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Mountain Weather and Your Vacation Plans

Monitoring the weather at Soaring Treetop Adventures zipline in Durango, Colorado

While we enjoy quite a bit of sunshine here at Soaring Treetop Adventures (Durango experiences 266 days of sunshine per year) we are in the mountains, and the mountains create weather patterns that folks from flatter areas may be unaccustomed to (such as when your phone gives a 70% chance of rain but fails to mention that the rain will likely only last 10 minutes) — leading many vacationers to wonder how the mountain weather may affect their vacation plans.

Mountain Weather: It’s Different

The first aspect of mountain weather is actually a big part of what draws vacationers to the mountains: the temperatures. Mountain air tends to be much cooler during the summertime, making locations like Durango and other areas of Colorado perfect vacation spots to get out of the heat that many other locales experience. Ask many Durango vacationers what brings them to Colorado in the summertime and this answer is often “cool mountain air.”

By the way, the temperature is also a factor in the wintertime: you see, although it gets cold enough to snow quite a bit in Colorado, the temperatures are mild compared to other snowy areas of the country such as Wisconsin or Minnesota — which is part of why the skiing industry is huge in Colorado. But in the summertime, the mountains are the place to beat the heat.

Ziplining in the rain doesn't diminish the fun

Ziplining in the rain doesn’t diminish the fun

Another aspect of the air in the mountains is that at altitude the air tends to have very low humidity. In fact, when it comes to humidity, areas like ours are actually quite comparable to desert environments – we’re actually considered high altitude desert! Obviously the temperatures are much lower than in a desert, but the “feel” of the air is quite similar due to the low humidity. Durango has an average annual precipitation of only 19 inches (contrast that with Houston, which averages about 50 inches per year). So when spending your vacation in the mountains of Colorado, it’s a good idea to be prepared with lip balm and skin moisturizers.

Rainy Days in the Mountains: Different Too

But what about those rainy days? Another aspect of the mountain weather that often surprises people who come from flatter areas and lower elevation is the way that it rains in the mountains. Basically, the rain usually comes and goes fairly quickly rather than sticking around for hours or days. The mountains experience many days where it will rain for 10 minutes and be done. Those unaccustomed to the mountains may look at a weather app on their phones, see a high probability of rain, and then conclude that it will be a “rainy day.” Often that is not true. In the mountains the day often will not be a traditional “rainy day,” instead it will be a beautiful, sunny day which simply experiences a brief period of rain before returning to the sunshine.

At Soaring we are prepared for this sort of pattern in the mountain rains. We have a large number of rain jackets — all of which can be rolled up and clipped to a guest harness, making them ideal for a ziplining course — in varying sizes. Of course if a guest would rather use his or her own rain gear they may do so, but it is not necessary to bring rain gear along.

But if the weather changes so quickly, then how do we know if rain gear will be needed?

Keeping an Eye on the Weather

Monitoring the weather at Soaring Treetop Adventures zipline in Durango, Colorado

With guests up in the trees each day it’s important to monitor the weather. Soaring has several different tools which keep an eye on the elements.

Soaring has a few different tools in the weather-monitoring arsenal. First we subscribe to a national service known as Weathertap, which not only provides real-time satellite data for weather in our area, it actually allows us to zero in on the weather in our own valley.

On days when inclement weather seems possible, a member of Soaring’s staff will continuously monitor Weathertap and keep the team out on the course advised of any weather changes which might be coming (speaking of our team out on the course: our guides, known as Sky Rangers, each carry radios so as to be in touch at all times with one another, the lead Ranger, and our central office weather monitoring station).

As noted in our FAQ, Soaring does run rain or shine. And surprisingly, those days that get a little rain do end with guests stating that they had a fantastic time. Maybe it harkens back to the days when we played in the rain as kids, maybe it’s part of just going with the flow of things while on vacation, or maybe it’s because, as we mentioned, the rain usually doesn’t last long.

Thunder and Lightning

But what about lightning? After all, when there is rain there is at least a possibility of lighting. This is another facet that the Soaring staff monitors. If a storm system containing lightning heads our way, we bring everyone out of the trees until that system has passed (there are tents strategically located throughout the course and we are generally able to take shelter in them). And remember how we said that rain passes through the area quickly? It is the same story with lighting. So after a brief delay on the ground we are able to get back in the trees and continue ziplining once the lighting has passed.

Since lightning is a serious subject, we also have a special system just for monitoring electrical activity.  While Weathertap’s real-time lighting data is a wonderful tool, at Soaring we go one step further:

An array of weather-monitoring systems at Soaring Treetop Adventures

Atop the roof of our Depot building is an array of weather-monitoring systems which helps to keep the staff of Soaring up to date on current weather conditions.

On the roof of our Depot building is mounted a sophisticated electromagnetic detection system known as Boltek (though we affectionately refer to the Boltek system as “Myrtle,” as it issues lightning alerts in the form of a calm, reassuring, mature female voice). The Boltek system detects changes in the elctromagnetic field in a 20-mile radius from its location. When an electromagnetic field is building in the surrouding air, this an excellent predictor that lighting may soon occur — making Myrtle an even better judge of potential lightning than just monitoring nearby lightning strikes. Myrtle knows lighting is coming before lighting is here.

Ziplines in the Mountains

Rain or shine (or sometimes mostly shine and a little rain), flying through the air on a zipline is a fantastic way to spend the day — and a fantastic way to take in the mountain scenery. At 27 unique zipline spans, Soaring Treetop Adventures offers a great way to experience the beauty of the mountains on our 180 acre private property. So leave the weather app in your pocket and come enjoy the day ziplining with us.