Story by Katherine Fuller, pictured above
“Oh, good. I wanted to see how this was going to go.”
My husband was standing about 30 feet below me looking up with an eager grin on his face. I had reached the point at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area’s new aerial adventure park where I was supposed to hook my safety harness to an arresting cable and casually step off a tiny platform.
A friendly staff member in a bright orange helmet and safety gear was calmly trying to convince me that the cable would catch immediately and I’d float gently to the soft forest floor below. My husband was amused by the situation and therefore wholly unhelpful. He was also buzzing from having just completed a big zipline ride across a wide ski run and his own jump off a 40-foot platform on the hardest course in the adventure park. All around us, other people were whooping and cheering as they swung, traversed and flew through the forest.
A few seconds prior that had been me—joyously conquering my fear of heights one exhilarating obstacle at a time. I had crawled through a suspended wooden tube, swung between trees on a rope, dangled my feet from an old Norway Lift chair, traversed a big open space by walking on a single wire, balanced precariously on small moving planks, and giggled on the ziplines. But then I found myself hugging a pine tree and being told I had to take a flying leap into thin air. No big deal, right?
The aerial adventure park is A-Basin’s newest summer offering and is the highest-elevation park of its kind in Colorado. It is essentially a ropes or challenge course suspended in the air. I particularly like this one because it is so well-integrated into the trees. The obstacles thread among old-growth stands of spruce and fir at the base of the ski area’s frontside runs. The forest engulfs you once you’re in, where the air is pleasantly cool and pine-scented, and views of A-Basin’s dramatic mountain backdrop appear over the treetops.
Five main routes or “courses” are available, in varying degrees, for kids and kids-at-heart ages 7 and up. There are two additional courses just for ages 4-8. As long as your little one fits in to the harness, they can have a similar, albeit much lower-to-the-ground, adventure through the trees on their very-own obstacle course. There are a total of 70 challenge elements across 56 trees, with the hardest course taking the most adventurous up to 40 feet in the air. Everyone gets two hours to play after having their harnesses fitted and completing a brief training on how the safety equipment works.
The aerial adventure park is a big step in A-Basin’s efforts to expand summer options with a focus on natural fun that doesn’t mar the beauty of its gorgeous high-alpine setting or result in throngs of people. New hiking and mountain biking trails are underway while a fixed climbing route called a via ferrata being built on the famed East Wall. That experience—complete with harnesses, ropes and a guide—will take guests above tree line to nearly 13,000 feet beginning summer 2021. Later this August, a new trail called Half Moon Vista will route hikers straight to some of A-Basin’s best views on a 1-mile loop from mid-mountain.
It’s now easy to spend an entire day enjoying the mountains and lack of crowds at A-Basin, where it is much cooler than the Front Range. The aerial adventure park, chairlift, souvenir shop and base-area restaurant are all open Thursday – Sunday and are arranged to promote physical distancing. I recommend starting your day working up your heart rate and your appetite in the park, then enjoying brunch or lunch on the scenic deck of the 6th Alley Bar and Grill. I cannot emphasize enough how delicious the stuffed French toast is.
Once you have refueled, grab a ticket to ride the Black Mountain Express chairlift to mid-mountain where you’ll find yourself at 11,500 feet in the midst of jaw-dropping views. You’re not just looking at mountains anymore; you’re officially in them. From there you can kick back on the lodge deck, stroll among the wildflowers or hike the summer road to the summit (12,456’) where a herd of mountain goats likes to hang out. It’s about 3 miles roundtrip and so worth it for panoramic mountain views.
So, did I jump or did I have to be rescued? The day before, a friend who knows about my height issues had played in the park and texted, “It was awesome! You’ll hate it.” I was determined to prove her wrong and I really wanted to challenge myself so, yep, I jumped. The elaborate safety gear arrested me as advertised and I did, indeed, float to the ground.
My friend was right that it was awesome and wrong that I would hate it; I had an absolute blast and wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. Besides, I need more of that stuffed French toast.
Arapahoe Basin’s aerial adventure park is open Thursday – Sunday with bookings available from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Reservations must be made online in advance; there are no walkups accepted this summer. COVID-19 precautions are in place, which you can read about on their website. Bring a mask and have fun!