When Europe calls, you answer. In late June, I received an invitation from Dave Horan with Outdoor Ventures, asking me if I’d be interested in joining the company and a few clients on a market research trip to central Europe. My answer, of course, was a resounding “Yes!” I had never been to Europe and this seemed like a perfect opportunity to see how the Europeans do adventure attractions. I was not disappointed.
It was a very fast-paced trip, but we only experienced a tiny fraction of what Europe has to offer, of course. All told we visited four countries—five if you count Lichtenstein, which is so small you miss it if you blink—and crossed borders at least a dozen times. Our journey included stops in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Austria.
Our group included Bahman Azarm and Dave Horan from Outdoor Ventures; Chris Hollister, a Texan who owns EcoZip Adventures in New Zealand; Bob and Karen Bentz and Michele and Kevin Canney, who are developing the new Anakeesta Adventure Resort in Gatlinburg, Tenn.; Alfred “Fredo” Essenwanger, one of our gracious local hosts and an influential consultant and adventure park designer on the European ropes course scene; Phillipp Strasser, from Outdoor Concepts, a zip line designer and consultant and the mechanical engineer who created the Bornack SSB lanyard and the Falcon speed regulating trolley; and me, who needs to remember to remove Dutch chocolate bars from his backpack so they don’t melt all over everything and make it look like he had an “accident.”
One of the first observations about the marketplace is that there is very little signage for adventure attractions. This was evident at our first stop, the Sky Walk in Allgaeu, Germany. The only advertisements in the town were little blue signs that simply stated “Sky Walk” with an arrow pointing the way.
The Sky Walk itself is an impressive structure. It is essentially a walking canopy tour that is accessible via stairs or a five-story elevator. Portions of the walk also have optional challenge course elements that participants can try; the less brave can simply walk around them. Many Europeans are content to do just that—they are not as goal-driven as Americans.
Underneath the Sky Walk were several playground-type structures that not only entertained kids and a few of us adults, but also provided an educational experience about the surrounding environment. European parks have been around for decades, and they have figured out how to keep all ages entertained, which is an important lesson for any operator. Our next stop was a KristallTurm aerial park in Flumserberg, Switzerland, playfully named “Cliimber.” Operated by Mountain Railways Flumserberg and located at mid-mountain of a ski area, accessed by a gondola or a hiking trail—the park makes quite an impression on the first-time visitor. You feel extremely exposed climbing on the mountainside attraction. Being nestled in the Swiss Alps adds to the ambiance, too.
We met Heinz Tretter, the founder of KristallTurm, and received a tour of the product and process. The structure is a three-level, steel pole park with 24 elements per level. There are also three zip lines that descend off the third level to the adjacent hillside, and then three zip lines that return to the second level. The entire time, participants are belayed by the Bornack SSB smart belay system.
Another observation, based on this experience: We’ll be seeing more and more steel structures coming to the States in the near future.