Trent Ernst, Editor
A few months back, the folks from Skyline Adventures/Zoom Adventures were in town, evaluating the landscape, looking at possible places for both a Zipline and a bungee jumping platform.
Well, the reports are now in, and Tumbler Ridge could be home to the best (read: highest) bungee jump in Canada. But at what cost?
The idea for bringing in a zipline was the brainchild of Councillor Joanne Kirby. She says she and her family travel a lot, and when they do, they are willing to go out of their way to find these sorts of things. She was the one who contacted Skyline Ziplines about what it would cost to set up a zipline in the Tumbler Ridge area. “I get excited about tourism,” she says. “And a zipline would be an anchor for the adrenaline junkies coming to Tumbler Ridge.”
It’s an idea that has been in her brain for a while, she says, dating from before she was on Council. Now that she’s there, she says she’s been looking at other tourist destinations, looking at other Geoparks, and seeing what they have in place to draw people. “They all have something with a ‘wow’ factor,” she says. “We need that here.”
Most people are familiar with the concept of a zipline, where a person descends from a high point to a low point down a steel cable by means of a pulley system. The shortest of these are used in kid’s playgrounds, where kids just hold on for dear life. In professional course, they are higher, longer and require that the rider be wearing a helmet and attached by means of a climbing harness.
The longest of these runs, located in Italy, is over 2 km (2,213 m), with riders reaching speeds of 140 km/h on the descent. Skyline Dubai’s line is not so long, but starts 414 m above the ground, making it the world’s highest. And in South Africa, there’s a zipline where riders can hit speeds of 160 km/h.
A zipline in Tumbler Ridge would not be quite so long or fast. The current plan is to run a pair of zip lines from the lookout on the road up to the old racetrack above flatbed, with the ride ending at the back end of the Lion’s Flatbed Campground. This would be a drop of about 70 metres across about 700 metres.
According to Skyline adventures, the parallel zip lines could handle up to 60 riders per hour. The total cost of construction would be just under $400,000.
Kevin Smith, President of Skyline Group, says that this is a no-brainer for the District. “You’ve got a beautiful community there,” he says from his office in Whistler. “I’m excited about the project, and I think it could alter the direction of the town.”
Smith says that, despite the town’s remoteness, it could easily become a draw for places like Prince George and Grande Prairie. “There’s nothing like this up there. What we’re proposing is a super duper high tension line. It’s going to be dramatic, it’s going to be fast, going in and out of the trees. It will be a lot of fun.”
The cost for similar ziplines run in the $40-$60 range, which Smith says is a good target price for this one.
Just over ten kilometres away from the proposed zip line site, Smith says he has found the perfect spot for what could be North America’s biggest and best bungee jump.
The proposed jump would happen in Quality Canyon. In order to do the jump, a suspension bridge would have to be built over the canyon. The bridge, says the report, would be about 320 feet long, and about 315 feet above the water.
This would allow for a 265 foot jump, or about 81 metres, making it the highest jump in Canada, besting Great Canadian Bungee’s jump in Wakefield Quebec by a good 20 metres. It would also be the seventh highest in North America, though the six higher jumps are only jumped on an ad hoc basis. If built, it would be the highest permanent jump in North America.
There is a logging road that currently comes within about 300 m of the Canyon, which would cut down on the expense of accessing the site.
In order to do a bungee jump into Quality Canyon, you would first need a platform. In this case, a suspension bridge over the canyon. According to the proposal, this bridge would be about 2 m wide, supported by four main cables.
As proposed, the walkway would be constructed of wood with fencing for safety. The west side of the bridge would require a structure about 10 m high to bring the elevation in sync with the east side. There has also been discussion of making the bridge sturdy enough to support ATV traffic, which would increase the cost.
At the middle of the bridge would be a 8 ft by 12 ft platform for the jump. Having made the jump, the jumper would be raised back to the jump platform to avoid the walk out.
How much would something like this cost? “We recommend charging a fee of $150+ tax for a bungee jumping experience of this height and location,” says Zoom.
No, but how much would it cost to build? Installation of the design, fabrication and installation of the bridge, activity-specific equipment and operator training would come in at just under $600,000.
Kirby says that something like this would be a major draw to the area. “It’s so close to us; it’s five minutes from town.”
The business of adventure
But there has been some concern from the community as well as from some other council members. Councillor Helen Scott says she gets worried when the District discusses getting into areas that could be run by private operators.
Councillor Kirby says Scott’s worries are valid. “That’s the thing; [Councillor Scott] has such great ideas on that. It’s so good to have people like her and Councillor Howe; I’m the fantasy dreamer person, they have such a good grasp of the reality and the financials.”
Kirby says she’s heard from some people that they’re concerned about the town using tax dollars on this. She says unlike private operators, the District is in a position that they can get grant money from the Provincial and Federal Governments to pay for a portion of the costs. “Also the District has not been successful at business, like the golf course. That’s something we need to figure out: how to work these things. The golf course is essential to this town. It brings in tourists and provides quality of life for the locals. We need to get better at doing these things.
“We’re missing a link somewhere here. The town has been in this spot at so many times where we’re supposed to be diversifying and selling ourselves as a tourist destination, but we don’t have anything new here. We need someone who can coordinate this.”
She says she can see a day when people who are taking programs like the Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Management program at UNBC come to Tumbler Ridge to form a team to run an adventure tourism program in town. “They’d be doing your promotion, they’d take people out on the zip line or out bungee jumping. If it’s slow on that day, they could take visitors out on the river paddling.”
Smith says he’s not sure that a private operator would be interested in running the site for Tumbler Ridge. “There will be some burn off for the first two to four years as the site gets established,” he says. “The return on investment (ROI) in Tumbler Ridge compared to other sites that already have a million people visiting, it doesn’t make sense for a company when there is lower hanging fruit.”
But, he says, that’s looking at it only through the lens of a business. “A business ROI vs a municipality ROI is very different,” he says. “It would be profitable in probably five to ten years. A business is looking for two to three years.”
And the benefits to the community would be outstanding, says Smith. “Before I went up there, I really didn’t get it. I didn’t really know anything about the community. When I flew in and took a look at the location, I thought why can’t this be an eco-adrenaline capital of BC? If we do the combination of the suspension bridge, jump and zip line, combined with all the other things, it’s worth it for people to come for the day or for the weekend. And people are going to be flying in for the bungee jump.”
Councillor Kirby says the District is going to have to look long and hard at how to get this going, but she believes that it would be an investment. “You have to look at it as an investment; as a way to get people up the highway. It’s not a get rich scheme for the District. We’re definitely going to look at how to get this going, but not use tax dollars to do it.”
She says that many bungee jumping companies get people to book ahead of time and pay in advance, which she says would be the best model here. “That way, you know what staff you need on any given day.”
But she can foresee a day when tour buses will come to town full of people interested in Eco-adventure. “It’s very marketable. There’s all these tours heading up the Alaska Highway and we have to jump on board with these tourism companies. It’s not going to happen this year, but it’s not something we should toss under the bed, either.”
Smith says the chance of failure is low. “Ultimately it will be successful. I know of only one zipline company in Canada that failed, and it didn’t fail because the business was bad, it failed because it was unsafe, and it got closed down. I’m always shocked that even the worst operations are making money. And if this is marketed properly, it will be a huge draw.”