By David Rogers. April 11, 2015. BLOWING ROCK, NC — Ken Jacquot and Carson Rivers are taking historically popular nomenclature to a different dimension: “Getting high” is NOT some kind of throwback to 1970s drug culture and “using a lifeline” has nothing to do with the Who Wants to be a Millionaire? television show.
Photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
Mr. Jacquot is the principal owner, President and Chief Executive Officer of the new High Gravity Adventures attraction next to Tweetsie Railroad and Mr. Rivers is the business’ Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. Both took time to talk with Blowing Rock News between turns at the hot dog grill during Saturday’s “Grand Opening” festivities.
Blowing Rock News (BRN): So what was the inspiration behind your launch of this business?
Jacquot: High Gravity Adventures was born out of my background, but also that of a very engaged staff. We’ve been building this stuff for 25 years, playing with different designs and engaging people in the human condition of active fun, in a way, but also using it as a learning tool.
Rivers: We’ve been building these types of active recreation environments, from small camps and conference centers to larger, more commercial recreation opportunities all over the world. We have installations in more than 30 U.S. states and over a dozen countries. Being based in the High Country (Todd, NC), we wanted to bring something special to this area where we all live.
People just want to be outside and be engaged.
Jacquot: Up to this point we have been a vendor of these courses’ design, installation, inspection and training, selling to other owner-operators through our sister company, Challenge Towers. We’ve been watching how our customers use the courses in ever larger facilities around the country and finally decided to do it for ourselves, in our own backyard. (Laughing) In a sense, High Gravity Adventures represents me getting to do what I want to do in a course for once! This is an experiential, educational kind of tool that we have leveraged into a commercial opportunity.
Rivers: We created a whole new company, High Gravity Adventures, that is separate from our Challenge Towers business. With Challenge Towers, another owner-operator hires us as a design and installation contractor to build a project similar to this, but for their entrepreneurial purposes. They own it and operate it. Once it is built, we walk away except to provide support for them over the years when and if they need it. With this opportunity, we will be the owner-operator, too. We did everything from scratch, from design all the way through operations.
Jacquot: This is our hometown. We do this for different people in other parts of the USA and the world. I’ve been wanting to bring folks here and show them what we’ve got.
BRN: So tell us what High Gravity Adventures IS.
Rivers: Well, there are a lot of similarities here to the other courses that we have designed and built around the world. Most of our installations involve aerial challenges.
Jacquot: Basically, it is “playing,” but at height.
Rivers: But this course is more custom-designed to fit the property, including the visual aesthetic of this course.
Jacquot: Our courses can be different shapes and sizes. This one has three levels. Others might have only one or two levels.
We created a whole new company.
Rivers: There is a kids’ course and a more advanced course. There are 75 different challenges. Currently, the highest platform on the course is 50 feet off of the ground. When we introduce Phase 2, the highest platform will be 65 feet. The very highest part of the pole, the very tip top, is right at 100 feet above the ground.
Jacquot: When we started, all I really wanted to build was the course. All of this other stuff, the deck and the buildings and whatnot…well, I initially didn’t want to spend the money. I mean, to get started we could use one of those portable bathroom units! But once you get into the permitting process of government regulation, things kind of snowball. The list seems to go on and on. So we’ve created this campus, of sorts. It was a lot more than I originally anticipated. I spent a ton of money, but I feel very honored to do it. I feel it is all worth the investment. Of course, only time will tell. Frankly, I just don’t see how we are going to miss with this location and being next to Tweetsie.
BRN: Well, now that you mention Tweetsie, can you share some information about that relationship?
Jacquot: We have a great relationship with Chris and Cathy (Robbins) over at Tweetsie. I feel blessed to be here and able to set this up.
Rivers: Our business relationship with Tweetsie is pretty straightforward. They are our landlord. We lease the property from them and operate an entirely separate business on the premises. But beyond that, they have been incredible partners. They have provided us with a lot of opportunities around marketing and advertising, just trying to help us get started and get the word out. We have attended each others’ meetings, but we don’t have any sort of financial arrangement beyond a tenant-lease agreement.
We’ll stay open as long as people want to come.
Jacquot: Of course our hope is that being next to Tweetsie will yield significant marketing benefits, for both businesses, actually. We couldn’t think of a better place in the High Country to locate High Gravity Adventures than next to a parking lot that brings the number of cars that Tweetsie attracts every year. It also helps that we are right here on the highway (U.S. 321), so it is pretty hard to miss us.
BRN: Will your “season” mirror Tweetsie’s?
Rivers: It is likely to be similar to Tweetsie. Right now we certainly plan to be open the whole time Tweetsie is open, but we will probably be open a little bit longer. We’ll stay open as long as people want to come. At some point, people may quit wanting to come because it is too cold. When that happens we will shut down and come back up as it gets warmer.
BRN: You mentioned Phase 2. What is that about?
Jacquot: I hope we can keep the momentum, because I have a lot of ideas. We want to make it meaningful for the end users, our guests. It should be impactful and fun, but very active. I am really excited about this project. We are going to add to it over time.
YOU decide how high you want to go and how hard to push yourself.
Rivers: This has been close to a million dollar investment, so far, but we are not done by any means. As the grass grows underneath the main structure and around it, we’ll introduce some shade and picnic tables that will let customers spread out beyond just the deck. Even more excitingly, our leasehold goes up the hill, even beyond the train trestle. Our plans for the second phase might include zip lines in the tree canopies back there, and over here on top of the hill, we’ll set up a 1,000-foot zip line that will go from the top of that hill into to the top of the main structure’s tower. Then we will set up a 65-foot simulated free fall experience that will go right down through the center of our course. You might be up there doing one of these challenges, turn around, and the next thing you know somebody might be hurtling by you in a free fall right next to you. It’s going to be pretty cool.
