Adventure and excitement is what people crave and expect from outdoor adventures today. As outdoor professionals continue to push the boundaries of what their bodies and equipment can handle, the public will continue to be inspired to step out of their own comfort zones and explore new experiences.
2004, I was sixteen and worked as a dishwasher in my hometown. My family took me for a trip to a local ski resort where I took a snowboarding class and shortly after started my outdoor professional career. I loved snowboarding so much, but at 16 I could not pay for the classes I wanted nor the ski lift ticket. So, I decided to get a job at the resort in order to obtain classes and a free ski pass. After lots of practice and training, I was shredding the hills and working as a snowboard instructor.
Snowboarding has been in the United States since the 1960’s when people started experimenting with tying ski’s together. It was not until the late 70’s, when Burton and other inspired surfers started making better designs and attaching foot bindings, that snowboarding became widely popular. Now, snowboarding is a big business and in Western North Carolina alone there are six major resorts to choose from and a Gold Pass allowing you entry to all of them. The North Carolina Ski Areas Association Economic Value Final Analysis reported the overall economic value of the ski resort industry to the state of North Carolina was $146 million for the 2009-2010 season.
After a few seasons of snowboarding, I found myself, like others, looking for another adventure. It was easy to find in Wester North Carolina since we are home to some of the best white water in the United States. We have everything from one of the worlds oldest rivers, the French Broad, to the hardest section of dam released white water to navigate in the United States, the Green River Narrows. American Whitewater released a study by Tapoco predicting the Cheoah River, with an ideal amount of releases, would have an annual output of over $6 million. They study also estimates the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte to generate between $1.4 and $2.0 million a year. Rafting has come a long way since getting started around 1811 in Wyoming when people started navigating the Snake River.
To this day I am still a fan of white water. However, instead of guiding rafts, I instruct white water kayaking classes and lead inflatable kayak trips. With white water there is an uncontrollable factor to deal with, and that is rain. A river will not run with out water, and during North Carolina’s last big drought I sought out further forms of outdoor adventure employment. It seemed only logical to step out of the water and find work on land.
Climbing, as a sport, developed from mountaineering and has gained popularity ever since John Muir made the first assent of Cathedral Peak in 1869. Now, the Access Fund estimates over 4.2 million people participate in rock climbing each year. In North Carolina, we have some of the east coasts best climbing locations and routes. Looking Glass Rock offers long slab multi pitch, Rumbling Bald has endless amounts of sport and bouldering routes, and there are over seven rock climbing adventure companies in the Asheville, NC area alone. Western Carolina, Warren Wilson, and Brevard College all have recognized rock climbing classes and teams. Although rock climbing is not the most popular outdoor activity, it is still has a strong economic value and helped make way for the latest most popular outdoor activity.
Used as a method of accessing remote locations and exploring the tree canopy, zip-lining is now the most popular new outdoor adventure. North Carolina has the second most zip-lines and canopy tours in the United States, Hawaii has the most. Navitat Canopy Adventures made over $1 million dollars the first season in operation and now has the longest zip-line on the east coast, at over 3,500 feet long. The Gorge, in Saluda, NC, built the fastest canopy tour in the nation. These are only two of the many ziplines in North Carolina, most of which, acquired grant money awarded to them with the idea of creating jobs, advancing the community, and boosting ecotourism. Zip-lining is almost the perfect outdoor activity. The participant requirement are easy to meet, it’s a foreign activity, and the risks are balanced well. The perceived risk is, that if you fall, you will die. However, it is statistically safer than all other outdoor activities. Industry standards set by the Association of Challenge Course Technology manage the risk of being at height so well, incidences involving significant injury very unlikely.
I love working as an outdoor professional. It sometimes means working with a tough crowd and rough environmental factors, but the reward is worth the risks. Helping others have a positive outdoor and new experience is what I love to do. Outdoor industries are growing and so in ecotourism in North Carolina. The questions to answer, for the entrepreneurs out there, is, what is the next big thing to explore for outdoor adventure?