The Mountain Times

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Okemo’s Adventure Zone features new challenges

Fun Shot - This Mom Got Into The Tour . Chris Carter Photo.
In some ways, learning to ride a Segway Personal Transporter is like learning to ride a bike. Once you get the hang of it, it becomes natural and you don't even have to think about how to stand still and upright on two wheels.
On the other hand, negotiating hills and between tight trees requires focus and concentration as well as some instruction from good teachers.
Put all that together and you, too, could be introduced to a new challenge that is definitely fun and good for older brains (just what the doctor ordered!)
Not that you have to be a senior to enjoy a Segway Tour at Okemo Mountain Resort, in our group we ranged from a nervous teen to a nervous senior; only two in our crew had ridden Segways before. All had a great time, including the 'scaredy cats.'
Not your Daddy's car
We started off with a brief video, which noted the importance of paying attention so you don't go over the handle bars!
Then our guides Ashley and Chris introduced us to the Segways. Segway® PT's are billed as "the world's first self-balancing human transporters." Segway's self-balancing system works seamlessly with the body's movements. Gyroscopes and tilt sensors in the Segway PT monitor a user's center of gravity about 100 times a second. Very cool!
Unlike what I expected, there is no throttle. You drive with your feet - weight forward on your toes and you go forward. Weight back on the heels and you come to a stop. Or if starting from a stop, you go backwards. To steer, you push the right or left handlebar.
While the machine does its thing, your brain connects your foot weighting with the side-to-side steering of your arms and hands, and that's great brain exercise!
With patient and easy instruction, I was soon standing on the machine and trying to ride around the cones. I did miss a few turns, but Chris showed me how to turn on a dime, which made it all easier.
Soon we all were riding around the cones.
Next came the important lesson called push back. This is when your transporter doesn't want to go any faster and automatically slows you down by pushing back at you - you have to get the feel of it in the practice area so that when it happens on your ride, you don't get off balance. This came in handy on the downhills as well as when going fast uphill - I had no idea that I had hit 12.5 miles an hour until I felt the machine push back.
We rode all over Jackson Gore, both on the hard surface terrain and then on meadows and finally into the woods. The steep downhills and uphills were challenging fun but not too hard to get the hang of - it was the between the trees riding that was really tricky - and exciting.
My friend Kitty Werner agreed. "It's so cool to go ripping up the hills, so fun - I could do that to go into town to food shop. That would be a hoot," she said considering personal uses for the Segway. "I loved it, I absolutely loved it."
As parents and grandparents, we agreed that the Segway tour is a great activity for a family with teens. (There is an age minimum of 14 years old; 15 and under are required to be accompanied by an adult. There's also a weight restriction of 100 to 250 pounds to operate a Segway.)
At Okemo, there are two options, an Introductory Tour that lasts for about one hour and the Off-Road Tour, about 1.5 hours. We did the latter. Two thumbs up from Kitty and Karen!
Swinging in the treetops
Our next adventure was one familiar to families and kids but new to us. Walking over a 170-foot suspension bridge with ropes along the side, we got an easy, albeit slightly bouncy introduction to the interesting challenges that lay ahead.
We enjoyed our entry to the woods and the path leading to a gazebo where we were fitted with helmets and harnesses. Then we chose the easier challenge - there are three levels with the degree of challenge related to the height off the ground and the elements themselves.
As we walked up to the start of our introductory course, we stopped to watch folks high up on the second challenge course. A man at the Tarzan Swing had to grab a rope and swing out and over to the next treetop platform. He had to work up his nerve, but he did eventually jump.
Seeing that, it was a real relief to climb the staircase to the first lower-to-the-ground challenge course. We watched the attendant there assist the family members coming in on a short zipline. They all exclaimed "awesome" as they landed on the platform. It looked easy and fun.
The attendant hitched us up to the overhead cable. An ingenious Swiss-made trolley rolls along atop the cable, and unlike some challenge courses that require you to connect and disconnect your rope to a trolley for each element, we were continuously connected to the trolley by a rope attached to the front of our harness.
