Flexibility of cable.

Case study .

We were making plans for a large scale ‘people moving’ system. The best place to start was in the Adventure Recreation industry.

Business owners in the Adventure Recreation industry are always looking for exciting ways to get the most out of their sites. We see ski resorts become bike parks in the summer and nature parks add canopy tours above walking tracks. Using a site year-round is a great way to boost customer throughput.

We wanted to create an experience that would exceed business owner expectations, and thrill customers.

The idea: A zipline ride that transfers from cable to rail at speed

On existing zipline tours, riders stop at each intersection (or turning point) to move to the next section. For a zipline trolley to turn corners without stopping, we needed to create brand new technology.

So, the SWITCHBACK™ was born. An innovative system that allows a zipline to transition from cable to rail and back again at speed. Redirecting riders to new paths in a ride layout requires cornering sections made from rail, but cable is the cheapest and easiest way to get from A to B. With the powers of cable and rail combined we could make a flexible system that travels long distances and turns corners: game changer!

The challenges and answers

Challenge: Design a system that safely transitions from cable to rail, every time.

To stop trolleys derailing and to keep riders safe, traditional zipline trolleys create a closed loop around the cable (using a carabiner or locking side plate). This current closed loop trolley is locked around cable and unable to transfer to corner sections.

Answer: We developed a gating system that automatically opens and closes as the trolley passes between cable and rail. The trolley is always attached securely to the following: the cable, or cable and rail, or the rail depending on the trolley’s location.

Challenge: Manage rider speed and swing-out.

Zipline rides are gravity-based. The bigger the rider, the faster they go. We needed to make the experience safe and enjoyable for all riders by managing not only rider speed, but also the side swing around corners.

Answer: We simulated the entire ride (under diverse operating conditions) using proprietary engineering tools. To prevent unsafe rider speeds, we created an innovative speed-limiting eddy current brake on the SWITCHBACK™ Trolley and we designed the track to eliminate dangerous swing-outs. To bring the rider to a safe stop, we use our innovative pass-through magnetic braking fins at the end of the ride. Pass-through braking means the brake is always ‘on’ (no resetting).

Redundancy is paramount with all life critical systems: that is why we designed the SWITCHBACK™ Trolley with an overspeed brake. If for any reason the trolley exceeds a preset velocity, the overspeed brake engages and brings the rider to a safe stop.

Challenge: Design support structures to local building code and get them signed off.

Answer: Luckily, we know some people who are pretty good at that stuff. Our mates at Holmes Structures and Holmes Consulting took charge of the track and structure design, including tower and platforms. They are great at what they do; we knew we could trust them completely.

To round out the awesome teamwork, Holmes Fire (also part of the Holmes Group) delivered a solution for emergency egress procedures and identified a study that showed egress requirements for the amusement industry.

The making and testing

We’re big fans of evidence-based design, so after verifying our designs with analysis and modelling, we were ready to start physical tests. In our onsite test lab, our talented team built a prototype trolley and track, complete with a corner section. This meant we could test every aspect of the transition and see exactly how the trolley performed. We were able to make modifications to manage swing-out and speed. As soon as we saw the SWITCHBACK™ cable-to-rail transition in action, we knew we were onto something amazing!

The installation – ‘The Flying Ox’

The first compete installation of the SWITCHBACK™ system was ‘The Flying Ox’ at LumberJack Feud, Tennessee. This was a perfect site for a cornering zipline. Space was tight, so being able to turn corners meant we could use the space to its fullest.

Some of our team travelled to site to help construct and install the track. During the build, we worked with ClimbWorks, a forward-thinking company that create bespoke attractions and have the can-do attitude we love. We worked with them to finely tune the system’s speed-limiting brakes and meet tight deadlines. This was an amazing partnership and the success of ‘The Flying Ox’ was celebrated at the SAM Summer Ops Camp.

The future

This new technology can be used so many ways and we are excited about what’s around the corner. This first prototype only scratched the surface of what is possible. We’re already working on a number of new applications around the world; helping clients create unique and awesome experiences for their sites.

Keep an eye out; there’s another game-changer coming!

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