchman waiting for the blade to drop.
Breathing has become difficult, your heart is racing as though you are taking a stress test and you nod weakly when the attendant asks if you are ready. There really is no other way down; especially not with your grandson sitting in the adjacent zip line.
Darn sick kid. He doesn’t even look a bit nervous.
You don’t see the release switch being pulled but, if your eyes are open, you see the door fall away and you begin to slowly, ever so slowly, roll toward the abyss. Now there is nothing beneath you but more than 800 feet of air…straight down to the base of the mountain.
Within a second or two the zip has picked up speed, accelerating like a jet fighter screaming for takeoff. The sound of your seat running along the wire produces an ever increasing whine as you approach speeds that would warrant a traffic ticket on most roadways. Where are the cops when you really need them?
It only takes a few seconds before your mind transitions from the terror to take in the sheer beauty of the valley below. Terror has been replaced by the joy of almost flying and the speed is almost undetectable.
The stop at the bottom is a bit of a jolt, but nothing terrible. As you approach the end of the line you first realize just how fast you are going as the ground literally zooms by.
At the base the straps come off, you step down from the little platform and experience little more than total exhilaration. The more than half mile ride down the mountain was a gas and you are ready to have another go at it.
All you can think is: “What a ride.”
All photos of the author’s intrepid grandchildren are by Bob Nesoff