Saturday, May 26, 2012

"the promise of an adrenaline rush"

In the 1970s, disco-themed skating rinks were all the rage. In the '80s it was paintball battlefields, followed in the '90s by urban skateboard parks.

And now comes the zip line — an elevated cable ride that zips harnessed riders downhill at high speeds, powered only by gravity.

Across the nation, these rides stretch over canyons, vineyards, island tourist towns and even zoos. Since 2001, the number of zip lines built in the U.S. has soared from 10 to more than 200, according to zip line experts.

Today, zip lines rise above parts of Catalina Island, run through the forest near Big Bear and tower over San Diego Zoo Safari Park, where riders get a bird's-eye-view of giraffes, rhinos and antelopes. A 720-foot-long ride has been proposed to race over parts of Venice Beach this summer.

"They are spreading like fast-food hamburger joints," said Mike Teske, technical director for a Maui–based zip line company, who also heads a panel drafting national safety standards for zip lines.

The craze is fueled by a resurgence in the popularity of outdoor activities, greater availability of insurance, and cheaper construction costs for zip line platforms due to the housing slump, according to builders and operators. The prices to ride vary widely: It costs $10 to ride an 800-foot zip line at a KOA camp in Santa Paula, for instance, but $112 to ride two zip lines at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

In addition, builders and operators point out, zip lines have wide appeal to both young and old. The only physical demand is the climb up the steps of the platforms, where guests wearing harnesses are hooked to a pulley that allows them to travel along the zip lines' steel cable, with typical speeds reaching 35 to 45 mph and faster. The most advanced zip lines have built-in brakes. On the basic models, riders must slow themselves with a gloved hand.

Like roller skating and paintball battles, the promise of an adrenaline rush draws many first-time riders.,0,7531165.photogallery?index=la-me-zipline02_kzqywcnc

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