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An exhilarating experience on high-wire thrill rides

Mon., Aug. 27, 2012

WALLACE – Ted Wentz came flying down the third zip line – a steep, 1,025-foot-long ride – in 20 seconds flat, a big smile frozen on his face.

“That was a kick in the butt,” the retired electrician from Otis Orchards said after landing on the wooden platform.

Spending the morning on this new zip line course on a rugged mountainside above Wallace was a birthday gift from his daughters, three of whom joined him for the adventure.

Silver Streak Zipline Tours opened June 1 with a six-line course just north of this historic Silver Valley mining town. About 1,200 customers – some from as far away as Italy and Belgium – have done the course so far, and the business is putting in a second course that will include a dual racing zip line stretching 1,800 feet down the mountain.

Hundreds of commercial cable-and-pulley setups such as this are sprouting up all over the United States and Canada. Schweitzer Mountain Resort near Sandpoint added a zip line a year ago, and Whitefish Mountain Resort north of Kalispell recently expanded its course to seven lines.

Closer to Spokane, property owners have proposed a zip line course for ecological tours on the north side of Mica Peak, south of Liberty Lake.

Prices vary depending on length and complexity of each course, but in general you should expect to pay about $70 per person for a multistage zip line excursion.

The lines, which use gravity to pull riders down slopes, over tree canopies and across canyons, are growing in popularity for families on vacation, eco-tourists and locals looking for fun. They’re becoming an all-season pursuit as well, with more ski areas running zip lines in winter and summer.

“The commercial zip line industry has grown tremendously since the first commercial zip lines opened in the early 2000s,” said James Borishade, executive director of the Association for Challenge Course Technology in Deerfield, Ill.

About 320 venues operated in the U.S. and Canada in 2011, Borishade said. Those included commercial zip lines, canopy tours and aerial trekking facilities.

The number of zip line businesses in the U.S. has roughly doubled since 2010, said Reid Burland, co-owner of Geronimo Construction in Biwabik, Minn., the company that built the Silver Streak course in Wallace.

“There’s more going in all the time,” Burland said. “I’ve personally put in 14 of them since 2005, and that’s when they really came to the continental U.S.”

David and Bonnie DeRoos opened Silver Streak on 250 acres they own above Wallace. Not long ago they had envisioned developing home sites there, but after a visit to Mexico and Honduras, where they saw zip line operations, they decided to do this instead.

David DeRoos sketched out the course, and Geronimo Construction strung three miles of cable between nine platforms, where riders strapped into safety harnesses launch and land.

On the day Wentz and his family went down the course, Silver Streak guide Drew Plate, of Mullan, Idaho, sought to ease any anxiety they may have felt before the first zip, a relatively tame 325-foot glide through the trees and brush.

“This thing will hold me plus a Kia,” Plate said, referring to the gear. “All you have to do is sit in your seat; gravity does the rest.”

Ryan Maher, the boyfriend of Ted’s daughter Sharon Wentz, was wide-eyed at the bottom of one zip. “That was crazy,” the Chicago resident said. “Whoa, my heart is pounding.”

Ryan Jakaber, Ted Wentz’s 14-year-old grandson, was along for the experience. The rush of Zip No. 3 left him eager to keep going.

“Holy cow, that was awesome!” Jakaber said. “I thought it was going to burn through the metal.”

Plate replied, “That’s like stepping off a six-story building, that one.”

Schweitzer resort’s dual, 700-foot zip line offers riders views of Lake Pend Oreille below. It operated a few weekends last winter and all this summer, growing in popularity, said Sean Briggs, marketing coordinator for Schweitzer.

“All walks of life are definitely going and riding it,” Briggs said. “On festival days, it gets really busy.”

When John and Amy Lilly were married at the resort on July 14, the Spokane couple made a spontaneous decision to race each other down the zip line right after the ceremony. He in his tux and she in her gown, the newlyweds flew over the heads of their guests.

“We were going to do it before, but my mom vetoed that in case my dress got dirty,” Amy Lilly said. “It was a good way to celebrate and let

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