Zipping into Fun: Trends in the Zip Line Industry

From future trends to safety specifics, for this article zip line owners and staff described their attractions, plans, and operations. Many zip line operators cited growing interest in obstacle-course-type challenges; others noted that complete, all-day experiences are a strong trend.

Individuals on the platform at Flight Linez. The attraction has hosted surprise engagements, weddings, gender reveals and bachelorette parties.

At Zip Line Eco Tour in Avalon, Calif., Zip Line Supervisor Justin Rodriguez said the attraction includes both an obstacle course called Aerial Adventure, and an Eco Tour. With both types of experience already in play, Rodriguez said no immediate changes are planned for the course. “We have always been a five-line course, with two tour guides on lines that range from 501-feet to 1,045-feet. Our Eco Tour allows guests to learn about the eco-system of the island.” He added that “We do have guests who will ask if we are going to add more lines or offer a package that includes wine tastings, but we have no plans to do that at this time.” He described the attraction’s primary demographic as “everyone, from families to couples. We take a minimum of age 5 on up. We get international visitors as well as visitors from the United States or California; we get lots of couples looking for an experience, and in the summer, when school is out, we get lots of families. And of course, we do get corporate guests here on planned company outings.”

Instructor Victoria Clark and guests of Adventura in Woodinville, Wash. The company completed an expansion from 15 to 36 different course elements a year and a half ago.

Rodriguez noted that part of what is so widely appealing about Zip Line Eco Tour is its location on the major tourist destination of Catalina Island, off the coast of Los Angeles. “We’re served by cruise ships every Monday and Tuesday; we don’t have to do a lot to get people out here. That said, summer is our busiest season.” To keep the attraction safe any time of year, multiple levels of inspection are performed. “The state inspects our course routinely, and we have a third-party inspector that also does. We have monthly, weekly, and daily course inspection conducted in-house as well. Every day, before we operate any tours, we go through the entire course.” Annual visitation is “pretty consistent. We are one of the few zip lines that are open year-round, seven-days a week, barring bad weather.”

Also in the Los Angeles area is Fulcrum, located in Culver City, Calif. Director of Development Love Jefferson said Fulcrum focuses on providing “opportunities for groups and individuals to experience the outdoors, and engage in activities that bring about some of the things that are important when working as a cohesive team. The goal is to create success through challenges and obstacles.” Fulcrum operates differently than many other zip line attractions. “We are primarily rope courses. Zip lines are just one of the activities that we offer as a part of that.” The attraction is not open to the general public; it caters to all group bookings for 15 or more participants at multiple locations in Southern California. “We offer four hour, full-day, or overnight retreats up to three days,” he reported. Group demographics range from school-age to corporate clients, from church groups to the entertainment industry. “No matter who you are, the experience is all around team work and community work, and it’s focused on relationship building.” Annual inspections, a fully certified course manager overseeing all processes and procedures, and an outside organization that inspects the course, are all part of the safety picture. Jefferson termed visitation as “pretty consistent; fall and summer are really jam-packed. We have enough different sites to provide different scales and types of experiences, which keeps everything steady and consistent.”

And, at Skull Canyon Ziplines in Corona, Calif., Owner Pete Liston said that he is following a zip line attraction trend in adding an “outdoor aerial adventure course. It seems that zip lines themselves may have reached a saturation point; the whole industry is wondering that. We’ve been in business for 10 years, and this year attendance has been flat.” To counteract that, building an outdoor challenge course is important, Liston said. “A lot of zip lines have already added those courses to their parks.” Demographics for Liston vary between couples, families, and groups. “About 45 percent of our customers come from out of state,” he added. Liston, like other zip line owners, conducts daily, quarterly, and yearly inspections in-house as well as having his attraction inspected several times a year by OSHA and his insurance company.

Two zip liners at Flight Linez. The company offers daytime, sunset and full moon tours.

In Woodinville, Wash., Adventura Founder Scott Chreist said, “We operate more of a classical aerial vacation-park ropes course, offering 2.5 hours on the course in a non-linear format. We have multiple options for visitors, and we have two zip lines, one that is internal to the course, leading to different parts of it, which is just 75-feet, and one that an external exit for the course at 300-feet. We completed an expansion from 15 to 36 different course elements a year and a half ago, so for now we will see how things work out before making any other changes.” Having a varied challenge-driven course is the real trend, and one that appeals across the board to different demographics, Chreist said. “I can serve a diverse market because we offer so many different options. Monday through Thursday it is 90% corporate teams and group and morale events; Friday through Sunday we are open to the public with reservations, for a full play-day program; we draw families with children and adults 22-75 years old.” Safety? “The course is built to fit Challenge Course Technology, which is the standard bearer, We have three different levels of certification for our trainers, and the course is inspected daily for cables, harnesses, and life-lines.” Chreist said, “Every 30-40 days we do robust inspections for connectors, sky wires, and things like that. Every 11 to 12 months we bring in a third-party vendor to go over all the equipment. Our staff goes through a never-ending training. One day per week, on Tuesdays, we open the course to our staff, and senior technicians will come out and instruct the newer technicians. Experiential education is the best way to develop skills.” Annual visitation varies with the economy. “As the economy strengthens, we see an increase in corporate events, and a decrease in family attendance; when the economy is less strong, we see more families and individuals who have decided on an experience close to home rather than for more costly travel.”

