Zipping Along with Soaring Eagle
Ride Maker Pushes Boundaries, Produces Thrills for FECs & Beyond
If you want to feel like you’re flying by the seat of your pants, then an attraction designed by ride pioneer Stan Checketts and his team at Soaring Eagle Rides just might be for you.
As he tells the story, he first knew he was onto something after building a zipline in the yard for his grandchildren. Since its inception in 2010, Soaring Eagle Rides has gone on to install 60 ziplines around the world, accounting for about 80 percent of its installations. The other installs include rides like the Saddle Sling and Daring Drop, plus a new Aerial Dive Ride that they say is destined to be a major multi-location attraction.
A few of those zipline rides — including the Route 66 Zipline in Williams, Ariz. — were operated by his cousin, Logan Checketts, who has worked as Soaring Eagle’s director of sales since 2015.
“Stan saw that ziplines were becoming a pretty huge attraction across the country,” Checketts said. “Now, it’s a key attraction for most facilities.”
The first Soaring Eagle was installed at Miller Motorsports Park, a couple hour’s drive from the company’s headquarters in Logan, Utah. Another early adopter was Rushmore Cave in Keystone, S.D.
“They’ve always had super good success with the Soaring Eagle Zipline,” Checketts said. “It had a huge positive impact on their business.” Each ride is unique to its location and, for example, the one in South Dakota soars 630 feet down a mountainside on the suspended cable.
What’s different about Soaring Eagle’s zipline is that the cable then pulls thrill seekers back to the top of the ride (or the rider starts at the bottom, is pulled up and gets dropped) for a round-trip journey.
Checketts says the company’s signature ride meets the desires of every age demographic — from kids to their grandparents and everyone in between. “Everybody’s satisfied with it,” he said. And because of that, it’s a product line that keeps growing.
Last year, in the Quebec City, Canada, area, Soaring Eagle installed one of its ziplines 300 feet above the ground — across a rocky canyon and directly over a waterfall at Canyon Sainte-Anne.
“We had to install that tower with a helicopter because we couldn’t get a crane over there,” Checketts explained.
One of the most recent installs was part of an expansion at Diggerland USA in West Berlin, N.J. The 700-foot-long ride soars 130 feet off the ground and takes riders across nearly the entire length of the park. It seems there’s no topographical or engineering task the team won’t take on and conquer. (Another was put in at Circuit of the Americas in Texas.)
The appeal isn’t just limited to the U.S. either. They’ve installed a zipline in Brazil and another at Al Shallal Amusement Park in Saudi Arabia. Checketts said, “We see our zipline ride as having very steady growth.”
Enter the FEC
While these massive outdoor installations are certainly a big part of Soaring Eagle’s business, one of the largest growth markets is at the FEC. Entertainment centers with an outdoor component now account for 10 percent of the company’s installations.
“FECs are an incredible market for us,” Checketts said. “They’re looking for a new and neat experience and we fit the bill for them. It’s a great additional source of revenue and a great advertisement, too.” He added that zoos are another of Soaring Eagle’s main focuses now since they’ve proven over the past few years that the rides can work well in both locations.
One that stands out is at CJ Barrymore’s, an FEC in the metro Detroit area owned by Rick Iceberg (one of F2FEC’s “Three Amigos”). “They did a fantastic job with the final touches,” he said. “It’s a huge attraction for them.”
Checketts said the most important thing about the Soaring Eagle Zipline Ride is its safety factor, which the company says is the best in the industry. It’s efficient, too. Computer-monitored lap restraints mean riders don’t have to wear a full harness. And there’s only one operator needed to control the zipline from a single location.
“We have a lot of FECs that are getting one or two-year paybacks on these pretty major investments,” Checketts said.
Two other Soaring Eagle rides are ones that hit the market in 2017: The Saddle Sling and Daring Drop. The rides offer single or dual ride towers with one of each ride or two of the same rides on a single tower.
The first to be installed was a dual ride tower dubbed the Bigfoot Action Tower at Bigfoot on the Strip in Branson, Mo., that opened in spring 2017. Standing at 200 feet tall, it’s the highest structure in the southwestern Missouri city.
The second dual ride opened in October 2017 at the Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Mashantucket, Conn. And, CJ Barrymore’s has been so happy with its zipline that Rick’s upped the ante by ordering a 120’ tower with the Saddle Sling/Daring Drop combo.
The Saddle Sling portion is an innovation that Soaring Eagle says will be difficult to top. It doesn’t have a big harness or any type of enclosure.
“A dream of Stan’s was to give a rider the most exposure that he can and do it safely,” Checketts said. “He wanted to essentially strap people by the seat of their pants with a piece of Velcro and send them flying through the air.
“He says (the Saddle Sling) is the closest you’ll ever get.”
Like the company’s other rides, the Saddle Sling is built for large FECs or amusement parks. The Saddle Sling and Daring Drop are for more of a high thrill market, so they try to place them in tourist areas as the main attraction. Checketts said Soaring Eagle expects them to gradually grow as well.
One of the standalone Daring Drop rides, the Haunted Mine Drop at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park in Colorado, won USA Today’s pick for “Best New Amusement Park Ride” in 2017. It’s the world’s first drop ride to go underground and takes riders 110 feet inside Iron Mountain.
“(Owners) Steve and Nancy came to Stan and pitched the idea of digging a hole in the ground and putting a ride in it,” Checketts said. “And Stan’s always up for something new and something adventurous.”
Perhaps most adventurous in the Soaring Eagle product line is the Aerial Dive Ride. Its first — the Terror-dactyl, located at Cave of the Winds Mountain Park in Manitou Springs, Colo. — has made quite an impression. A Facebook video of the ride posted by Travel Channel garnered more than a quarter billion views (282 million and counting at last check).
Sitting on the edge of a 200-foot cliff, the dive ride free falls thrill seekers 100 MPH into Williams Canyon.
A second installation of the Aerial Dive Ride — dubbed the Mountain Monster — is set to be opened in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. this year, and it’s one the company is, well, thrilled about.
“We’re super excited to bring that to market,” Checketts said. “We think that the ride is going to be a major attraction in lots of highly populated areas.”
But for Soaring Eagle — at the core of its mission — it’s all about the thrills.