As some of you know, I have a thing about heights. So why I found myself 25 feet off the ground on Okemo’s Haulback Challenge Course is beyond me.
Call me a glutton for punishment. Or entirely unself-aware. Yet there I stood, ready to take a rope swing over what looked like a gaping chasm, mere seconds away from plunging to my death.
Okay, so I exaggerate. Actually, I was having a really great time. And there was no way I was going to fall, either. Like everyone else, I was wearing a safety harness securely clipped to a steel cable that runs through every feature in the course.
Activities like this are no longer uncommon. Over the past decade, ski resorts all over the country have been adding fun things to keep people coming back in the off season. Part of this has to do with Congress passing the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act in 2011, which allowed ski areas operating on Forest Service land to expand their recreation activities beyond winter sports. And part has to do with climate change. As the winter recreation window shrinks, resorts are turning to non-winter activities to help keep the figurative lights on. Resorts have made huge investments in infrastructure; since it’s there all year ’round, might as well put it to use. Whatever the reason, ski resorts have installed bike parks, zip lines, mountain coasters, and all sorts of activities geared for off season fun.
This sort of thing has become a big priority at Okemo here in Vermont. Since installing its Timber Ripper Mountain Coaster in 2010, the resort has expanded its Adventure Zone to include a wide range of fun activities (specifics on those later). Okemo expects nearly 15,000 visits this summer, a number that’s steadily increased every year.
So on a warm, sunny day last week, I meandered over to see what they had to offer. On the day I was there, the resort was getting ready for its All Come Home Music Festival, one of the many special events they host throughout the summer. Okemo offers free concerts every Friday night during the off season, but this was different: a three-day ticketed event featuring music paying tribute to such acts as The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Talking Heads, and more.
And that’s how I ended up where I was at the start of this post: literally up a tree wearing a safety harness and helmet, making my way through Okemo’s rope course.
No, I really wasn’t afraid. And yes, it was lots of fun. The Haulback Challenge is in a beautiful setting — a deep grove of towering pines — and the features are tough enough to make it challenging without being impossibly difficult. For me, that translates into a lot of fun. There are 25 elements in three levels that increase in difficulty as you progress through the course. You’ll go through barrels, step onto suspended logs, climb rope ladders, swing like Tarzan…each feature is different, and each with its own special twist.
One thing I really liked was the safety system. Unlike other courses I’ve tried that require you to clip and unclip your safety harness on each platform, the Haulback Challenge features a permanent clip-in system that moves along with you smoothly from one platform to the next. It’s easy, secure, and I felt completely safe. To me, that’s a plus.
The Timber Ripper Mountain Coaster
I’ll be honest here: I’m not much for roller coasters. It’s the big drops that kill me. But the Timber Ripper is a hoot! The motion here is more side-to-side, with banking loops, corkscrews, and camel backs thrown in. And that’s a lot more to my liking. Here’s how it works: You go single or double in a sled-like car, climb 1,600 feet, then careen down 3,100 feet of track. And though it goes up to 25 mph, there’s a hand brake to control the speed. Unlike the rest of the Adventure Zone, the Timber Ripper runs year ’round. So it’s there in the winter, if you want to give it a try. My husband and I liked it so much we rode it twice. Very, very fun.
Okemo offers other summer attractions, too:
• Zipline tours: a two hour canopy tour where groups of up to 8 people are guided through seven zip lines, the longest of which is 900 feet;
• Evolution Bike Park;
• Miniature and disc golf;
• Panning for minerals and gems;
• Segway tours
• A bungee trampoline;
• Schwepps air bag, a 30×50 air-filled cushion you can drop onto. This is the same type of bag used for stunts in the movies and for jump training with freestyle athletes.
• A climbing wall;
• Free concerts Friday nights at Jackson Gore.
For me, non-skiing activities will never replace skiing at any ski resort. But if you’re looking for a fun way to spend a day during the off season, your favorite ski resort may surprise you. Check it out!