“Really good zip line and aerial adventure park guides understand that the first step of any adventure park tour is the ground school,” says Lori Pingle who, with her husband Jerrod, runs Get a Grip Adventures, a zip line and challenge park consulting, training, and inspecting company. “Ground school is not just that thing that comes before the experience. It’s the start of the experience.”
And it can be a disorienting experience. A zip line tour with her 60-year-old aunt in Hawaii reminded Pingle of that.
“My aunt came to the first line and did everything wrong. She was so excited that she didn’t even see the guide giving instruction,” Pingle recalls. “She wanted to do things right, but was so scared and had no idea what would happen.”
That behavior is not abnormal in the world of adventure courses. “Even if people hear it and see it and want to do it, depending on how afraid or out of their element they are, they may not pick it up,” Pingle says. In short: guests are easily overwhelmed by all the novel aspects of the experience.
That lack of familiarity highlights the need for a ground school or briefing session. To make that presentation effective with everyday folks, the Pingles have trained guides to direct their presentations toward the least capable person allowed at that course.
Here’s what that looks like, for adventure parks as well as zip lines and tours.
WHAT TO COVER
Aerial Adventure Parks
Dave Johnson—an owner, operator, and builder of aerial adventure parks—echoes Pringle’s assessment. “Ground school is the first part, and a critical part, of the guest experience,” he says. “It’s also a great place to determine whether guests will be able to perform the actions of the course.”
That’s part of the message he imparts to all his customers. In 2007, Johnson and his son, Jamie, opened the Adirondack Extreme adventure park in Bolton Landing, N.Y. In 2009, the Johnsons partnered with TreeGo Canada and formed Outplay Adventures LLC, which now builds TreeGo-branded aerial adventure parks across North America.
Both of Johnson’s companies spend an inordinate amount of time on instruction and guest safety.
Repetition, he says, is crucial. At many of their parks, whether self-guided or led by a trained guide, safety instruction begins with a continuous loop DVD that plays as guests arrive and sign their waiver forms. The DVD includes a litany of dos and don’ts—don’t wear loose clothing, do tie long hair into a scrunchie, don’t chew gum or smoke—as well as video of the demonstration area that guests will soon go through. The idea is for them to preview what they’ll be experiencing on the course.
Before they try to perform the required tasks, though, guests get a verbal presentation that repeats some of the information in the video as they receive their harnesses. They are also given an equipment orientation that covers how to put on their harnesses (with the guide making sure each guest’s harness is snug and fits properly) as well as how carabiners and pulleys work.
Like many parks, TreeGo aerial adventures are progressive in nature. Guests start on an easy course and progress to more difficult levels as they go along. Most guests take on the course without a guide, and are instructed to do all they can without overcommitting themselves. It’s perfectly okay, they are told, to finish three of the five courses, then call out to a guide to be lowered to the ground.