Ziptrek Ecotours (GRT Olympic Team Blog)

Have you ever needed to get above the daily routine of life to gain a better perspective on your world? Sometimes we need to step out of the ordinary to be able to see the extraordinary. On Friday, February 19, Fernando and I moved high up the mountain with Ziptrek Ecotours where we an education along with an adrenaline rush. Besides the thrill of riding a zip line, we were introduced to the Natural Step view of life that Whistler promotes. It is all about sustainability.

I’ve noticed that here in British Columbia there are a lot of “tree huggers.” Here, the green agenda has won out over the industrial giants. Back in Ontario they are still mired in the struggle. In Whistler they are working to become a model of sustainability for the world. In fact, Whistler is the first municipality in Canada to adopt the principles of the Natural Step. Whistler’s municipal council, Whistler-Blackcomb, Ziptrek Ecotours and many Whistler residents and businesses consider the Natural Step in making major decisions.

 So what is the Natural Step? The Natural Step is a scientifically-based framework for working towards true sustainability. In nature, a tree extracts exactly as much nutrients as it needs from the soil. This is Extraction. In step two, Production, it produces a large tree. In step three, Degradation, it dies and decomposes. In step four, Contribution, it contributes its nutrients back to the soil. The cycle is infinitely sustainable. This natural step system provides a compass or communities, businesses, and governments to help them assess whether decisions and actions they undertake are truly leading to a more or less sustainable future.

We started our tour by signing a waiver. Always a good sign that what comes next will really get your heart pumping. First we emptied our pockets into a storage locker. Then we stepped into our harnesses which included a rope and a pulley system that got attached to the cable each time you did a zip. The pulley was a bit awkward as it hung between your legs, so you had to walk a bit bow legged. Then the helmet, and of course my camera pouch. The best souvenirs are photo, don’t you know.

 Then we marched out to the Blackcomb Gondola, and rode up the mountain to the first station. Here we boarded a SnowCat for the ride further up the mountain. I love this vehicle, as it is a bit of a mini bus with linkbelts and a plough in the front. The driver’s compartment was separate and looked like an airplane cockpit. The guy kept pushing snow around as went along. Apparently, there is a lot of competition to get the snowcat job. At one point, we went up a 40 degree hill. Then we stopped at the luge park where an RCMP officer boarded for our trip through the restricted area.

 We finally arrived halfway up the mountain and walked across a gang plank to a circular deck built around a Douglas fur tree, about 80 feet up. Everywhere you walked through these woods, you never left foot prints, as you were on a board walk right near the tops of the tree. The railings were high and sturdy, so you never felt nervous. They fastened the whole thing to the tree with large bolts right through the tree, but they didn’t seem damaged by this. Everywhere there were support cables running off into the forest keeping things steady. It must have been a huge undertaking to set this all up. I was beginning to understand why it cost us $135 each.

Right in the first platform area the education began. One of the guides was a university graduate with a degree in Biology from England. His name was Sean, and he was quite a character and a lot of fun. When we took his photo, he quickly crossed his arms in front of him to form an X, for Extreme. Seems everyone here is into Extreme Sports. There were reading plaques everywhere for us to read.

 Condition four is the most important. It is Contribution, and states that to become a sustainable society we must….. eliminate our contribution to conditions that undermine people’s capacity to meet their basic human need (for example, unsafe working conditions and not enough pay to live on).

They actually put their money where their mouth is. Ziptrek tries to move society towards condition 4 by transferring resources directly from our part of the world to those most in need. Ziptrek donates money to several charities, including: 1) Doctors Without Borders for the Darfur Relief Fund; 2) Pediatric AIDS Africa; 3) UNICEF Emergency Food Program; 4) Kiva for Loans that change lives. I felt rather good that some of my fees were helping to make the world a better place.

Soon we came to our first zip line, some three hundred feet across a river. One of our guides zipped across first to brake our landing on the other side. Then it was our turn. There was an American/Korean family of four with us, and they went first. We strapped our cameras to our hands and shot video all the way across.

First they hook you to the wire with two ropes attached the pulley. You hold onto the yellow rope with one hand with the other rope as backup. You sit fairly well balanced in your harness. To launch all you do is walk down a few stairs until the harness picks you up before reaching the bottom. Then away you go with the wheels on the cable making a high pitched whirring sound. The wind picks up as you gain speed. Then I started to rotate around facing back where I had just left, which I didn’t like. I made it back around once before I landed.

Landing on the other side was no problem and was just like standing up out of a chair. They have a rather elaborate braking system that starts slowing you down about 50 feet out. You simply stand up and they unhook you, and that is that.

Then you walk across a suspension bridge to the next platform. Here they tell you more about sustainability. All the wood in the platforms has not been treated, and so will not be an environmental hazard in years to come. Also, most of the rails have little white Christmas lights strung along them so that you can take the tour at night. They are all LEDs, fed by solar panels. Then they told us about the green that Lichen hanging from many of the branches. Apparently it is edible, and they gave us a bite. While I wouldn’t recommend it for a salad, it was apparently high in antioxidants.

 Then we zipped across the river again and continued our tour. When we arrived at the next platform the view of the surrounding mountains was beautiful. We could see Rainbow Mountain and Sprout Mountain. It was a clear sunny day, but a big cool up here on the mountain. Everything was so beautiful that I was snapping pictures of everything.

 Now it was time for the huge 2000 foot zip line run clear across a small valley. I volunteered to go first and to try some stunts along the way. I did about half the trip upside down, filming the whole time. The speed is really quite fast and you can’t hear anything for the wind noise. Again I started rotating around and never did seem to get the hang of controlling that. Talk about an adrenaline rush!

Next came Fernando, and then the father of the other family. The small boy, who was right at the minimum weight of 70 pounds, had to ride tandem with the guide in order to make the run. By the way, the maximum weight is 270 pounds. As soon the dad got to the platform he told the guide that he had dropped his video camera. Apparently he lost his grip when he hit the braking mechanism at high speed, about 35 yards out. Our guide was good enough to charge through the deep snow and retrieve the camera. It was a Sony, and amazingly worked just fine. Apparently the snow had cushioned the fall.

 Then we walked through quite a long forest trail to the final tower. Snow surrounded the trail about 2 feet high. They had spread grit all along the path, as there were quite a few slippery spots. We then climbed up about a 50 foot tower and prepared for our final zip line down to the base of the mountain. They encouraged us to practice manoeuvres on this last run, and so all of us flipped upside down and had a blast. Even the mother joined in. Unfortunately, they had a net at the end of the run that they dropped at the last second, that made photography rather difficult. The braking system here used disc brakes much like a bicycle.

Altogether, our tour had lasted just over three hours. If you’ve never tried this type of experience before I would highly recommend it. While it may sound a bit intimidating just reading about it, it really isn’t. And being able to walk along the top of the trees is something I won’t soon forget.

 We decided to go over to Nesters market near Main Street to pick up something at the deli for supper. The codfish was a good price, but then we had to find a place to sit. The whole village area was completely mobbed with people, so we were surprised to find the little park, in the middle of Main Street, completely vacant. We found two oversized lawn chairs and had a very nice lunch. When we left, we noticed that the pool in the hotel behind us was still open, with a bit of steam coming off the surface.

Then we strolled back to the village towards the gondola transit exchange, and had a great time people watching on the way. There were various street artists along the way, including a couple on stilts. The whole atmosphere here is extremely positive, and just a lot of fun to be in the middle of. Now to start planning our next adventure on our next days off.


Article Source:GRT Olympic Team Blog