As a travel writer, I frequently roam across the globe, but this time, my destination is walking distance from my house: a quarter mile, as the crow flies. I live on the side of the Catamount Ski Area on the border of Massachusetts and New York. A couple of years ago, the ski area, in its ongoing pursuit to figure out something to do in the summer months, came up with the idea of an aerial adventure park.
I know, I know: Zip lines are popping up anywhere there are two trees to cable together, but this isn’t that. The Catamount Aerial Adventure park is a tree-tops obstacle course with 50 ziplines, 170 platforms, and elements like swinging bridges and balance beams 50 feet in the air. It is billed as the largest park of its kind in North America, and it is located smack in the middle of Berkshire County’s already long list of summer tourist attractions for families.
The park is a family favorite: My nephews and nieces are old hands at this by now: They swing like monkeys from the hanging bridges and tightropes. The course is both fun and challenging — I’ve seen their confidence grow as a result of being able to handle the obstacles. And what I particularly like about this attraction is that running it requires no fossil fuel: It’s entirely eco-friendly. I also like that once in a while I hear hoots of delight echoing up the mountain while I’m sitting on my porch.
Bringing an Adventure Course to Berkshire County
One spring afternoon, I wandered down the mountain to check out the course, and ran into Bahman Azarm, the Connecticut-based construction company owner who came up with the idea for the park. Azarm was educated in Switzerland. He says he got the idea when he went to a school reunion and one of the activities was a visit to an aerial park.
“I wanted to bring the idea to North America,” he said, “So I started looking for a partner. A ski area was good choice because it has the space, and Catamount had a good location, with enough trees.”
The course was designed by a Swiss team of mountaineers-turned-builders, who have developed and managed adventure parks in Europe. They also trained Catamount’s staff in the use of the equipment, in safety and rescue techniques, and in park and visitor management.
In Your Bucket Because…
- Outdoors. Fun and challenge. No electronics. No fossil fuel use. Your kids will be exhausted. What’s not to like?
- Yes, lots of parks have ziplines. No, there aren’t a lot of parks like this one. And it’s located in one of the most popular tourist areas in the Northeast.
- Good for: All ages, depending on fitness, but especially good for kids.
Learning Basic Techniques for the Zip Line and High Ropes Course
My nephews’ first visit to the part started with learning the ropes, quite literally: At the main lodge they were fitted for harnesses and were shown the basics of using caribiners and pulleys. Most importantly, they learned to clip into the “life-lines” (safety cables) and to never detach more than one caribiner at a time. (Since opening, the park has upgraded to electronically controlled hardware that ensures that only one clip at a time can be undone.) They also learned the basics of zip-lining: clipping and holding the pulleys that allow them to slide on the cables, starting in a sitting position on a platform, sliding gently into the air, and controlling their speed.
Elements of Catamount’s Adventure Courses
Then it was time to hit the course. The kids started at an introductory platform, where they reviewed how to safely clip in and out of the lifelines. Staffers are on hand to help with skill instruction, watch for safety issues, and keep things moving.
The kids are allowed on the different levels of the course according to age; each person must progress through an easy level and an intermediate level before moving on to the most advanced levels. In addition, younger children are restricted to the easier levels, and must be supervised or accompanied by an adult (depending on the age and the level of the course).
I watched as my nephews tacked the rope-and-wood bridges, crawled through swinging tubes and tunnels, climbed ladders (one climbing element has handholds and footholds that spin), coped with a variety of other obstacles ranging from 8 to more than 50 feet off the ground, and declared themselves ready to move up to the next level.
Fortunately, I thought, looking at the obstacles the next level involves, they are now old enough — and advanced enough — that they don’t need an adult up in the air with them!
- Catamount sits on the New York – Massachusetts border on the edge of Berkshire County, a popular vacation destination located just over a two hour-drive from New York City, and within three hours of most of New England’s larger cities.
- Elements range in difficulty from easy (suitable for 7 – 9 year olds) to “Commando” (ages 16 and up). Altogether, the course contains 12 separate courses, more than 170 platforms, and 50 zip lines — far more than anyone can do in a day.
- After finishing a course, visitors can rest, or go onto another one. A ticket to the park is good for 3 hours, after which most visitors will be ready to stop in for a snack at Catamount’s Main Lodge.
- The course is open weekends from May through October, daily in the summer.