Commentary: I came, I zipped, I conquered

Now I know why Tarzan's preferred method of transportation is swinging from vines in the jungle. Friday, I got the chance to experience the Brainerd Zip Line Tour at Mount Ski Gull, which opens for the season on Sunday. The zip line tour is opera...

Now I know why Tarzan's preferred method of transportation is swinging from vines in the jungle.

Friday, I got the chance to experience the Brainerd Zip Line Tour at Mount Ski Gull, which opens for the season on Sunday.

The zip line tour is operated by Minnesota Zip Lines & Adventures, owned by Lee and Eva Kerfoot. The Kerfoots also operate the Kerfoot Canopy Tour in Henderson.

I had never been to Mount Ski Gull before Friday and I've only been skiing once in my life, so that probably explains why that's the case. The only other time I had been on a ski hill when there wasn't snow on it was when I went disc golfing with a friend at Hyland Hills in Bloomington, which was a terrible mistake. A thing that's not fun to do is climb up and down a ski hill playing disc golf on a hot summer day, just so you know.

My zip line experience Friday was the exact opposite of that hot summer day at Hyland Hills. It was an absolute blast.


Our tour group consisted of myself and two of my co-workers: Jim Stafford and Kelly Humphrey. We were guided along the tour by Lee Kerfoot; Mitchell Scott, general manager; and Grant Fleetwood, assistant general manager.

You couldn't have asked for a better day, weather-wise. The temperature hovered in the mid-50s, there was a slight breeze and not many clouds in the sky.

The tour started on the ground, as we all geared up. There's a pretty complex harness involved, full of straps, clips and rings. Once you step into your harness, the guides do a good job of securing it and walking you through how exactly everything should fit.

Fully geared up, we piled into a few cars and drove to the start of the tour, which was at the top of Mount Ski Gull but involved a quick drive on County Road 77. Kerfoot assured us a van for these quick trips was arriving Saturday, to complete the tour experience.

Kerfoot explained he wants to drive around to the top of Mount Ski Gull because he doesn't want to spoil the surprise of the tour for anyone. If people ride up the hill on four-wheelers, they'll see some of the lines and towers. This way, they won't know what they'll see before they see it, which enhances the views, he said.

Before we trekked to the top of a tower and zipped off through the canopy, though, there was a training session on the ground, using a zip line suspended about 6 feet off of the ground. Scott and Fleetwood did a great job explaining what to do with our hands, how to stop and what not to do on the zip line.

Once we were all comfortable, we headed to the top of the first tower. I'm not exaggerating when I say the view from the top of that first tower, at the top of Mount Ski Gull, is one of the best panoramic views I've ever seen, and I've seen the Grand Canyon.

Kerfoot called these views "15-mile views," and while I'm not sure my eyesight is good enough to correct him, it sure does feel like you can see for 15 miles. Almost all of Gull Lake is laid out before you, as well as Agate Lake, Round Lake and Lake Hubert. The trees had just started to come back after winter when we went and I'd imagine they'll look fantastic in the next couple of weeks.


Throughout the whole tour, I kept noticing the level of safety involved in the whole production. Your harness features two straps with clips which are always attached to the wires spanning the tour. The skyguides tell you only they should touch your safety straps, in order to make sure you're always clipped onto a wire. It's reassuring and reminds you you're in good hands during your experience.

Scott and Fleetwood are both experienced zip line guides and do a great job of making sure you feel at ease during your experience. They have a good rapport and cracked jokes during our tour to keep us loose.

There's no exact answer to the question "How fast will I go?" Your speed depends on your weight and how heavy you are with your braking hand, Kerfoot explained. The skyguides do a good job of guiding you into your landings, making sure you don't come careening into the tower.

There's a suspension bridge about halfway through the tour, right before you get to the longest line, a 950-footer. The bridge was the most challenging part of the tour, personally, and the only time I felt truly uneasy. But my way of coping was to stare with laser focus at the center of the boards, so I didn't get distracted by the height.

The cherry on top of the sundae that is the tour, though, is the 50-foot free-fall experience at the end. You climb the rest of the last tower to a platform, above which is mounted the most complex and cool winch I've ever seen.

The winch works by dropping you pretty freely for the first 30 feet, Scott explained, before it switches to a different gear for the last 20 feet, slowing your descent. You land on a foot-deep pad, most likely on your backside, like I did.

There really is nothing like stepping off a platform into nothing and falling through the air. I think I froze up right as I started falling, which prevented me from shrieking in a falsetto as I fell. Instead, I endured the thrill with quiet grace, which is what I told myself.

All in all, it was a great experience and I think the Brainerd Zip Line Tour may be a good option for tourists looking for a bit of a thrill during their time in the Brainerd lakes area.


SPENSER BICKETT may be reached at 218-855-5859 or . Follow on Twitter at .

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