With growth comes innovation, and with innovation comes exciting new stuff. The adventure park industry in the U.S. is about to see a new generation of attractions that are part zip line, part roller coaster—and nobody can decide what to call them.
All of the products in this relatively new space share a few similarities. They travel on rails, not cables, and riders are suspended from harnesses. Depending on the product, the ride can be an exhilarating rush through the air or a tranquil, low-speed flying tour. None of them travel in a straight line, and that’s probably the biggest differentiator, from a user standpoint, between these aerial rail rides and traditional zip lines or mechanical canopy tours.
But what to call them? Teams of creative professionals, or at least a few pedantic editors, are seeking the proper nomenclature. How about: Gravity-fed twisted aerial rail coaster flying zip rides? There may be a usable acronym in there somewhere … For the purposes of this story—and in the spirit of brevity—we’re going to generally refer to this product group as “twisted rail zip rides,” with various abbreviations peppered throughout the following.
Whatever the name, two general benefits are clear: efficient use of space, and compatibility with virtually any outdoor topography or indoor facility. Their footprint can be relatively small and still make for a fun ride; rails can be suspended from existing structures (buildings, trees, platforms). But even freestanding structures don’t take up a ton of space on the ground, thanks to intelligently engineered support towers. This makes it possible to operate another revenue-generating activity underneath the ride, such as a kid’s rope course or playground.
Layouts can be very creative and tailored to the site. The length of the ride is customizable, of course, but so are all the ups, downs, twists, and turns from start to finish. This inherent flexibility means that no two rides will be alike. Operators have a truly unique distinction from their competition, even if the park down the road has the same product.
There are other advantages to these twisted rail zips, too. Since, like zip lines, the rides only have a start and a finish, staffing is minimal, with just two people required to operate the actual ride. From a maintenance standpoint, the components of each ride have few moving parts, so upkeep is relatively painless.
While these analogous qualities may paint a picture of products that are very similar, they’re anything but. There are only a handful of twisted rail zips on the market, currently, but each one features unique design elements and functional capabilities.
• Main Attractions’ AvatarOne (represented in the U.S. by Adventure Solutions)
• Fly-Line (represented in the U.S. by Outdoor Ventures)
• Walltopia’s Rollglider, and
• Zip-Flyer’s Zip-Coaster.
Extreme Engineering has a product called the Cloud Coaster that shares some characteristics with the above—it travels on a curvy track, and riders are suspended from a harness with gravity doing a bulk of the work—but the company bills it as “the world’s first cartless roller coaster,” and positions itself as a roller coaster alternative rather than a zip line alternative. We’ve excluded it from our review here, at Extreme Engineering’s request, but it may be worth considering as an option.
It’s also important to note that Ropes Courses Inc. offers the Sky Rail, which is a rigid zip line that connects to its Sky Trail ropes course overhead track system. Users are harnessed in for a ride that uses a rail rather than a cable. While the Sky Rail doesn’t have the ups, downs, and spirals like the other products included here, the first curved version debuted last year as part of the ropes course built atop Norwegian Cruise Lines’ newest ship. The curved rail will officially go to market at the 2016 IAAPA expo in November. A benefit to the Sky Rail is that it’s incorporated into a much broader adventure course structure, adding a unique element to an already diverse attraction.