Ran across this today concerning a ropes course incident that occurred yesterday afternoon. Details are scarce as investigations are conducted.
Ok, here's a rant that's been percolating for a while. Adventure programming is awesome! As ziplines and adventure parks continue to gain in popularity, the allure attracts developers in venues both large and small. Am I saying this is a bad idea? Absolutely not. However, as one who lives & breathes adventure programming, we can't forget a very important point:
Done wrong, people are hurt or killed utilizing these activities!
Honestly, I believe construction of these projects is the easy part. It's a willingness to invest in the following that tell me how long you'll last (or if I'll read about you in the news!) A couple points to consider:
I understand this post is pretty short – I could spend a day just talking about gear selection. Bottom line – gravity always works, folks! By adding high adventure activities to your facility's lineup, be prepared to do it right. Over the long haul, you'll stand out from the crowd as a program to be respected and emulated, serving many happy participants for years to come.
I had a “problem” in need of a solution. On our Zipline, sometimes if participants leaned back, their trolley would hop over the serving sleeve and get stuck. No biggie, but it was unnerving to some… ready, set, g… oh wait, now try it. 🙂
After chewing on a few ideas, it hit me – hockey pucks. High density rubber, made to take a beating, impervious to the elements, and cheap. I'll share it with you:
I've been involved in adventure-based programming for close to 20 years. I'll even admit at one time being guilty of experiential “snobbery,” thumbing my nose at the “thrill rides” in favor for activities “where the real growth occurs.”
That was, until I helped run a zipline at a colleague's facility. One day, face to face with dozens of participants working through their own personal challenges, and I was sold. I had to get a zipline for my camp. In 2013, my wish came true, and our zipline sent over 20,000 zips our first year!
In my opinion, it's not so much the activity itself, but how you facilitate it. If my client is looking for an exciting, recreational experience, what's wrong in providing it? If the client is looking for something deeper, my instructors can be intentional in looking for ways to tie in their experience with their stated goals. Regardless of client goals, my instructors are trained facilitators, have an understanding of Challenge by Choice®, and are intentional in the delivery of our various programs.
“Challenge by Choice” is a Registered Trademark of Project Adventure.
What a great time at the Christian Camp & Conference Association’s 2015 Wisconsin Sectional, hosted by Honey Rock. I had the opportunity to share a bit about challenge course risk management to a number of camping professionals.
As I creep toward 50 years of age, I still can’t believe I do what I do for a career. Besides enjoying the job for myself, I get to impart lessons learned over nearly 20 years in camping ministry. Way cool!
Even more cool? I get to experience this journey alongside some of the most awesome & unique individuals, all with passions to serve God & impact lives in eternal ways utilizing the wonders of creation.
As one who spends the majority of his time outdoors, in weather conditions that range from summer heat indexes that exceed 100°F to winter windchills below -30°F, the gear I choose is vital. A shell jacket is a critical piece of my outdoor kit, and I think I've tried all the major brands in my 18+ years as a challenge course professional.
The winner? I keep coming back to my Outdoor Research Furio Jacket. This all-purpose shell has all the bells & whistles I need to do my job. The jacket features Gore-Tex 3 layer Pro Shell in the shoulders and other critical areas, and Gore-Tex PacLite in the rest of the body to cut down weight. Keeps you dry by itself, and layers well for when the mercury drops.
My favorite feature? The water resistant “TorsoFlo” zippered vents under the arms that extend all the way to the hem. Unmatched ventilation when you need it, plus unzipping up from the hem a bit allows access to your harness gear loops for carabiners, radio, etc. without losing the length & coverage in the front & back.
Worth every penny, this shell has a MSRP of $375, but you can usually pick up last year's model/ discontinued colors for half that.
Almost 20 years ago, I remember when performing work on our ropes courses and climbing tower meant grabbing my sport climbing harness, miscelaneous program hardware, and a generous assortment of personally-owned, “off the radar” gear for which no inspection records existed, and the only known history consisted of how well I remembered when I bought it.
Ah, those were the days!
