Whistler adventure: Superfly Ziplines dishes out backcountry thrills

Bearfoot Bistro teams up with The Adventure Group for evening dinner tours

During its first year in operation Superfly Ziplines has been working hard to establish its presence as part the Whistler Blackcomb experience. Getting to this point required a Herculean effort from The Adventure Group (TAG) and its construction partners.

"We collected a consortium of the very best people in the world to build this with us and they're incredible at building complicated, weird structures in remote locations," says TAG's CEO Kirby Brown.

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Four tandem lines straddling 16,000 acres of land on Cougar and Rainbow mountains allow Superfly riders to soar sideby-side at speeds reaching over 100 kilometres per hour high above the valley floor in Whistler's backcountry.

"Ziplines have existed on that site for several years now through various ownership but the Adventure Group decided last year that it would strike a new brand and really invest heavily in taking zipline to the next generation," says Brown.

Through the course of last winter TAG developed the concept while they were constructing the ziplines at the same time. New lines were added to the existing infrastructure giving the option of four or six line tours.

"Our intent with Superfly was fairly simple," says Brown. "It was about finding a way as closely as possible to simulate the sensation of flight. We weren't designing the the ziplines to be the biggest, the longest, the highest or the fastest. Our intent was really, and still is, to evolve the product closer to the sensation and freedom you get from flying, so that really drove the design around line length and height and angulation."

Superfly uses a hanggliding harness with a triangle control frame modified for ziplining. Riders are suspended under the line in the harness with the option to hold on to a bar or zip hands-free.

"A traditional zipline would have you in more of a climber's harness which has a single point of connection and that means you don't have a lot of control," says Brown. "You get blown by the wind and you spin. We wanted people to have an element of control and participate in the experience without having this additional factor of having the sense of loss of control which really frightens people. I equate our harnesses to sitting in a comfortable fold-out lawnchair. We want people to see where they're going - there's not a lot of birds that look over their shoulder or behind them."

It took two years for TAG to construct the lines and set up the new company with the grand opening taking place last Canada Day long weekend. The lines are running year round from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily starting from the base camp on Rainbow Mountain.

Through the winter months Superfly is offering nighttime dinner tours starting at 5 p.m., featuring a three-course gourmet meal catered by Bearfoot Bistro, and served in a yurt on Rainbow prior to zipping back down the mountain. Guests make the journey up the mountain in style in heated Snowcats.

After dinner riders are fitted and equipped, with lighted helmets, goggles and harnesses, for the first launch from the Z1 line on Rainbow Mountain.

"The first zipline was really designed to give people the sensation of flight and to overcome people's initial fear," says Brown. "Our trolleys are the most overbuilt highspeed trolleys on the planet right now - that being said, when you leave Z1 you get high very quickly. You're 640 feet (185 metres) off the ground at the belly of that line which for most people would be terrifying. When you describe the dimensions of the line they get pretty frightened - 1.2 kilometres, 640 feet above the ground, speeds of over 100 kilometres per hour - it becomes a bit daunting. But when you experience that it's almost peaceful. When you get out there it's so big you really feel like you are flying through this infinite space."

The Z1 line is an immediate and spectacular introduction to the sensation of flight while a state-ofthe-art spring-loaded coil braking system introduces riders to the sensation of stopping. Considering you are hitting speeds of up to 100 km/h you must be prepared for some impact, but the lines are designed for very soft landings.

"When you land from your first line, Z1, you are inaccessible other than by Sherpa backpack on that far side of the hill," says Brown. "The consortium flew in all the timbers and constructed them under the belly of the helicopter like Jenga crossed with Lego with incredible efficiency. Our construction crew also Sherpa'd up literally tons of material on their backs on a goat path up the flank of Cougar Mountain. There was a tremendous amount of manpower put into building the landing deck for Z1 and the launch for Z2."

Riders get a chance to calm down from Z1 using the walkway built through old-growth trees as a path to the Z2 launching platform.

"You've got enough time to get your heart rate down and appreciate the natural environment around you before you embark on number two," says Brown. "The Z2 line is intended to give you more of a sensation of the speed of flight. Your passing very close to some rock outcroppings and some old-growth trees and you really get that sensation of tearing along - you're easily going to be doing over 100 kilometres an hour."

The four Superfly lines zigzag back and forth between Rainbow and Cougar Mountains with Z1 flying across to Cougar Mountain and Z2 returning riders back to the flank of Rainbow. The third stage, Godzilla, takes riders back over to Cougar Mountain with Base Jumper returning to Rainbow basin in the final leg.

"There is a very clear line of thinking of how we want people to experience the lines," says Brown. "Line 1 gets people used to the sensation of flying, Line 2 gets them experiencing more of the speed of flight, Line 3 (Godzilla) has that thrill of that rapid acceleration of flight and then 4 (Base Jumper) is a bit of a cool down ride to the basecamp - you can hold hands, race each other and really get into the social nature of what Superfly is meant to be."

If you go: - Superfly Ziplines is offering special Valentine's Day weekend dinner tours catered by Bearfoot Bistro (bearfootbistro.com) and featuring a menu that includes fresh oysters, slowbraised Angus beef and a chocolate-inspired dessert. Valentine's Dinner tours will run Friday, Feb. 14 and Saturday, Feb. 15. The fourhour round-trip tours depart at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., and are priced at $199 per person. For more information visit superflyziplines.com.

- Crytstal Lodge in Whistler Village, steps from the Gondola, is offering a Romance Package featuring stay for two or more nights, dinner at Rics Grill and a late 1 p.m. to end off your holiday. To book a Romance Package call 1-800-667-3363 or email info@crystal-lodge.com. For more information visit crystal-lodge.com.

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