One of the most memorable experiences you’ll ever have is one that frightens you then ends up being tons of fun. Such was the case with the SkyRider, the zipline at Hunter Mountain in New York’s Northern Catskills, one of the fastest, highest and longest in North America.
Why was I afraid you ask?
I hate the sensation of falling, which I thought was part of a zipline’s allure–like the stomach drop you get on a rollercoaster. But deep down, I also thought ziplining looked like a lot of fun.
When I was offered the opportunity to try the SkyRider, I thought, it’s now or never.
It wasn’t until I was at the top of the mountain looking over a 650-foot drop that I started to rethink my decision.
Hunter Mountain Zipline, Here I Come
It was drizzling when we arrived at New York Zipline Adventures, not that a little rain was going to stop us. Except for dangerous weather such as lightning or rough winds the SkyRider is open rain or shine year-round.
Our first order of business was suiting up. Puma, Dustin, Kevin (our three guides) and Rowan (a guide in training) helped us into our gear, an array of belts and buckles weaving around our legs, shoulders, and waist, reminding me of the setup I used in Belize to repel into the 300-foot sinkhole called the Black Hole Drop. On our heads, we wore small dome-like helmets, a cross between a road bike and an old-school motorcycle helmet.
Draped in gear, we walked outside to The Beast, a customized former military truck that would drive us up to the mountain to its summit—in winter they use the resort’s chairlifts.
We loaded into the vehicle and as our journey began, Dustin cued up the soundtrack to Raiders of the Lost Ark. (You gotta love an outfit with a sense of humor.) My anxiety had jumped a notch climbing into the truck but when I heard the score’s familiar trumpets blaring I had to laugh. Nothing like a good chuckle to take the edge off.
Hunter Mountain Zipline #1
The SkyRider is comprised of five separate ziplines with a combined length of 4.6 miles. The first zip is the longest and highest of the five at 3200 feet long and 600 feet high.
If you’re going to go, go big.
On a platform perched at the edge of a cliff, were side-by-side ziplines, each with a short ramp leading to oblivion; we’d zip in twos. Kevin pointed to a tiny brown speck in the forest canopy more than a half-mile away and said, “That’s the other side.”
He explained that when he gave the high-sign (a count-down from three) we need to grab our trolley handles, run down the ramp as fast as possible, and to make sure we reach the other side, pull our legs up so we were more aerodynamic. The guys called this the “Cannonball.”
All I heard was “Run down the ramp.”
My friend Terry volunteered to go first with one of the guides on the second zipline. I was second—best to get it over with, I don’t do well with waiting when I’m a bit freaked. Terry ziplined before, but she was a little nervous about this run. We all were. We joked about our fear as one does when you need to vent but don’t want to seem stupid frightened.
“Zip Away!” (Video)
“3… 2…1..Zip Away!” Puma yells and Terry runs down the ramp, runs out of footing, pulls up her legs and off she goes. And goes. And goes. And goes. A dangling red spot, shrinking into the distance until I couldn’t track her any longer.
Focused on keeping my shit together, I cracked more jokes. Bad jokes.
Puma reminded me to run fast and not to forget to lift my legs into a cannonball. I nod and……..“3… 2…1..Zip Away!”
I ran off the ramp and as I did I said to myself, I can’t believe I’m running off this ramp. I waited to feel that horrible dropping feeling in my stomach. The one I hate.
But that’s not what happened.
My rigging held me as if I was cradled by an invisible chair. No dropping feeling.
Oh my God! I thought. This is amazing!
My fear instantly turned to excitement. How beautiful everything looked. I thought I’d be anxious about the speed, but I wasn’t. I could go faster, I thought.
Another friend, Jen, was on the zipline next to me and she quickly pulled ahead. She remembered to cannonball it, but I was so enamored of the ride I forgot.
Nearing the end I began to slow down and I realized I wouldn’t make the distance. Kevin, who’d zipped over earlier to prepare our arrival, realized it too and zipped out to me, hooked on to my trolley and Spidermanned us to our destination pulling us hand over hand to the platform.
I felt terrible he had to come get me but he said it happened all the time. No big deal.
I was exhilarated.
I couldn’t wait to do it again. After everyone came across it was on to the next. The four zip lines to follow were a tad shorter and lower but just as fun.
After the third run, we had the option to take a short line across the canopy to our fourth platform or walk across a 500-foot suspension bridge, the longest in New York.
When in Rome.
The bridge swayed as I moved forward (that’s part of the experience) but I was clipped in so if I slipped, which was unlikely, I wouldn’t plummet.
At the end of all five lines, we reluctantly gave the trollies back and hopped into The Beast for a short trip down the mountain.
This time, Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger, the theme song for the triumphant, scored our descent.
I may not be Rocky but facing my fear I felt victorious nonetheless.
I was a guest of New York Zipline Adventures but the sentiments are my own.
How You Can Ride the Hunter Mountain Ziplines with New York Zipline Adventures
SkyRider (Total time ~ 3 hours)
As you can imagine, the SkyRider is a popular year-round attraction. Order your tickets ahead of time online. Twelve visitors per group are the maximum Groups and scheduled in three-hour intervals.
Hunter Mountain Zipline Prices
Weekday: $119/per person
Weekend: $129/per person
Note: Children under 10 years of age not allowed.
Weight and Height Requirements
SkyRider Tour: 110-260 lbs. ad no taller than 6’5”
All participants on the zipline tours should be relatively physically fit.
Participants must sign a release of liability. Guests under the age of 18 must have a parent or guardian sign for them.
(See link above for full list of requirements)
What to Wear
In summer, dress for the weather. Wear closed-toed shoes, no flip flops or open sandals.
In winter, dress as if you’re going skiing. Wear warm layers, wool or acrylic. Stay away from cotton. Gloves/ mittens/ thick socks.
Snowsuits are available on a first come first serve basis.
Tip: Whether it’s rain or shine, I recommend using sunglasses if you wear contacts. The rush of air when ziplining may make you tear up or, if you have sensitive eyes, your lenses could pop out.
How to Get to Hunter Mountain
By car – Hunter Mountain is an easy 2.5-hour drive from New York City.
By bus – Adirondack Trailways Bus Company drops off across the street.
There’s More Than the SkyRider
While I’ve only tried the Hunter Mountain zipline the resort is best known for being one of New York’s favorite ski resorts.
Summer activities include hiking, rock climbing, zip-line canopy tours (the SkyRider plus a family-friend mid-mountain tour–at night too–is also available), an adventure tower, golfing, 4×4 off-road adventures among other things.
Winter activities include snow skiing, tubing, on-hill races and events, snowboarding, ice-climbing, to name a few.
Hunter Mountain also hosts a variety of festivals and events.
Where to Eat
(FYI – I have not tried these personally, nor the accommodations below)
There are a variety of options close by on the slopes at the base of the mountain or at the summit.
During the summer from Wednesday to Sunday there is BBQ on the main deck.
Van Winkles inside the on-site lodge offers “fine dining and excellent pub fare” year-round.
Where to Stay
Mountain’s own accommodations with ski in, ski out rooms, four-season pool, spa, fitness center, video arcade, and conference facilities.
There are also liftside condos available.
(source: Hunter Mountain website)
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