Don’t get me wrong, the crowd I hung with were pretty meticulous with our gear. We weren’t stupid, after all. We knew the manufacturer’s lifespans of equipment, how many hard falls a rope could take, marked purchase dates on the tails of webbing, tags on harnesses. We were young. We were free!
Fast forward a couple decades, and oh how things like OSHA, ANSI Z359, and ANSI/PRCA 1.0-.3 2014 “Ropes Challenge Course Installation, Operation & Training Standards” have complicated things… or maybe they actually serve to encourage us to step it up a notch (or three!)
As a Challenge Course Manager, I require myself and/or subordinate employees to perform work at height. There are standards for that, standards that will have OSHA on your doorstep faster than [insert metaphor here] if you or your staff take a header due to lack of proper equipment, training & experience. The associated fines can be crippling, the lawsuits could shut you down. Do you really want to take that chance?
The standards don’t say you have to be certified in it, just that you’re doing it. Over the past few years, I’ve been self-educating myself in the world of industrial rope access techniques. YouTube is a great reference for building awareness of techniques, equipment, etc. Hey, don’t rule out pursuing SPRAT certification, but it is pricey, especially working for a non-profit with limited budgets. If you like FREE TRAINING, get plugged in with Over The Edge (overtheedgeusa.com). With some experience, you can work events as a ropes volunteer, under the direct supervision of SPRAT-certified technicians. It’s like free on-the-job training in industrial rope access techniques & equipment… plus they feed & give you a t-shirt. Can’t beat that!
Be safe, all!
“Dave… WHY do you have to do such crazy things?”
I can still hear my dad’s voice as I described my most recent vertical endeavor. I knew he was proud, but I also got the distinct impression that he thought I was nuts.
All you ropes course folks reading this, how many times have you heard, “that’s crazy!” when describing what you do?
My career choice would seem pretty dangerous to many. I might be running a 250′ rappel off a hotel for charity, guiding a 900′ zipline, or working 40′ off the ground, cutting old hardware off my ropes course with an angle grinder.
Most people: “HOLY _________! I could never do that!”
Don’t mistake my response for recklessness or indifference. I am keenly aware of the fact that if I start taking things for granted, my job could kill me and/or others. Regarding the course maintenance example above, it might have only taken me 15 minutes to climb that pole, crawl out on that cable, and cut the old metal links off, but you’re not privy to the 45 minutes of planning, staging equipment, ensuring my ability to self-rescue if my primary equipment goes wonky (which it shouldn’t due to my gear inspection and function check prior to taking a step off the ground, but just in case…) What goes up has to come down, and I’d rather it be on my terms.
The ropes challenge course industry enjoys a phenomenal safety record with millions of participant hours annually, but sustaining that record brings with it a sobering responsibility. As the director of our facility’s ropes challenge courses, I have to be the expert, not only for myself, but for the instructors I’ve trained, the participants we serve, and the facility itself. An incident on my watch could have far-reaching consequences.
I love what I do. What may come off as “just another day at the office” is the result of untold hours studying this industry, the activities we operate, training for myself & my staff, the equipment we use, etc.
Woke up this Christmas morning to the news that a man fell to his death on a ropes course located inside a mall in Florida. Seeing as how some form of legal action is inevitable, not to mention the investigation to determine cause is ongoing, my opinions stay in my head for now… along with all the swirling thoughts, emotions, expletives, etc.
All I will say…
(1) There are a TON of courses located across the country that people AREN’T falling off of. Courses like this particular one have been in operation for years, with throughput on some nearing 1000 participants daily! This was an exceedingly rare and unfortunate incident. Investigations will be conducted, determinations made, and hopefully will never be repeated.
(2) The impact is wide. As a ropes course professional, I can visualize the incident in much more detail than the “mom’s basement” commenters that are already spouting off their uninformed opinions on the various news sites. I feel deeply, not only for the family and friends of the victim, but also for the instructors running the course at the time, those responsible for the general operation of the course, the crew that designed & built the course, etc.
Prayers for the family of Robert Belvoir, the staff at Artegon Sky Trail, and all others changed by this tragedy.