Zipliners brave the smoke-filled skies, but operators worry what the future holds

Interzip zipline smog smoke
A video still from Interzip Rogers showed lipliners on Sunday zooming through clouds of smog, Parliament Hill barely visible. Photo provided

Clouds of smoke and smog might have obscured the view but didn’t deter too many adrenaline-seekers from ziplining across the Ottawa River this weekend, operators say.

Interzip Rogers operates an interprovincial, 1,400-foot-long zipline that takes participants, suspended 120 feet above the Ottawa River, from the Zibi waterfront to a landing in Gatineau. Along the way, it treats thrill-seekers to unique views of Parliament Hill and other local attractions. 

But on Sunday, the Peace Tower was barely visible as smoke from wildfires in Quebec descended over Ottawa-Gatineau. And while this past weekend might have gone okay, operators wonder what the rest of the summer season holds.

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Tristan Loomis, operations manager at Interzip, said the zipline was still operating Sunday, when Air Quality Ontario rated the air quality in Ottawa as very high risk, scoring 10+ on the Forecast Air Quality Health Index

“People are less likely to do outdoor activities when the air quality is so poor and we totally understand that,” said Loomis. “We supply masks to our staff, who are coming to work on a voluntary basis. Same protocol for our clients — they are welcome to do their activity if they feel comfortable.” 

He said clients can reschedule their booking or cancel for a full refund. 

Despite the air quality rating and warnings from Ottawa Public Health to stay inside on Sunday, Loomis said there were no more cancellations than usual and the majority of participants were unfazed. 

But if smog becomes a more frequent issue in Ottawa, concerns will arise for the Gatineau company, financial and otherwise. 

“We did notice a significant decrease in numbers when comparing this weekend to last season’s numbers,” said Loomis. “Last year we had approximately double the riders than this year on the Sunday of the Saint-Jean-Baptiste weekend.”

There is also a possibility that smog could decrease visibility across the river, raising safety issues.

“Safety-wise, the air quality would have to worsen to the point that we can’t see the retrieval platform,” Loomis explained. “If it ever came to that, (there’s a) high likelihood that we wouldn’t even be open since it would be quite detrimental to our staff’s respiratory health, as well as to our clients.

“Like everyone else, we just want clean air and busy days.”

Interzip has been welcoming tourists and locals to its zipline since opening in the summer of 2020 at the outset of the pandemic, but air quality concerns bring another layer of uncertainty.

The smog first appeared earlier this month and sent local tourism operators scrambling. Glen Shackleton, owner of Haunted Walks Tour Agency Inc., told OBJ he has had to “get creative” to navigate this new variable.

“These challenges come on the heels of three years of sustained difficult and disruptive situations business owners have had to cope with, from the convoy to the pandemic,” he explained in early June. “I don’t think there is a small business owner in Ottawa who is not feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by this.”

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