Zip to it

Tour companies plan speedy adventures for areas around Eaglecrest and Treadwell Ditch

Posted: Sunday, January 15, 2006

As plans to bring a new sort of rain forest adventure Juneau began to emerge last week, one city planning commissioner wondered aloud about the safety of sending people zipping among the treetops.

Two companies are looking to begin doing just that during the upcoming summer tourist season. While both have "adventure" in their name, they say danger isn't an issue.

"The cables are strong enough to support a semi," said Rachel Fredholm of the Juneau-based Alaska Zipline Adventures. She said they have the strength to hold 26,000 pounds.

Fredholm was in the audience Tuesday when the Juneau Planning Commission approved a proposal by Ketchikan-based Alaska Canopy Adventures to open such an attraction this summer on private property south of Douglas.

The zip lines will be attached to trees and run down slopes in segments. People in harnesses will glide down along the course.

Hakan Sebcioglu, operations manager for Alaska Canopy Adventures, said from his Ketchikan office that the company had about 5,000 customers last summer, its first season in Ketchikan. "We expect the same (success) for Juneau," he said. "There is nothing else like it at this latitude," he said.

Fredholm and Matt Bixby DeSpain helped build a zip line attraction on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai and are hoping to open their Juneau attraction in the Eaglecrest Ski Area.

"The Assembly has asked us to bring in money during the summer," said Eaglecrest Manager Kirk Duncan. The Eaglecrest board has voted to bring in Alaska Zipline Adventures, with the resort serving as the landlord, he explained.

Fredholm expects her operation will go before the Planning Commission in February.

The zip-line projects won't be the same, although both will have people out in the open, gliding on cables down forested slopes on Douglas Island.

Alaska Canopy Adventures plans include an aerial foot bridge as part of the adventure. It will take people up the slopes in slow all-terrain six-wheel vehicles after bringing them across the Gastineau Channel by boat from the downtown area. Sebcioglu, who worked in the cruise industry for Royal Caribbean for five years, said there will be opportunities for people in Juneau to take part in the tour, but it will generally be arranged through cruises from May through September.

Because the zipping will run over the old Treadwell Mine operation, offering history among the hemlock and spruce, Sebcioglu said. That will make it different from the company's Ketchikan operation.

He said the Juneau course will be built by STEPS Inc., an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based company specializing in ropes and challenge courses since 1991. The Ketchikan course was the company's first zip line course, the company told The Associated Press last summer.

Fredholm said she and DeSpain, whose grandfather once owned the Taku Glacier Lodge, have been talking about opening a Juneau zip-line adventure for about two years. They will have Steve Gustafson, president of the Professional Rope Course Association, who has built other zip-line courses in Hawaii and Ketchikan, Fredholm said.

Alaska Zipline Adventures is working to finalize its plans, Fredholm said. She doesn't want to discuss them in great detail this early, but said there will be six or more zip segments. "We actually have plans for a unique component that no other zip-line course has," she said.

Eaglecrest has given the company creative freedom and designing the course has been fun, she added.

At Eaglecrest, the business will be marketed to Juneau residents and independent travelers at an affordable price, she said. People will be able to get there by driving up Fish Creek Road.

Duncan said Eaglecrest has the road access and utilities already being in place. During the summer months, they have hydroelectric power generated from Cropley Lake, the nearest alpine lake to the city.

"We never envision summer paying for winter," he said. But such things as the zip-line course and possibly a summer dog sled operation could provide off-season revenue.

Fredholm said she first experienced zip-lining in Costa Rica in 2001 and has been getting more deeply involved with it since. It's more than "gliding through the rain forest with an eagle's-eye view," she said, although that is a thrill.

"You're learning about your surroundings in the process," she said, speaking of the look and smell of the trees. "It's a thrill to see what the beautiful forest looks like."

And for people who don't want to go bushwhacking through devil's club, it's access to the forest they would never get otherwise, Fredholm said.

As for the safety of dangling from a cable, she said people don't think twice about going up and down the Mount Roberts Tram in a car full of people.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.



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