Rope and Glory

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s Grand Adventure Park

BY Joohee Muromcew
PHOTOGRAPHY BY price chambers

A seven-year-old makes the double black diamond portion of The Ropes at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s Adventure Park look easy.

A seven-year-old makes the double black diamond portion of The Ropes at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s Adventure Park look easy.

LET ME BE clear up front. I am not an “adventurous” person by most Jackson Hole interpretations of that word. I do not jump into Corbet’s to show my kids how it’s done. Any walls I climb are strictly metaphorical. Skin up Teton Pass and ski down through the trees? I get vertigo just driving the pass in my Yukon. When my editor, Dina—a joyfully fearless woman—asked me to write about the new adventure park at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and elsewhere, I had to reveal my inner lameness. She was nonplussed (“I love the perspective!”) and sent over the contract.

The Grand Adventure Park at JHMR encompasses some older favorite activities, like the bungee-powered trampoline and a disc golf course. A mountain bike park was added in 2011, and the newest addition is a massive multilevel, multicourse ropes course called “The Ropes.” The highest elements are thirty-two feet above the ground, with zip lines, balance beams, and tightropes designed to challenge physically and mentally. My four kids—Alex, just entering high school, and triplets Mary, Nikita, and Natasha, entering middle school—were alarmingly and naively excited for the course. They just did not seem to grasp how scary it was going to be, regarding it instead as an advanced play structure. I saw it as a jungle gym for Navy SEALs. My husband, Alex, was training for a Grand Teton climb, so he approached it with the same anxiety that he might an afternoon nap. I had to remind myself that I am fearless in other ways. I have eaten mystery meat on a stick at the Beijing Night Market. I’ve flown cross-country alone with four children under the age of five. Speaking of those kids, I gave birth to triplets—carried to term—and have spirited them away on countless adventures all over the world.

Before starting The Ropes, adventurers are strapped into full-body harnesses.

Before starting The Ropes, adventurers are strapped into full-body harnesses.

THE PROFUSE SWEATING began as soon as I was strapped into my harness and helmet. All participants must go through what is called “Ground School,” a brief tutorial about the course and how to use the harness. We had a seasoned JHMR ski instructor, Emma Franzeim, giving us the mini-lesson, and I have to admit, it was all pretty straightforward once you got the hang of the fail-safe clip system. If you lose your balance or grip, the farthest you will fall is the length of your harness. However, once you are clipped in at the base of the course, you are committed until the end of your lap, where you jump off a platform (more on that later). I immediately began to imagine humiliating midcourse rescue scenarios.
Franzeim stressed that unless you are having a true medical emergency, like an allergic reaction to a bee sting, the best person to help yourself out of a challenging line is yourself. In fact, there have been very few “rescues” of any sort since The Ropes opened, just an occasional case of dehydration. The kids scampered off without hesitation on the blue courses, laughing and whooping with that can-do attitude they inherited from Alex. I took longer, shopping around the options.

The suspended log looked safest, until I stepped on it and it swayed underneath me. I heard encouragement all around as I gripped the ropes and inched my way forward. I reached the first platform and hugged the post like it was my mother. There was another mom behind me with her own sprightly crew of children-coaches. She was also waxing between exhilaration and terror. I reached my second platform on the other side of a row of loosely swaying ropes and turned my head as my husband shouted out, “Hey, Joohee! Watch this!” He was jumping off the lower of the two platforms, still harnessed in, but with complete abandon and happiness. I watched the children follow him down to the safe, safe ground and then line up for their next go.

The only way off the course is to belay down one of two platforms. Franzeim was now stationed at the lower platform, patiently coaching the timid, counting to three when needed, and she suggested I just look at my hands. Most importantly, don’t look down. Franzeim also coaches the popular Women’s Ski Camp and Steep and Deep Camp during the ski season with similar measures of skilled instruction and emotional-baggage wrangling. The few times I’ve wall-climbed led me to believe they meant belay as in another (strong!) person would gradually give on his or her end of the rope so I could gently glide down like a swan.
Not exactly the case.

This is more of a zip-line action. As I stood on the edge of the platform, I thought of the many times I’ve overcome my fear of heights. Every ski run down Rendezvous Bowl from the top of the tram begins with a mini-anxiety attack, trips to the bathroom, sips and sips from the CamelBak, and then lots of shopping around for the most forgiving fall line. I was horrified to learn recently that all of the bowl’s fall lines are mostly the same pitch. I began to wonder why I live here in this community that prizes extreme thrill-seeking so much. Why must we all put ourselves at such …
“You should just go,” Franzeim says kindly, taking the needle of my inner neurotic record. “You can do it.” And so I did, stepping off the platform, softly landing on my feet just a moment later. My family, splayed all over the course—Natasha on the third-level spider web, Nikita hanging on with one hand while crossing a high tightrope, Mary pulling herself on a suspended trolley, and Alex now back on the high platform—applauded and cheered for me.

The Ropes includes zip lines, balance beams, and tightropes on courses that have varying levels of difficulty.

The Ropes includes zip lines, balance beams, and tightropes on courses that have varying levels of difficulty.

I felt so very proud of myself for finishing even the green course, and mostly for stepping off that platform. The kids were already asking when they could come back and if there was a black course to try next time. The courses run in difficulty from allegedly easy green courses to blues and double blues, then blacks. My son joked that there was a “Death Circle” level I should try. Would I come back with them, please, so they could coach me through the green course again? Yes, I said, surprising them and myself. Compared to shaking off vertigo, shivering on a frozen, foggy ten-thousand-foot-tall peak, traversing ropes and swings while strapped into a safety harness is not so scary after all, at least until the next time.


The Grand Adventure Park at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort
Open during the summer season, each activity has its own operating hours and fees. The aerial adventure course, The Ropes, is open for ages five and older. Expect to spend about an hour to complete the three laps included in the cost. No experience is necessary. $35,

Doug Walker Challenge Course at Teton Science Schools
Tucked into the 1,000-acre Jackson campus of Teton Science Schools, the Doug Walker Challenge Course offers an equally challenging but quieter ropes course experience than JHMR. The course is open to the public on Saturdays, but is also available for groups with advance notice. It makes for a powerful team-building outing for corporate groups, or with its high and low elements, a memorable event for family reunions and wedding parties.

Grand Targhee
No ropes course here, but Grand Targhee’s summer activities include a bike park with over 2,200 vertical feet of lift-serviced bike trails for all levels. Disc golf, a climbing wall, and a Eurobungy are also offered.

Snow King Mountain Resort
As of press time, Snow King was still awaiting final approval from the U.S. Forest Service for its adventure park plans.

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