The cable functions as a continuous belay system so we were never in any danger of falling to the ground although the nature of the challenges make you feel like you might as you bounce and sway and pray that you won't lose your balance.
The amazing thing is that your brain realizes you are up off the ground and the fear factor makes your travel a real adventure as you travel from tree to tree, using a series of tunnels, suspended bridges, ropes and cables.
Here's the interesting part. You travel at your own speed and while there are course attendants who offer assistance at strategic challenges, you are on your own for most of the course.
That meant stepping off into a tunnel which I crawled through and then had to figure out how to get up and out onto the next platform. Doable but it requires some thinking unless you are a kid or one of the fearless types who just zoom through.
I was lucky to have Kitty there to help me up onto the platform. You go one at a time on each challenge and having a friend or parent who could go first and assist a less confident person is ideal.
She also encouraged me and noted that staying in the center of the swinging wooden bridges made it easier. I didn't mind balancing when I had a continuous horizontal rope to hold and slide my hands along but it was far more daunting was where the ropes were vertical and you had to let go and grab the next set and get your feet to follow on the swinging wood steps. That took courage. So did the "see saw" plank.
My favorite turned out to be the vertical net where you placed your feet along the ropes and held the ropes with your hands as you progressed across to the next tree platform.
The last challenge was the easiest. The Zipline looked like a piece of cake - or at least Kitty made it look that way with her "Wahoo!"
When it came to my turn, I suddenly realized that it was just my rope and trolley that would hold me up. Trusting the attendant who explained what to do, I left the platform. Quick, easy, and fun!
The first Haulback Challenge course was a great introduction to the treetops, but no way was I going to tempt fate and hit the higher courses. I leave them for the ultimate thrill seekers.
Surprisingly, though, I re-crossed the long suspension bridge at a fast clip and without holding the ropes on our way out of the area. Lessons learned - trust the process and believe you can do it.
Just the facts
Okemo's Haulback Challenge Course was designed and built by Phoenix Experiential Designs. They have installed some 250 ziplines, challenge courses and canopy walkways in the past 20 years. The design process enlists the help of an arborist to select and assess trees for good health for use in the courses. Okemo's Haulback Challenge course was constructed with 2,000 feet of 3/8-inch cable, 1800 feet of 1-inch nylon rope and a truckload of lumber.
The Haulback Challenge Course gets its name from a cable used to carry rigging back to the work site in a style of logging called cable yarding. An alternative to skidding or dragging felled trees along the forest floor, loggers have been rediscovering these techniques to limit environmental impact to sensitive sites where the use of ground-based systems may be questionable.
More A to Z fun
Okemo's Adventure Zone has a number of activities that can keep you busy for a full day, or you can choose to do particular activities as we did according to your schedule and stamina! On the upper limit, there is the Sawyer's Sweep Zipline Tour, a guided, high-flying treetop tour that features suspension bridges, rappels, and seven zipline segments that are 40 to 50 feet above the ground. Definitely a thrill and not for the faint of heart!
The Timber Ripper Mountain Coaster is similar to a roller coaster, but you control your speed (by pushing a stick forward) as you descend the mountain in sled-like cars. The sled's brakes will automatically slow you down if you approach 28 mph speed limit. Easy and fun.
The Amp Energy Big Air Bag is a giant inflatable bag that will let you play movie stuntman as you take a leap of faith and a 30-foot fall from a platform to land in the bag.
Other activities include a Bungee Trampoline, Climbing Pinnacle, Disc Golf, and Lumberin' Cal Mini Golf.
Okemo's Adventure Zone features are priced individually or visitors can purchase a Day Pass wristband, which includes the Timber Ripper, Bungee Jump, Disc Golf, Mini Golf, the Big Air Bag, Climbing Wall and use of the Springhouse Pool and Fitness Center.
The Adventure Zone is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Labor Day Weekend and Sept. 7 and thereafter from 10 to 4 weekends. The season ends on Columbus Day, Oct. 14. Only the Mini Golf and Disc Golf will remain open thereafter seven days a week until dusk, weather permitting.
For more info, visit okemo.com/activities/attractions/