Flying the Zip Line

By Beacon Staff

“3 … 2 … 1 … Fly!”

At the urging of their guide Gus, Ann Clifford and her granddaughter glide almost one-third of a mile down a lush mountainside over treetops, suspended side by side from two zip lines.

“It’s exhilarating,” Clifford says afterward. “You wish you could keep going forever.”

Clifford and her granddaughter were one of the first groups to ride the newest zip line last week at Whitefish Mountain Resort. Spanning 1,900 feet, tying it for the longest of the resort’s seven zip lines, the new feature is one of the latest additions to summer activities at the mountain.

Whitefish Mountain Resort has truly evolved beyond a winter destination in recent years. The zip line tours, which began in 2009, drew more than 13,000 people last summer. Between now and the fall, the resort will welcome droves of people of all ages for a variety of outdoor adventures.

“We want the entire family to be able to do stuff up here,” resort spokesperson Riley Polumbus said.

There are lift rides to the summit of Big Mountain for a scenic dining experience inside the Summit House or a tour through the Summit Nature Center.

For kids there’s the 1,600-foot Alpine Slide and the new Spider Monkey Mountain, a 24-foot tower with nylon webbing and a slide.

One of the first and most popular summer activities, the Walk in the Treetops tours lead visitors along a canopy boardwalk 70 feet above ground with a guide who discusses local wildlife and plant life.

There are also hiking paths along the Danny On Memorial Trail and East Rim and Flower Point areas.

A system of mountain biking trails with over 20 miles of single track spanning the resort continues to grow. Pending U.S. Forest Service approval, two new freeride downhill trails with over 2,000 feet of vertical drop could be added this summer. A race league has also started holding regular events.

A new Aerial Adventure Park, scheduled to open in August, will feature five courses of bridges, cable walkways and other trapeze-like elements built into the trees.

But perhaps most reflective of the resort’s expanding identity are the thrilling zip lines. Dubbed the longest in Montana by the resort, the zip line tours offer a total of 1.7 miles of cable. Participants can choose from two tours featuring either five or seven zip lines. For the tour of seven, participants must weigh between 100 and 230 pounds. For the five they must weight between 60 and 230 pounds. The tours can take two to three hours. Speeds can reach up 50 mph. The highest line is 300 feet above ground. Those with a fear of heights or motion sickness are cautioned in the beginning.

Clifford and her husband Tim traveled from Orlando to meet their granddaughter for a vacation in Northwest Montana. They heard about the zip line at Whitefish Mountain Resort and couldn’t resist.

Michael “Gus” Gustafson, center, hooks a zip line trolley to the cable at the second zip line during a tour at Whitefish Mountain Resort. Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon

“We love the beautiful scenery here,” Clifford said. “I don’t think there’s any better way of seeing it than really sitting back and hanging over the top of it.”

Not even halfway through the tour, Clifford and others were loosened up and in a friendly competition over who could go the fastest. The secret, as their guide told them, is to position their bodies into a pencil shape. Or, even better, a cannonball.

Pretty soon families and friends were taking turns flying through the sky harnessed into a floating seat high in the air.

As Clifford describes it, it’s exhilarating.

For more information about Whitefish Mountain Resort’s summer activities, call 877-SKI-FISH or visit www.skiwhitefish.com

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