By Phyl Newbeck
Life is too short not to have a little adventure. Whether it’s rafting down a river or jumping out of an airplane, there are plenty of activities in Vermont that will get your adrenaline going.
One of the newest additions to Vermont’s adventure landscape is the zip line. At Smuggler’s Notch, you can zoom through the air above a mountain stream amid the tops of century-old trees. Customers travel in small groups with two tour guides who provide ecological and historical information at each stop along the way. Michael Smith, President of ArborTrek Canopy Adventures at Smuggs said that on Mother’s Day, three generations of one family took the trek, including two sets of grandparents who were between the ages of 82 and 92. “The most nervous person in the group,” he said “was the youngest, who was 28.”
Smith cautions that the course, which includes several interconnected lines, two sky bridges and two downward rappels, is not for everyone and requires good upper body movement and vision. The latter is crucial because the cues for when to slow down are visual ones, and upper body strength and mobility are important because customers slow themselves by applying gentle downward pressure on the steel cables with the heavy leather gloves which are provided. Smith said worldwide, those age 65 and older are the largest demographic for zip lines because they have more disposable income, and more time. “In a lot of cases,” he said “grandpa and grandma may not want to mountain bike with their grandkids, but this is a high adventure activity they can enjoy with them.”
If you’d rather have an adventure on the water, Zoar Outdoors will take you rafting on the West River in southern Vermont. The eight-mile trip starts at Ball Mountain Dam and heads over Class 3 and 4 whitewater through Jamaica State Park to the Townsend Reservoir. Owner Karen Blom said those signing up for the trip need to be capable of hiking half an hour over a switchback trail down the dam. The Army Corps of Engineers only opens the dam once a year, so this year’s trip will take place on Sept. 29, just in time for foliage season. Rafters meet their guides and collect their equipment at Stratton Mountain—many people make a weekend out of it with an overnight stay. “It’s a fun trip,” said Blom. “As long as you can walk and swim and have a sense of adventure, you can do it.”
Maybe you’d rather spend some time aloft. One way to do that is a hot air balloon ride. Above Reality in Underhill offers a variety of options, including a trip over Mount Mansfield and a jaunt across Lake Champlain. Owner Jeff Snider said those 65 and older make up approximately 40 percent of his customer base. “We often have customers come to us and say ‘I’ve always wanted to try this,’” he said, noting that balloon trips are popular as birthday presents, as well as for couples to celebrate anniversaries. “When people come down, they often tell me that they can’t believe they waited this long to do it,” Snider said.
Hot air ballooning is the only form of aviation that travels with the wind rather than through it, so it is hard to explain to potential customers that there is no turbulence or G-force to contend with. Snider said the words “peaceful,” “tranquil” and “amazing” are frequently written in his guest book. One man in his 60s wrote that the trip was the best thing that had happened to him since the birth of his daughter.
For the really adventurous, there’s skydiving. Vermont Sky Diving Adventures in West Addison offers tandem jumps for those who have never been aloft. Customers are tethered to an instructor for the duration of the ride. They can take an active approach and pull the cord themselves or decide to let the instructor do all the work. Customers are allowed to jump solo (but still flanked by two instructors) after completing six to eight hours of training.
Owner Ole Thomsen said the only limits for novice jumpers are that they be over 18 years of age and under 240 pounds. There are no upper age limits and this year, Thomsen has already taken an 80-year-old man up for his first jump. One group of regulars at the Addison facility are all over 60 years of age and there is a national group called Skydivers Over Sixty. “If you’re in good health, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t do it,” Thomsen said, noting that many seniors come to him saying that skydiving is on their bucket lists. “We hear that a lot,” he said. “It’s something they’ve always wanted to try.”
Thomsen enjoys sharing his sport with people of all ages. “It’s something everyone should try at least once,” he said. “It’s quite exhilarating. It makes you feel young, even if it’s only for the moment. Besides, if this is something you want to try, you’re already young at heart.”
Smuggler’s Notch Zip Line: www.smuggs.com/pages/winter/amenities/canopy-tour.php
White Water Rafting: www.zoaroutdoor.com/whitewaterrafting.htm
Above Reality Balloon Trips: www.balloonvermont.com
Vermont Sky Diving: www.vtskydiving.com