Friday, January 2, 2015

Soar Through the Forest on the Canopy Tour

There are many ways to immerse yourself in the splendor of a New Hampshire forest at Bretton
Woods, but one of my absolute favorites is the Bretton Woods Canopy Tour. On a trail map, an orange line outlines the path the tour takes through the Rosebrook Canyon on the east side of the alpine ski area.  But like a road atlas on your lap as you're planning out a road trip adventure, the map is just an overview of the route you'll follow; the thrill of seeing the forest from a bird's eye-view is one that you have to experience first-hand.

A visit from my sister Liz to the north woods the weekend before Christmas was a perfect opportunity to show her the mountain, and my present to her of a Zip and Ski Package was a gift to myself as much as it was for her. The zip and ski package is an amazing value at $99 for a full day of skiing and a canopy tour, considering that the canopy tour alone is regularly $89.

The trees were laden with a thick frosting of snow that morning, and although we didn't have the bluebird skies and epic Presidential Mountain views we had the day before, the forest seemed to be cushioning us in her branches.

Our guides, Patrick and Bobby, greeted us and the six other participants like old friends at the Canopy Tour building, and even in the very important safety talk, Patrick relayed the do's and don't for a safe fun tour with the care and honesty you'd share with a friend who'd be joining you on a new adventure. Although they take guests out on tours several times a day, year-round, the safety talk didn't feel rote or robotic; they seemed genuinely interested in making this a comfortable and fun experience.

After gearing up and riding the lift to the top of the Behtlehen Quad (without skis on, which felt quite odd), we trekked across the slopes towards Rosebrook Canyon, keeping a watchful eye for downhill skiers as we traversed Mountain Road and Black Forest Glade. In a nook of trees that I would never have discovered on my downhill skis, we stopped for "ground school" training, where each of us got to see how the dual-cable system works as we tuck in tight and straight to begin a zip and then apply even pressure on the top cable with our work-gloved hand when the guide waiting for us tells us to slow down for the landing platform.

The 1000-foot descent of the tour took us along nine ziplines, ranging from 120 - 830 feet in length and up to 165 feet off the forest floor, two sky bridges suspended above the forest floor, and three rappels, from nine to 65 feet in length. The zips, bridges and rappels start and end at 16 tree platforms, ranging from 10-70 feet off the ground. We were flying through the air at up to 30mph. Each zip line varies in length, with a maximum span of 830 feet and 165 feet above the ground.

Each platform is built around a large tree with an unobtrusive wood and steel structure that you wouldn't even see as you are skiing by unless you are looking for it.  For each zip, one of the guides would go ahead and signal back when he was ready for us to fly.  Then one at a time, each of us would step to the edge of the platform, where the guide would clip my harness into the trolley system and unclip the two safety carabiners from the platform.  Then I'd place my hands one over the other on the top of the trolley and when given the signal, step off the platform and tuck up into an aerodynamic position to soar through the frosty trees.

With the trolley whirring above me, I'd try to concentrate on maintaining that aero position, but the rush of speed and the mountain views in the distance drew my attention outward to the stunning surroundings. At the end of the zip, Patrick or Bobby would be ready to give the signal if I needed to slow down for my landing, then make sure I was on my feet before unhooking the trolley and attaching the safety carabiners to the tree. From that vantage point, I'd get to watch my sister come flying in behind me, the grin on her face telling me this was a trip she wouldn't soon forget.

The snow was so heavy on one zip that a branch from above was actually grazing the top cable, but Patrick assured us that although it looks like you are going to smash into the branch as you are careening through the air, the weight of the the zipper lowers the cables just enough to clear the branch.  As I looked around me at all of the clear landings and smooth cables, it occurred to me that the guides must spend a lot of time preparing the tour for us, making sure that platforms are shoveled and cables are clear of ice and anything else that mother nature may have shifted during the night.

Bobby and Patrick did tell us there was one time that they had to climb down and shelter for a few minutes while a rogue thunder and lightning storm passed, but the beauty of the tour is that they can and do go out in just about any condition, all year long. While we zipped through the snow-covered trees in December, the tour is also very popular in the verdant greens of summer or the legendary New Hampshire fall foliage season.

Building confidence as we went, the zips get progressively longer and higher as we go. By the end, as we flew over favorite ski trails like Deception Bowl and Downspout, I was eager to make the morning last and tried to appreciate every moment. The three hour tour had literally flown by, and we chatted amiably with the other participants as we walked back down to the base.

For more information on how to book your own flight, call (603) 278-4ZIP (4947).

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