Superior Challenge ropes course at UWS not just for thrillseekers

Have you ever driven past the University of Wisconsin-Superior's Wessman Arena and wondered what that huge, wooden, rope-laden contraption behind the track was?...

UWS Ropes Course
Despite sporting funky element names like "Whale Watch," "Nitro Crossing" and "Pamper Pole," the Superior Challenge ropes course at UWS is frequently used for no-nonsense team-building exercises. Submitted photo

Have you ever driven past the University of Wisconsin-Superior's Wessman Arena and wondered what that huge, wooden, rope-laden contraption behind the track was?

Well, if you guessed medieval torture device, you're exactly right ... free Budge subscriptions for everyone!

The contraption is actually a ropes course, a tool designed to facilitate team building and individual development.

UWS recently hosted a free community day designed to show off its rope course, aka "The Superior Challenge."

"About 100 people of ages ranging from 5 to 60 years old attended," said Lynne Williams, director of marketing and communication at UWS.


She said athletic teams, youth groups, schools and even some businesses utilize the course on a fairly regular basis to work on group development, communication, team building and leadership skills.

So, what exactly can one do on the ropes course?

What looks like something that the military might use for training soldiers can also be used by individuals to help build confidence by completing its activities, or by a group of people to foster building a team.

When asked what people's initial reactions are to doing the ropes course for the first time, Steve Kirk, UWS's assistant director of campus recreation, said they're pretty positive.

"After they just finish the course, it is about how much fun it was," he said. "Then, after our facilitators go over what they did all day, it changes to how much they learned about themselves that day."

The ropes course is broken down into two different categories, or elements: low and high.

Low elements, just like they sound, take place either on the ground or a few feet above. These elements usually consist of obstacles along with ropes and cables used to test stamina and strength. They also can help its participants deal with different fears they may have -- the most common being fear of heights and falling.

One of the low elements is called the Mohawk Walk. To complete it, one must have the nimbleness of a cat combined with the balancing abilities of a ballerina on her toes.


The Mohawk Walk is a course that usually consists of foot cables strung between trees in a zigzag pattern. The goal of the "walk" is to get every participant from the starting point to the end point -- all without touching the ground or using objects like sticks or rope to help with balance.

Another of the low elements at UWS is called the Flying Squirrel. And, just as its name implies, participants get to go flying like squirrels sometimes do. In this element, one partaker is hooked up to one end of a rope; the rope is then fed through a modified belay system and the rest of the participants are hooked onto the other end of the rope. Then the fun begins: The group runs one way and the "squirrel" runs the other way, so when the slack is removed from the rope, said "squirrel" goes flying through the air for a squirrel's-eye view of the world.

Now, if you are more of an adrenaline junkie or daredevil, the high elements are what you want to try.

The high courses are exactly that: high. (Just like their low counterparts are, indeed, low off the ground.) This is because they can range from 25 to 50 feet tall. These courses can come pre-fabricated or can be built by hand, and are usually made from utility poles or trees and cables and bolts.

And because the high courses are pretty high, some sort of safety harness is always needed. The harnesses come equipped with safety lines, which can either be attached to a wire above the course and connected to a carabiner -- called a "static" course -- or attached to someone on the ground who holds on to the participant and belays them for the duration of the course. The trust-your-buddy method is called a "dynamic" course.

So, what are some of the awesome elements that take place high above the ground? Imagine you're up in the mountains and you come across a huge gorge, made passable only by a rope to walk on (with ropes on either side for balance). Welcome to Burma Bridge.

Or how about climbing up the side of a ship on a 35-foot-high cargo net? That's just another thrill to be had at the Superior Challenge.

"The zip line is definitely the scariest section of the course," Kirk said. "Even if people are not afraid of heights, it still gets them when they look at that little line that they have to slide down to the ground on."


After that little snippet of excitement, you are probably wondering how you can get in on the action.

Although there aren't any more community days planned for this season, fear not, for any interested parties can contact Harry Anderson at or at (715) 395-4651 to make reservations. The course is open through mid-October and more information on the different experiences can be found at .

Even if you're not a member of any group, just getting a gaggle of friends or family members together on the ropes course is a great way to laugh and bond with one another -- as well as learn a little bit about yourself.

Superior freelance writer Sarah Chapman last covered Luther Social Services' financial counseling division for the Budgeteer. Reach her at .

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