A view of zip lines at Flight Linez of Boulder City, Nev. The company operates in a preserve park owned by the city.

At the Crater Lake Zipline in Klamath Falls, Ore., Co-Owner Jennifer Roe finds trends in the zip line industry include more attractions for children, and complete experiences that combine zip line adventures with other activities. “We have a nine-zip-line tree adventure. We’re on National Forest land which is a little bit unique, and we recently added a kids’ adventure park called Sasquatch Hollow. We can accommodate ages 5 and up on the two different courses.” The course has been open since 2015 and opened the children’s course after their third season. “I see other parks adding these types of adventures to appeal to smaller folks. There’s been kind of a gap in that age group,” she related. “We also see an increase in
interest in our Skyak adventure, which is a whole-day that includes the zip line, kayaking, and lunch.” Roe said this trend is appealing because “it addresses activities for a full day. You don’t even have to track down lunch; we take care of all the details with two separate adventures and food.” While Roe asserted that the park’s biggest demographic is family groups, women’s groups and couples are also regular attendees.

As to safety, Roe said, “It comes in many different layers. We inspect daily; we follow the protocol for third party inspection at least once a year. We also bring in a third party arborist to inspect. It helps, having other sets of professional eyes beyond our own. And in addition to making sure everything is well-maintained, one of the biggest pieces that adds to our integrity and safety level is that we train a ton. We have on-going training for all our staff, and we bring in third party training; we run through different scenarios constantly throughout the season.” Attendance? “A bit flat last season, in part because of guest expectations for forest fires. We didn’t have them, but people might’ve thought they should avoid travel to the Pacific Northwest because of the potential for smoke.”

A view of a platform at Crater Lake Zipline in Klamath Falls, Ore. Shown, from left to right, are Laura, assistant manager. Kelsey, kayak guide. and Alayna, zip line guide.

At Flight Linez in Boulder City, Nev., General Manager Brina Marcus spent 10 years as a guide before moving to her current position in 2014. “Our system is unique in that we operate in a preserve park owned by the city, so we can’t make any additions to our system. But we are always open to coming up with new, unique ideas for groups or individuals, and that seems like a real industry trend. We offer a daytime tour, and seasonally, some sunset and full moon tours. We found over the last couple of years that we are a place for surprise engagements; I’ve also had three weddings and a gender reveal on the mountain. We’ve had lots of bachelorette parties and we’re on bucket lists for people from retirement communities. If they can climb 103 stairs and do a half-mile hike, not many people back out,” she said. As to demographics: “My youngest was age 7 and my oldest age 92. Families are a big part of our attendance.” In regard to visitation “We’ve had increased interest this year, but because of the weather having a hissy fit, we’ve had to cancel 120 dates. Weather really affects our ridership.” To keep the zip line safe, Marcus said, “third party inspectors literally check out every part of the line, including A-frame and anchors. We have a separate third party come out with a magnetic inspection of the line.” Additionally, the facility conducts daily, weekly and monthly checks by staff. “Each tour guide goes through a two-month training process, and they have try-outs before they are even allowed to begin training. And our guests are required to participate in a safety class before using the zip line.”

Back in California, at Action Tours in Big Bear Lake, Marketing Manager Ashlee Yaeger, speaking for owner Belinda Bain, said over the past 10 years that the company has been in business, “things have started to change in zip line offerings. The trend is for things like free fall drops and more of a challenge course. We have nine zip lines and a suspension bridge for our outdoor course.” Another trend: well-rounded experiences that include date night and family activities that go beyond the zip line itself. “For couples, we offer a ‘zip n’ sip’ tour, so they can go zip-lining and then receive a discounted rate to go to local barrels or wine facilities.” According to Yaeger, families with children, and couples make up Action Tours main demographic. “Our tour guides are the biggest hit for us, we have so many positive reviews about how good they are with children. People read our reviews and see that we have a good, family-oriented tour.” Keeping the attraction safe includes daily course inspection, including all lines and brake systems, state inspection, and inspection by the zip line’s builders. “All the staff is trained and certified to inspect the course as well,” Yaeger reported. As is the case with other zip lines, attendance is somewhat flat at Action Tours. “The main reason is an increase in competition. When we first started, we were the first zip line in Southern California, and now there are at least four others that are major zip lines in our area, so attendance is more dispersed.”

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