Image: Ziplining
Ziplining at Olympic Park in Park City, Utah offers those looking for an alternative to skiing and snowboarding a chance to take in some sights and get an adrenalin rush all at once.
By Travel writer contributor
updated 3/2/2007 12:21:18 PM ET 2007-03-02T17:21:18

In a crowded room at the Utah Olympic Park, near Park City, Jon Green is describing the park’s bobsled track to a few dozen first-time riders: 0.8 miles long. Fifteen curves. Four to five gs of force and speeds of up to 80 mph.

He also lists some of the potential hazards: Cuts. Bruises. Nausea. Death.

“So when you get in the sled,” he says in closing, “hold on and have fun.”

I haven’t even gotten my helmet on and my heart rate’s already hitting triple digits.

Adrenaline, it seems, is in, and resorts across North America are feeding the need for speed in a variety of innovative ways. From bobsled rides to zip lines, there are plenty of ways to get your thrill on this winter.

Alpine Coaster
Just down the road from the Utah Olympic Park, Park City Mountain Resort has opened the Alpine Coaster, a wild ride that splits the difference between an alpine slide and a roller coaster.

Riding in open, one- or two-person “cars,” guests are pulled up a raised-rail track that climbs above the resort center. From there, the track turns back downhill, following the contours of the mountain and leading riders through a gravity-fueled series of whoop-de-dos and corkscrew turns. At 30–40 mph, it’s not the Olympic bobsled, but the shrieks and screams are just as loud. Rides are $15, $10 with a day lift ticket or season pass and $4 for passengers ages 3–8.

If you remember the fun of careening downhill on a Flying Saucer or Flexible Flyer, you may be ready to go airboarding. Developed in Switzerland and showing up at more U.S. resorts, it’s like innertubing with an extra shot of Adrenaline.

An Airboard is an inflatable sled with handles and a ridged bottom. (Think of a small, A-shaped air mattress.) Riding headfirst, you steer by leaning side to side to engage the low-profile runners along the bottom. Depending on the slope, you can carve turns, bomb straight downhill or grab some air off bumps and rollers.

At Smugglers’ Notch, Vermont, airboarding is offered at select times on the Hibernator trail at Morse Highlands. Rentals, which include a helmet, are $20; rentals with a one-hour instructional clinic are $25.

Many resorts close their ziplines come winter; at Whistler/Blackcomb, Ziptrek Ecotours has just doubled their offerings from five lines to 10. Part eco-tour, part thrill ride, the company’s 2.5-hour adventures offer a bird’s-eye perspective you won’t get on either mountain.

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The course is set in the forest canopy just above Whistler Village. Climbing up to platforms on various trees and towers, guests click into each cable, step out into space and zip through the trees as much as 80 feet above the ground. Cables range from 200 to more than 2,200 feet in length, with the last one ending right above the village. From there, it’s a short stroll to the patio bar at the Longhorn Saloon. Tours are CDN $98 for adults (15–64) and $78 for kids (6–14) and seniors.

For those seeking a less-intense experience, Keystone is promoting a new geo-caching program, in which guests use Garmin GPS units to seek out on-mountain caches stocked with prizes and trinkets. Like a high-tech scavenger hunt on skis, snowboard, or showshoes, it’s more thought-provoking than thrill-inducing, but it does add a new twist to hitting the slopes.

Geo-caching is offered as part of select lodging packages, which are available during non-peak times, including February 20–March 1 and April 1–17. Packages start at $189 per night (quad occupancy in a two-bedroom condo) and include an Adventure Passport that entitles you to wine tastings, snowshoeing and other free activities. You also get to keep the GPS.

But if it’s heart-pounding thrills you seek, it’s hard to beat the bobsled run at the Utah Olympic Park, aka, The Comet. Shepherded by a professional driver, riders run the same course Olympic bobsledders used during the 2002 Winter Games.

The ride is not for the faint of heart (or bad of back or high of blood pressure). In fact, unless you regularly spend time on a NASCAR track, it may be the most intense ride of your life. Dropping into the track, you accelerate instantly until the outside world is reduced to a blur of ice, snow and sky. Rocketing through the curves, you fight g forces that put the sled halfway up the wall and your stomach somewhere down around your knees. At almost 80 mph, it’s over in less than a minute, although it’ll take several more before your pulse slows to anything approaching normal.

That kind of rush doesn’t come cheap — rides are $200 per person and reservations are recommended — but for true Adrenaline junkies, it’s the thrill of a lifetime.

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