Sherry Venezio is a distinguished member of the Heavenly Flyer Human Projectile Squad.
Laughing almost hysterically, this 46-year-old from Elk Grove, Calif., could hardly contain her enthusiasm after riding the recently opened zip line at Heavenly Mountain Resort.
"I was more scared going out of the gate. I felt like I was hyperventilating. Oh my god, it was like nothing I've experienced," Venezio said. "I had my eyes open the whole way."
That's a good thing because the views are spectacular; Lake Tahoe sparkles in the distance. The landing looks like you'll drop onto Round Hill. Mountain peaks are in the distance. Craggy ski runs are below.
Venezio and her husband, Tony, 53, were all smiles after the 60-second ride. After surviving their first zip line, they were each handed a certificate of flight to prove their accomplishment. Heavenly plays up its "missile program" by having employees dress in flight coveralls.
At 3,100 feet, this zip line that runs parallel to the Tamarack chair is the longest in the lower 48 states. By the time riders reach the platform at the bottom they have dropped 525 feet in elevation.
A $30 gondola ride is required to get up to the zip line, though season pass holders ride for free. Once there, a ride on the Heavenly Flyer costs another $30, or $20 for pass holders.
Two cables are next to each other, so friends can ride at the same time.
Brenda Knox, 46, of South Lake Tahoe felt more secure in this zip line than one in Kauai because at Heavenly the rider is seated instead of being strapped into a harness like rock climbers wear. Plus, at Heavenly riders start seated with knees against a gate instead of jumping like a free fall.
One of Heavenly's flight crew members does a short countdown before opening the gates. Then riders are propelled downward, feet dangling -- some with a death grip on the straps, others with arms flapping, and some trying to twist in the wind.
Faster than expected
The heavier a person is, the faster they go. Speeds can reach 60 mph. At 220 pounds, Garrick Odenberg, 41, of Spokane, Wash., came flying down.
"It was a smooth ride down. The stop was a lot more than I expected," Odenberg said. "It's better than I thought. It wasn't as high off the ground (as I expected)."
It's not until the end that riders realize how fast they are going. All of a sudden the yellow crash pad comes into view. Before anyone comes close to hitting it, the braking system, which looks like spring coils, goes to work.
The sudden thrust launches riders slightly in the air.
"I didn't think I would stop. Then I went up in the air and I was seeing the clouds," Odenberg said with a big smile on his face.
When the Heavenly Flyer first opened Feb. 29, some icing issues developed during cold spells. A de-icing mechanism was installed after the slopes were closed. Windy conditions and nasty weather will keep it closed as well.
Heavenly expects to operate the Flyer year round. To get to the launch site requires riding the gondola located at Heavenly Village in South Lake Tahoe. Then it's a short walk to the six-pack Tamarack chairlift. Then it's another short walk to the launch pad, which is at 9,580 feet.
Once the ride is over, hiking trails can be accessed from there. Plus, the Adventure Peak Grill is open for lunch and Umbrella Bar serves liquid encouragement. In the winter, skiers and boarders can leave their gear at the bottom of the chairlift while they ride the Heavenly Flyer.
Cost: $30 for the gondola, $30 for Heavenly Flyer; season pass holders ride gondola for free, pay $20 for Flyer
Weight regulations: Must be between 75-275 pounds
Height requirements: Must be between 4-foot-4 and 6-foot-8
Hours: 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday until Oct. 13. The Flyer then resumes operation at the start of the 2008-09 ski season; 10 people limit per half hour
Details: 775-586-7000 or www.skiheavenly.com