High on Snow King

The resort’s Treetop Adventure is a gateway to mini golf, bungee trampolines, a scenic chairlift, a mountain coaster, and an alpine slide.

High on Snow King

The resort’s Treetop Adventure is a gateway to mini golf, bungee trampolines, a scenic chairlift, a mountain coaster, and an alpine slide.

BY Julie Fustanio Kling
Photography by Bradly j. boner

Opened last summer after years of planning, the Treetop Adventure at Snow King is not a “ropes course,” but infinitely more interesting. It requires participants to negotiate obstacles between twelve and eighty feet above the ground.

AFTER GETTING OUTFITTED into harnesses and learning how to use the carabiners to click in safely, my twelve-year-old son, Ridge, and fourteen-year-old daughter, Dylan, and I are released onto the Treetop Adventure’s Green Course. We are near the midway station of the Rafferty Lift at the eastern edge of Snow King Mountain in downtown Jackson, but feel like we’re on another planet. Despite its easy rating, the Green Course consists of serious obstacles like wooden ladders and suspension bridges, all built above the ground, in trees. When we graduate from this course, which is the easiest, there are two more to go—the Red and Black Courses—and a zip line course. Each gets progressively harder and higher, but participants are able to call it quits at the end of any course.

In total, the Treetop Adventure has 3,300 linear feet of cables, over which stretch ninety-four aerial challenges, including a flying skateboard, a wrecking ball, a wobbly bridge, and fourteen zip lines. On the Flying Squirrel Course, which is designed for kids seven and up, obstacles are up to twenty feet above the ground. On the Full Course—for adults and kids over twelve, it includes the Green, Red, and Black Courses and zip lines—you can be between twelve and eighty feet above the forest floor.

Ridge and Dylan quickly get two, then three obstacles ahead of me. No one sees me lose my balance, fall to my knees, and scrape my shin when I let go of the “cheater” wire at eye level while crossing a section of ladder that goes from a horizontal plank to a vertical plank. (Every obstacle has a similar cable, about a half-inch in diameter and at eye level for an adult. You can use it as much or as little as you want or need. Not using it makes each obstacle exponentially more difficult, although even with the cheater cables on the Red and Black Courses, I think the obstacles are pretty difficult.) Finished with the ladder, I turn around and watch Christian Santelices, the founder of the Treetop Adventure with wife Sue Muncaster, smile as he skips—seriously!—across the ladder, no cheater wire needed.

Santelices, one of the few Exum Mountain Guides that leads trips around the world and teaches other guides (in addition to taking clients up the Grand Teton here in Jackson Hole), is both a big kid and a proud father as he catches up with my kids and points out his favorite features. Then he realizes it is me who needs the guidance and encouragement. “It’s a very different experience if you go in front of the kids,” he suggests, adding that at the Treetop Adventure kids usually get over their fears faster than adults. “There’s an obstacle on the Green Course, about four obstacles in. It’s a series of trapeze things that they cross that move—that’s the moment kids get scared,” Santelices says. “They have to dig deep and be patient, observe where they are going to put their feet. After that, there is a marked change in them. It’s a really beautiful thing; it’s so fun to watch.”

Not that there’s any danger of injury if a kid, or adult, were to fall. The Treetop Adventure uses a safety system called CLiC-iT, which includes two giant lobster claws on two lanyards attached to your harness. Requiring you to click onto one wire with your carabiner CLiC-iT before you can unclick the other, the system is foolproof. And it makes a fool out of me more than once. “Shazam,” I say to remind myself to clip on when I can’t figure out why I can’t unclip. (Santelices calls the magnetic “c-zam” clips that open the lobster claws “shazams.”)

“What’s fun as well is that there are some child-parent relationships where kids are going to be coaching the parents. It’s a chance for the kids to be the leaders.”
– Christian Santelices, Treetop adventure co-founder

I TAKE SANTELICES’ advice and get in front of my kids. This slows them down and allows me to listen to their reactions. As we progress through the adventure, I realize the challenges themselves are finally slowing all of us down. It wasn’t the trapeze on the Green Course, but the “skateboard” on the Red Course that throws Dylan for a loop. “How do you do this?” she asks. “I know, isn’t it scary?” I reply, starting to feel just a little more steady. “Just jump on and it will take you across.”

It is rare that my teenager will ask for, much less take, my advice, so it feels good to mentor her. She considers, as I do, jumping on the skateboard with her knees. But in the end, after watching me, she braves it standing upright. Two trees ahead, a section of vertical logs tests the Hanuman monkey god in me. I end up stretching my legs into the splits. Dylan takes a more calculated approach with two feet on each log. Her way is easier, and less embarrassing.

“For families with kids, it is a chance to spend some time together in a situation where there is some fear and to get through the next obstacle—to be together, encourage each other, and play,” Santelices says. “What’s fun as well is that there are some child-parent relationships where kids are going to be coaching the parents. It’s a chance for the kids to be the leaders.”

Our hands are raw when we climb down from the Red Course (I recommend gloves, which you can buy on site), and Dylan calls it a day. I think she is more interested in zip-lining down to see her friends than in trying to straddle the log twenty feet in the air on the Black Course. Ridge is game to go all the way, though. We switch our order and he leads the way on the final, and most difficult, course. Halfway across the Black Course’s first ladder, I’m glad I didn’t chicken out. The views of the Tetons are spectacular. Even better is the confidence I have as I cross the final ladder, despite the vertigo I feel in between obstacles when the trees swing in the breeze. “It’s amazing what the body can do,” says a sixty-five-year-old man visiting from Virginia who did the Red Course and then waited for his friend at a picnic table below the Black Course.
“We came out to Jackson to fish and decided to do something different. This is exhilarating.” It takes Ridge and me three hours to do the three different courses, an average amount of time, according to Santelices.

The end of the Black Course isn’t the end of the fun, though. The Treetop Adventure includes a ride down the Alpine Slide, a half-mile track that descends 350 feet with banked and hairpin turns. I thought Snow King had done away with it two summers ago when they unveiled the faster and twistier Cowboy Coaster, a mountain coaster powered by gravity.

We arrive at the base to learn Dylan has gotten hired for her first-ever job, strapping little kids into harnesses and bouncing them on the resort’s bungee trampoline. A benefit of her position is that we can play mini golf and ride the Cowboy Coaster as much as we want. I know we’ll do lots of both, but I don’t expect either to compare to the thrill of the Treetop Adventure.

Nuts & Bolts

The Snow King Treetop Adventure is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily Memorial Day through Labor Day and weekends through the end of September. Hours are extended from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. June 17 to August 21. Kids must be 7 years old to do the Flying Squirrel Course and be accompanied by an adult chaperone on the ground, and an adult must accompany kids under 16 on the full adventure. A ticket for the full adventure is $70 and $40 for the Flying Squirrel Course. Both include a ride back to the base area on the Alpine Slide. The most cost-efficient way to experience all of Snow King’s activities—the Treetop Adventure, Alpine Slide, bungee trampoline, mini golf, scenic lift, and Cowboy Coaster—is a Big King Unlimited Pass, which is $125. 307/201-5666, snowkingmountain.com/activities/treetop-adventure/

Adventurers twelve and over can do three different courses, each with more difficult obstacles than the last.
The Treetop Adventure has ninety-four obstacles and fourteen zip lines.
The Cowboy Coaster opened at Snow King the summer before the Treetop Adventure and is another worthwhile activity at the resort. The coaster hits speeds of up to twenty-seven miles per hour.
Last summer, Snow King unveiled a mini golf course. It is the only one in the valley.

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