COLORADICAL: Fun on The High Wire

Colorado’s cliche tourist trap is a tantalizing taste of life on a wire.

Eric Cartman, America’s favorite foul-mouthed 4th-grader from “South Park”  was wrong.

OK, maybe that’s not breaking news to anyone, at all. Especially in regards to ziplining.

In one episode of Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s ephemeral cultural juggernaut, the beanie-toting protagonist is predictably underwhelmed by the zipline tour he embarks on with his animated pals. Between the overly chummy mountain guides, lackluster speed and mandated photo opps, Cartman and crew spend a caustic 30-minutes systematically picking apart one of Colorado’s most notable, and perhaps nefarious, touristic cliches.

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Quincy Snowdon zips across the Conifer landscape on Saturday April 04, 2015 at Conifer Community Park at Beaver Ranch. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

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Harnesses and safety gear wait for customers on Saturday April 04, 2015 at Conifer Community Park at Beaver Ranch. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

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20150404-Ziplining-Conifer, Colorado

Quincy Snowdon waits for his turn on one of the longest ziplines in Colorado on Saturday April 04, 2015 at Conifer Community Park at Beaver Ranch. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

20150404-Ziplining-Conifer, Colorado

Quincy Snowdon pushes off on Saturday April 04, 2015 at Conifer Community Park at Beaver Ranch. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

20150404-Ziplining-Conifer, Colorado

Quincy Snowdon zips across the Conifer landscape on Saturday April 04, 2015 at Conifer Community Park at Beaver Ranch. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

20150404-Ziplining-Conifer, Colorado

Quincy Snowdon zips across the Conifer landscape on Saturday April 04, 2015 at Conifer Community Park at Beaver Ranch. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

While many of Parker, Stone and Cartman’s sardonic observations are painfully accurate blows to the zippy throat, their overall thesis of Colorado ziplining being about as entertaining as tracking down a specific 1099 tax form on April 15, is a bit exaggerated. In reality, floating through countless rows of shaded Ponderosa Pines in a clandestine swath of Jefferson County Open Space is, well, pretty damn fun.

At least at Denver Adventures in Conifer. Headed by waggish Flemish-Belgian Owner Stefan Van der Steen, the zipline outfit just a carabiner’s lob off of U.S. 285 knows how to throw together a delightful morning of outdoor recreation.

I headed up to Van der Steen’s wooded kingdom on a recent Saturday morning plenty bleary-eyed and with Cartman’s lifeless prognosis at the frontiest front of my frontal lobe. My skepticism stems from staunch belief that unless it involves two 186-centimer planks of fiberglass fixed to my feet, scooting through ceaseless copses at an adequate speed is not an ideal mode of operation at 8 a.m. on a weekend. But, with an “I embraced the wedgie” magnet now proudly displayed on my Totino’s-filled fridge, the Denver Adventures crew made me a convert.

And that was largely a byproduct of Van der Steen’s pointedly arid sense of humor. Not a far mental walk from a kinder, nature-loving version of Hans Gruber, it was clear from the initial helmet sizing that Van der Steen had done his obligatory safety talk so many times — he’s been giving them since he founded the company in 2005 — every wry joke felt tedious to him. That weary routine could easily come across as apathetic to many a zipper, but for me the dead-eyed early morning animus landed in my sleepy nervous system better than a cup of liquified, South American beans. Plus, northern European accents make any stodgy barb just that much punchier. Needless to say, when Van der Steen muttered, “Ooh-Kay we’re going to weigh everybody in, add 10 pounds and then post it to our Facebook page,” and “Ooh-Kay, now we’re going to go ride in a creepy white van with lots of candy,” without so much as blinking a very Gruber-esque eye, I enjoyed more than an appropriate number of chortles.

The four hours and change spent on the actual zip course were filled with similarly bashful, yet insuperable, bouts of titters. Mostly because, well, when going upwards of 60-miles-per-hour while dangling by little more than a glorified jockstrap, it’s tough not to giggle like a Denver tourist on April 20.  Home to both Colorado’s longest and fastest zip lines, Denver Adventures is a far cry from the depressing swindle shops off of I-70 that are the parodic basis for Cartman and company’s nightmarish fun-suck. Adrenaline rush might be the wrong term, but the final and fastest of the six zips on the most-popular Van der Steen-led tour did undoubtedly tickle the pituitary gland enough to cough up more than a few of those sweet, sweet endorphins. And those buggers tend to ensure that the activities that induced them are remembered with a rose-colored hue.

But above the temporary elation offered by the modest heights, pell-mell speeds and Van der Steen’s trenchant, deprecating jabs, what became abundantly evident during my airborne crusade is how pragmatic Colorado ziplining can be. From quelling spring break cabin fever to (un)successfully breaking the ice for a first/second/last-minute date, temporarily leaving the ground and shooting 1,900 feet across aircraft carrier cables makes just about everyone a more amenable person. Because well, endorphins are a nice alternative to other loosening compounds at 8 o’clock in the morning.

So yeah, Cartman was wrong. To those who disagree: make an appointment with Stefan Gruber, er Hans Van der Steen, er, that Belgian guy in Conifer. To those who really disagree: Screw you guys, because I’m zipping home.

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