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Playing Tarzan of the Alps

One of the high wire acts in Gantrisch

(swissinfo.ch)

swissinfo discovers that traversing through the forest canopy along a series of cables and rope bridges has become the latest rage in the Swiss Alps.

These adventure parks are also generating income for resorts and regions which otherwise see few benefits from tourism in the summer months.

Switzerland had 12 adventure parks at last count (see related sites), and the success of these will certainly lead to more resorts getting in on the high-wire act by next summer.

Up to 12,000 customers will have paid for the thrill by the end of the season at the Seilpark Gantrisch, the park I visited that is hidden away in an idyllic corner of the foothills of the Alps about a 30-minute drive from Bern, Thun or Fribourg.

But why are so many willing to shell out good hard cash to turn back the evolutionary clock and swing between the trees for a few hours?

This is something that Rolf Ryser, manager and instructor in Gantrisch, had obviously thought about.

"People have changed the way they spend their leisure time," he began. "They want new challenges, to become more active and do something to get their hearts beating faster."

Tyrolean Traverse

As Ryser spoke, I was distracted by a loud whirring from above. I looked up to watch a man fly by from one branch to the next, legs dangling all the way. He was on a zip line, doing his best Tarzan impression or what is known in the business as a "Tyrolean Traverse".

Like most of the adventure parks in Switzerland, Gantrisch consists of wooden platforms built at various levels in the trees, some as high as 35 metres above ground.

The platforms are inter-connected by sturdy, steel cables, rope ladders and wobbly wooden bridges.

"It's the chance to see the forest from a different perspective," Ryser continued as I put my notepad down and pulled a seat harness up over my legs.

He told me I was to secure myself at all times to the uppermost cable with the two carabiners attached to my harness, and the pulley that was also part of my equipment was to be used for the hi-flying Tyrolean sections.

After just ten minutes of instruction, Ryser turned his attention to a group of about 30 people waiting for their first go. Business was booming on this day, and the restaurant beside the park was also doing a roaring trade.

"We did quite well before the park opened, but it's unbelievable how business has picked up," restaurant manager Hubert Schick told me. "Our turnover has doubled."

The adventure parks in the resorts of Adelboden, Saas Fee and Champoussin - the latter in the Portes du Soleil ski region straddling the border between France and Switzerland - have generated tourist traffic in the normally slow summer season.

The Gantrisch region and the village of Les Prés d'Orvin in the Jura hills have been able to use their parks as calling cards, attracting urbanites that would normally bypass the relatively unknown areas.

No snakes

To get started, I first had to choose between five different trails crisscrossing the canopy of fir, linden and beech trees - each given a cute name like grasshopper, fox or squirrel.

I did not have any fear looking up at the woodpecker route – the highest – but after reaching the first platform, the look down was terrifying.

I tried to reassure myself that this was not a large-scale version of snakes and ladders, so there was no risk of falling as long as I followed Ryser's simple instructions.

Yet, as the first wooden plank wobbled uncontrollably as I attempted to plant my left foot, I decided to turn around – no easy task in itself – and attempt the lower, and therefore less-than-death-defying squirrel crossing.

I had no illusions of being mistaken for a fleet-footed, furry rodent, but I was nonetheless pleased with my treetop acrobatics, gaining confidence with the completion of each section.

All around me, above and below, others were climbing, swinging, sliding and tightrope walking.

"It's exciting because you don't have both feet on the ground," said orthodontist Peter Göllner from Bern.

Backwards jump

"It's frightening but that's what I like about it," said a woman who let out a high-pitched scream during each Tyrolean Traverse.

"It's unbelievable," said her friend. "It's mad to be so high, but I can't wait to do it again."

"I was afraid," admitted Jeannette Grindat, enjoying the outing with a couple dozen of her work colleagues.

"It demands full concentration so you don't have any time to think about how high you are, or what it would be like to fall," she reflected. "You're really pushed to the limit."

After about an hour, I had definitely come to the end of my tether. Unfortunately, getting down from the last canopy perch meant a jump of about 20 metres, backwards off a small platform as if it were a diving board.

To reach the ground, I was to put all my trust into a coiled rope at the end of the line.

The most important thing at this moment, I told myself, was to make sure I did not look down.

swissinfo, Dale Bechtel in the Gantrisch region

Key facts

Visitors to an adventure park have to navigate their way along a network of cables, suspension bridges and rope ladders through the forest canopy.
Costs range from around SFr15 ($12) to SFr45.
Visitors are required to have an average level of fitness, but there are no age limits (participants have to be at least 1m40cm tall).
No previous experience is necessary.
The Seilpark Gantrisch can also be booked through the adventure operator in Interlaken, Outdoor Interlaken.

end of infobox


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