Ann Marie Labenberg had never been on a zipline before, so she was “a little nervous” when she stepped out on the first platform at Traverse City’s Mt. Holiday Ski Area.
Her hesitation didn’t last long.
“It was an absolutely heart pounding fun time!” said Labenberg, who’s from Fort Wayne, Indiana and claims to have had a permanent smile on her face the entire time. “Hands down, the most fun ever!”
Located just east of Traverse City, Mt. Holiday is one of the community’s two non-profit day ski areas – an old fashioned “homestyle” operation offering skiing and snowboarding on 16 runs, as well as a snow tubing park. But like other players in the world of downhill skiing, the 50-acre ski area has been working to appeal to a wider audience and extend its operating season to the entire year.
Ziplines (often combined with ladders, platforms and challenges to create canopy tours or adventure parks) have become a popular way for ski resorts to keep their doors open into the warm-weather months and offer alternative activities – even in winter — for potential customers who aren’t interested in skiing.
First opened in 1949, Mt. Holiday was nearly closed and sold off for development in the late 1990s, but a group of local ski enthusiasts raised funds, bought it, and began running it as a nonprofit community ski area. Like its counterparts in the for-profit ski industry, it’s had to be creative in appealing to a wide variety of users.
Mt. Holiday began its foray into ziplining in 2013 when it created the Green Zipper, a relatively small two-station setup (the first leg is 288 feet long and the second is 306 feet) near the bottom of its main ski area. Meanwhile, it acquired a 12-acre parcel of forested land on the other side of the hill, where it began work on a much larger line — a 10-station zipline network that totals more than 4,000 feet of cable.
The new course made its debut in late fall without much fanfare (promoted as a new way to experience the area’s celebrated autumn foliage) and Mt. Holiday staff were pleasantly surprised at the response it received.
“There must have been a lot of word of mouth going on, especially with people from the Chicago area,” said executive director Theresa Galante. “We were sort of holding our breath to see what the response would be, but almost every single person who comes through has raved about it.”
For a small-town operation with a modest price tag (the Green Zipper is only $15 per person, and the full 10-station line is $48, compared to $75 to $100 at for-profit facilities) zipline connoisseurs compare the Mt. Holiday entry favorably with high-end rides in many metropolitan areas. The 10-station experience usually lasts two hours, and in some sections – notably one called The Screamer – riders are moving as fast as 35 miles an hour.
According to guest services manager Natalie Myers, the new Mt. Holiday attraction has already been noticed by an enthusiastic multi-state network of “zipline junkies” who are adding it to their itineraries. “People travel quite a ways to try each one, just because they love the adrenaline rush,” she said.
Creation of the new zipline network is part of a larger strategic plan for the ski area, which has already revamped its food service operation (changing its former snack bar into cozy restaurant/lounge) and is promoting itself as a year-round destination for weddings, meetings, parties and athletic events — like the “Mud, Sweat & Beers” mountain biking race, which brought some 3,500 riders and spectators to Mt. Holiday last May.
Over the next two years Mt. Holiday plans to incorporate the zipline system into a full-fledged adventure ropes course that would include a significant environmental education component. “We want to stay true to our mission, particularly the educational mission we’ve always had,” said Galante.
Although ziplines are getting a lot of attention as a winter activity, they’re not as popular in prime ski season as they are in late winter and early spring. In fact, Mt. Holiday hopes to promote its new system as a Spring Break activity: as temperatures rise and ski conditions deteriorate, Galante expects frustrated skiers to see the zipline as a way to satisfy their yen for high-speed thrills.
Large ziplines tend to be labor-intensive (for safety reasons, each station along the route must be manned by trained personnel) so the Mt. Holiday operation is open to groups – the Green Zipper to groups of four or more, the larger zipline to groups of four to ten — and only by reservation. Reservations and information are available at www.mt-holiday.org or (231) 938-2500
To learn more about winter activities in the Traverse City area, as well as lodging, dining and entertainment options in Michigan’s “True North,” contact Traverse City Tourism at www.traversecity.comor (800) 872-8377.