CHASE — This community's new zipline mixes adrenaline with natural wonder — a welcome jolt to guests and to the village economy.
Following two years of planning, legal wrangling and construction — mixed with a smattering of opposition from a handful of locals — Treetop Flyers at Chase Canyon main ziplines opened Tuesday.
Wearing helmets and climbing harnesses, two of the three local partners on the project are flying the three lines and guiding guests. And the rush of screaming down the 300-metre line above the torrent of Chase Creek and past rock walls and towering trees hasn't dulled their grins.
"We've had five bighorn sheep at eye level across the canyon," enthused partner Ron Betts.
"Germans and Europeans are going to be thrilled. It's going to blow them away."
Betts is partnering along with Matt Lepp and Daniel Ruzic in the $300,000 venture. A fourth partner from Whistler owns the technology that Treetop Flyers is using for the attraction.
By now the story is familiar to locals. Lepp and Ruzic were enrolled in a Thompson Rivers University tourism degree program and were shopping around their award-winning business plan for a local zipline.
Betts, a heli-ski guide who happened to be working at Sun Peaks Resort during the summer season several years ago, saw the proposal cross his desk. That led all three to Kevin Smith, a leader in the technology who would become a fourth partner.
"I was always entrepreneurial," said Lepp, who moved to Kamloops from Saskatchewan to take the TRU degree program. "I thought it would be amazing to work for myself. You don't imagine yourself a small business owner right out of university."
But the partners also got an education after finishing school. While the idea was welcomed by politicians and the business community in Chase, they were dogged by a handful of vociferous local opponents.
Treetop Flyers set up and opened the training line in the village, beside the hockey arena, late last year.
Driving through the village in his Japanese right-hand-drive van/bus, Betts waives at other small business people and residents.
"You can't drive down the street without waving at 52 people. That's one of the things I love. You get a direct connection."
The partners also connected with the local community by using local services wherever possible, including purchasing rough-hewn cedar used on take-off and landing platforms. They also helped during construction, wielding hammers and tools alongside contractors.
Lee Morris, executive director for Tourism Kamloops, said the zipline is an exciting new attraction for the region, one that should keep people staying longer or attract them here in the first place.
Another example is off-road Segway tours in the North Shuswap.
"I can do a day trip and get two or three things in. We've been joint marketing with the North Shuswap. We're trying to cast a net around Kamloops."
The morning before official opening of the main line, Chase Mayor Ron Anderson dropped by to check things out. Both the prior council and the current one have encouraged and co-operated to make the venture a reality.
"There's going to be spinoff," said Betts.
"We've never said we're saving the economy. We're one business in the town. We've had guests here and they go to a restaurant (for example). We think it will be good for everybody."
WHAT'S IT LIKE TO FLY?
In the safety talk and orientation before my run on the training line in the village — dubbed the Flying Fox by Treetop Flyers — partner and guide Ron Betts explained the polyethylene wheels on the trolley that runs down the zlpline are designed to be quiet.
Ziplines are so named in part for the zipping sound emanating from the wheels as they carry down the steel cable.
The sound is subdued on the four-storey-high Flying Fox, located in the village beside the arena. But by the time we’re on the third line, slicing through Chase Creek canyon, the speed is more than double and the wheels are screaming above the torrent of the crashing stream below.
Partners Betts and Matt Lepp tell guests before takeoff to look over their right shoulder at Chase Creek falls, which foams and jumps with whitewater and sediment.
At 65 km/h, riders fly over rocks, torrents of whitewater and smashed logs, while passing trees and rock faces.
Then, after 300 metres in distance and well over 100 metres in elevation, a rider on the Bighorn line slams into a set of spring brakes.
The only action needed from the rider is to lift their legs up in a protective, heels first position, before running into the brakes at the end of the run.
Tours are designed to last less than two hours and involve “flying” — in the lingo of the industry — first a training line, then a 120-metre canyon line to a landing spot and finally the 300-metre Bighorn, which ends at the former rest stop beside the Trans-Canada Highway.
But the ride is about more than the brief time on the lines. It includes orientation, riding all three lines, the drive up the mountain and a short walk in the forest wet with spray from the falls.
Guides will also talk about local history, culture and ecology for the experience that focuses heavily on seeing the natural world from a new vantage point.
The 1:45-minute experience costs $65 for an adult. A run on the Flying Fox in the village is $25.