April 28, 2014 - 7:04 pm
It’s one thing to enjoy the over-the-top signs in Las Vegas. It’s quite another thing to climb up inside one and jump off.
SlotZilla, the zip line through the Fremont Street Experience that launches from a 12-story slot-machine-themed platform, opened to the public at noon Sunday. Every time period for the ride sold out on its first day.
The operators had hoped to do the final testing on Friday, moving up from sending dummies down the ride to sending friends and family of the staff, but high winds pushed that back to Saturday.
Typically a zip line is set up in some wild and hard-to-get-to part of the wilderness, so having one that flies over thousands of tourists every day is unusual to say the least.
The second day of business was quieter, as one would expect on a weekday over a weekend. But a steady line of customers filed into the ticket booth located next to the launching tower, between Neonopolis and the Fremont Street Experience parking garage.
A previous zip line at the same location was operated by a Flightlinez, which still operates a zip line at Bootleg Canyon in Boulder City. Slotzilla is owned and operated by the Fremont Street Experience LLC, a private company. It took $12 million and 14 months to build.
Customers, including this reporter who on Monday experienced the ride firsthand, read over the standard theme park warning statement assuring ticket-sellers that riders were not pregnant, might be pregnant or have a heart condition, signed a waiver and headed up the stairs to what the operators dubbed “The World’s Largest Slot Machine.”
Get in the queue
At the first landing, there’s a queue for potential riders, or “fliers” as the staff refers to them. Fliers are let in through a gate four at a time where they are fitted with an elaborate, heavy canvas harness. Every flier also is given a bag that clips on to the rig with a carabiner, so you can bring along your purse, camera and four-for-$10 souvenir T-shirts, but the yard-tall margarita glass will have to stay on the ground.
Eventually, the ride will have a taller Zoomline that will use a mechanism to launch fliers off a 114-foot platform down a 1,700-foot cable at up to 35 mph. The mechanism was necessitated by the slight eastward slope of Fremont Street, which is 14 feet higher at Main Street than it is at Fourth Street. The Zoomline is set to take fliers from 24 feet above the canopy of the Fremont Street Experience down nearly the entire four-block length of the canopy, landing on the roof of a new permanent stage.
“The harness for the Zoomline will have the fliers lying face down, Superman style,” said Tom Bruny, director of marketing for the Fremont Street Experience. “It’s on schedule. We hope to have that open by late spring.”
Currently only the zip line is operating, which uses gravity to propel fliers down an 850-foot cable from a 77-foot platform.
After harnessing up, fliers are loaded 12 at a time into what feels like a construction site elevator. It starts with a lurch, and it’s likely a few riders a day will realize at the point the ride is not for them. Their loss.
The launching platform is probably the scariest part of the ride. By the time you reach it, you’re in your third queue and had plenty of time to think about what’s about to happen, except, unless you’re a repeat flier, you really can’t know what’s going to happen.
There are several redundant safeguards to prevent premature launch and a staff of operators working in tight concert with a series of hand signals and call-and-response commands to ensure everyone’s safety. It’s probably easier to launch a nuclear missile.
AND THE GATES OPEN
The fliers’ harnesses are attached to a rig with tracks and pulleys that rest on a cable. Gates open and the fliers, with both hands holding firmly to the straps leading to the pulley rig, walk down a staircase until they run out of their own personal height. Then they’re dangling in a seated position, stopped by device on the cable, which, when everyone is in place, moves up and allows them to begin rolling gently down the cable.
The actual ride down the cable is astoundingly smooth. You’re soaring above the crowd of tourists, hawkers and entry-level live theater performers in their Elmo and ZZ Top costumes. You’re gliding past the neon signs and casino marquees at their own level. The term “flier” actually seems to fit.
Then, inevitably, your reverie is broken. About 20 feet from the platform, a braking device on the cable jolts you. Most of the kinetic energy is transferred to the device and your suddenly swinging body. The fliers slowly roll the last few feet to the landing platform about halfway down the canopy, and the ride operators guide you off and remove the harness.
A flight of stairs takes you back to the hubbub and clatter of Fremont Street, back to reality. Of course, the ticket booth is just a few blocks away. And for $20, you can again make the leap from pedestrian to flier.