Thursday, January 31, 2013

Leaping into the Canopy

Who says kids are the only ones who can have fun romping in the trees?  Zip lines, sky bridges, rappels and a stunning blue-bird day made for an exhilarating day to play on the Bretton Woods Canopy Tour for Outdoor Mom and Dad.

Since our kids are nowhere near the 90-pound and 12-year-old minimum requirement of the tour, they instead got to enjoy a fun morning with other eager little skiers at Hobbits Ski and Snowboard School and the Ski and Snowplay Program.

At the Canopy Tour building just outside the Bretton Woods base lodge, we met Heather McKendry, Canopy Tour Director,  and guide Bobby Wisnouckas.  Despite the bitter cold snap we were in, they cheerfully geared us up with harnesses, gloves, and helmets for our winter thrill ride through the trees, and assured us that they'd be taking care of all the straps and buckles, ensuring all of the equipment was properly placed.
We wore Yaktrax over our boots for additional traction on ice and snow.

Outdoor Dad, Matt and one of our fellow zippers, Eric, all geared and ready to get on the lift.

Despite the odd feeling that I was missing something (my skis) on the chairlift ride up to the top of the Bethlehem Express Quad, I soon forgot about my usual routine at the ski area as we walked over to the deck of the Latitude 44 Restaurant to take in the crystal-clear view of Mt. Washington.  The thermometer there read -7 degrees, which wasn't taking into account the wind chill, but we were all dressed appropriately.  There is one benefit to super-cold days like this: not a cloud in the sky and the view of the surrounding Presidential Mountains is so vivid it feels as if you could reach out and touch them.

The tour included some great tidbits of cultural and ecological information about the area, including the fact that moose grow and then shed a new rack every year, and the health of a male's rack is an indicator of breeding appeal to female moose.

At "ground school" each of us got an opportunity to practice the skills we would need to zip safely.  We kept both hands on top of the cam that travels the length of the cable, and in the event that we needed to break before reaching the other side, Heather would make hand signals to slow and brake, and we would use one flat hand to apply a little pressure on the lower cable.  In the event that we didn't zip fast enough to make it to the other side, we could turn and face backwards to reign ourselves in.

I quickly gleaned one of the benefits of only having a maximum of six participants with our two guides: in this cold weather, no one wanted to stand around for very long.  Heather deftly clipped each of our safety carabiners from the line on the platform to the line on the zip and popped cams on and off seemingly from wrote memory.

Although I knew that this canopy tour has brought smiles to numerous people since it's inception in 2008, and that you don't need to have any special outdoor skills to join the tour, so our safety is all but guaranteed, I still felt a rush of adrenaline as I started off on my first zip.  Standing on a platform high in the air and just pushing myself off into thin air took a literal and figurative leap of faith.  I loved it.
The tour also included three thrilling rappels, from 9 to 65 feet in length.  Having done a little bit of rock climbing in my pre-kid days, I had some rappelling experience, but I could tell that this part of the tour was perhaps the biggest leap of faith for some of our fellow zippers.
I could really feel the wind rush by on this zip over the Deception Bowl trail,  830 feet long.  I had to really practice good zip form.  Although I don't consider myself especially petite, without the height of some of our male counterparts, I found that even with no breaking at all, I had to really tuck to keep enough speed to make it all the way to some of the landing platforms.

It occurred to me midway through the tour that all of the platforms were built around existing trees, and that it must have been a fun challenge to build this tour, using the existing trees and contours to give us this unique perspective on the mountain.  Heather told us about a stand of Hemlock we were zipping through that pre-dates the Civil War.  I felt humbled to be among them.

We all wore goggles to protect our eyes and face from the cold, but for the majority of the time, they remained resting on my helmet: I didn't want anything to obstruct my view of the trees and mountains from this unique treetop perspective.  One of my favorite zips was like a tunnel through the boughs.  The tall evergreens have to be trimmed back periodically to make way for the zip lines, and this particular one had grown back just enough to make me feel as if I was soaring through the branches like a bird, even if in reality I was quite safe from coming close to hitting anything.

The two sky bridges reminded me of one of my son's favorite features on on of his Thomas the Tank Engine movies: the Shake Shake Wobbly Bridge.  I know he's going to love this when he's old enough.

From this zip near the end of the course, we could see the ski trail Downspout in the background.  The moguls looked a bit "firm" (read:icy) in this cold weather, and I was glad for the change in activity this morning.

The final repel to terra firma took us 65 feet down.  Wheeee!

The final thrill of the morning was a slide down the Williwaw Racing Zip.  Two zips are set up side-by-side just west of the Learning Center Quad, and allowed Matt and I to indulge our competitive nature just a bit and test our speed against each other.  Just as we were about to jump off,  Heather whispered to me, "push yourself off the platform and tuck up really small."  I did just that, and although Matt just might have given me a head start, I beat him by a long shot.  What absolute fun.

The Bretton Woods Canopy Tour is open year-round, and in the winter, they offer  Zip and Ski packages, so you can make the most out of the rest of your day with more downhill thrills to top off your adventure.

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