BRN: Is there a larger societal trend driving demand for this sort of activity?
Jacquot: Absolutely. People are seeking active recreation experiences and that is reflected in the popularity of television shows like American Ninja Warrior, Survivor, and Amazing Race. People just want to be outside and be engaged. High Gravity Adventures provides those kinds of opportunities.
Rivers: After our guests go through what we call “Ground School” to learn the basics of how to use their equipment, they get up there and choose their own path. When you get to any given platform, you might have two, three, or even four different ways to go from there, with each way representing a different challenge. You decide how high you want to go and how hard you want to push yourself. This is a lot like going to a ski slope. You get your lift ticket, then you get to direct your experience. No one forces you to do anything that you don’t want to do.
Jacquot: Every one of our challenges has a name. You know, if you were to put some of them only a foot off the ground, most people wouldn’t hesitate in taking on the challenge, but if you put them 3o-, 40-, 50-feet in the air, even with the harnesses and safety devices most people are unsure of themselves.
There is nothing like seeing the big smiles on the kids’ faces.
Rivers: Being in the air gets your heart pumping. You have to think about it. It gets people excited. It is exhilarating to be up there, pushing yourself and challenging yourself.
BRN: Obviously, safety has to a primary concern for both your customer and for you, the business owner. How do you achieve the “challenge” experience while providing your customer (or their parents) with the assurance that they’ll come back after a couple of hours — alive?
Rivers: (Smiling) Every obstacle has a lifeline. You are clipped to that line, which for most people runs above their head. On the kids’ course, all of the cables are around four feet high. It’s great for them because they get in there and don’t have to depend on their parents.
Jacquot: When you get to the big course, those cables are just a little above six feet high, usually around head level. As you traverse the course, if you were to slip on something you are just going to slip into your harness and be hanging from your safety tethers.
Rivers: The system that we use is a revolutionary, state-of-the-art technology. It is out of Europe, made by a company called “Bornack.” The company is from Germany. The system has all of these little keys, which are actually called “tweezles.” As a guest transfer over to a new challenge, he locks himself onto the new lifeline cable and that unlocks the tweezle that was securing him on the previous challenge, allowing him to move over. At no point is a guest able to just unhook both tweezles and be at risk of falling. It truly is state-of-the-art technology that a lot of folks are just starting to understand and use in the U.S. It came over from Europe just within the last five years. It really is a pretty simple mechanism. The smaller course is designed for lower elementary school age kids. At first we were worried that little kids wouldn’t be able to function with the tweezles, but they do great with it. We’ve had absolutely no problems. They really enjoy playing with the gear and having the independence to move themselves around, safely. (Chuckling) It’s a lot like kids with computers. They exceed our expectations and are way smarter than we are!
We use state-of-the-art technology designed to optimize fun and safety.
BRN: So, back on the business side, what are the capacity limitations? You are giving each of your customers a three-hour pass. How many can you have up there at one time?
Jacquot: Oh, we can handle a lot of visitors in a single day.
Rivers: Yes. Given that there are 75 different challenges, we could easily have 150 people up there at any given time. We haven’t tested that number here yet, but we have seen those sorts of numbers on other courses that we designed and installed for other owner-operators. Getting to those kinds of capacity issues, where you have maybe 400 to 500 people each day coming through the facility is a course management issue. That’s what we are hoping for in terms of ultimate capacity, but it will take us some time to get there.
Jacquot: (Smiling) If we do have those sorts of capacity issues arise, we’ll be OK with it!
BRN: Talk about the educational aspects of a course like this.
Jacquot: Well, as I said before a lot of this is rooted in education, in the work we have done with our other operation, Blue Ridge Learning Center. With that, we do a lot of educational and team development types of programming. For example, we have a partnership with the Blowing Rock Conference Center where we do that type of work. When it comes to education, this is a bit of a ‘soft shoe’ application. The way you use this kind of course is a bit different because you are using risk in a different way. If you go through the course as a group, everyone has a common experience you can reflect on. Everyone feels really cool when you get done. It represents an accomplishment and it is exciting.
Rivers: And for kids, especially, there is the confidence-building and self-esteem aspects. They are able to gain confidence in their physical capabilities, even at a very young age. There is nothing like seeing the big smiles on the kids’ faces when they complete a challenge and finish the course.
For the spring (through May 21st), High Gravity Adventures is open for fun and adventure Monday through Friday from 1:00 pm to 8:00 pm, and on Saturdays and Sundays from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm. During the summer (beginning May 22nd), the outdoor fun attraction is open every day of the week, 9:00 am to 9:00 pm.
Standard ticket prices (good for three hours; ADD $10 to any ticket for an All-Day ticket):
- Adult (14+): $49 for an Adult Course Ticket. Maximum weight allowed is 265 lbs.
- Young Adult (12-13): $49 for an Adult Course Ticket. (an accompanying adult must be present on the grounds, but is not required to be in the course with the young adult customer)
- Junior (8-11): $39 for an Adult Course Ticket. An adult must accompany the Youth through the Adult Course.
- Kids (5-10): $19 for a Kids Course Ticket. An accompanying adult must be on the grounds of High Gravity Adventures. A parent may separately purchase a Junior Course ticket if they are going to accompany their child through the Kids Course.
- Adult or Young Adult — $109
- Junior (Accompanied by Adult) — $89
- Kids (Kids Course only) — $39
- Family Discount (4-6 purchasing, direct relatives only) — 10% discount on season passes only
Whether for corporate retreats, family reunions, birthday celebrations, team building exercises, school field trips or bachelor parties, groups are welcome and encouraged. Advance reservations are required and discounts are available.
For more information, visit www.highgravityadventures.com. email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 828-386-6222.