Chattanooga Companies for Thrill Seekers

In the Business of Thrills

For some, there’s nothing better in life than an adrenaline rush. The high of soaring through the air, throttling across the ground, or barreling down river rapids often leads to lifelong memories – experiences that have people coming back again and again. So, what is it like to operate a business that provides these hair-raising thrills to customers? Read on to hear about the ins and outs of it all from local companies doing just that – and excelling at it.

By Anna Hill 

(Above) Photo Courtesy of Lookout Mountain Flight Park

The delight of a thrill is a sensation that the human race has been uniquely seeking out for centuries. For example, historical records show that people have been fashioning gliders of some sort and launching themselves from great heights since at least the ninth century. A thousand years later, daredevils were leaping from hot air balloons in parachutes. Some of the boldest thrill seekers have even made the history books, such as high-wire performer Philippe Petit, who walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers in the 1970s, or Evel Knievel, the infamous American motorcycle stuntman. 

man riding an e-foil from Adventure Sports Innovation in the Tennessee River

Photo Courtesy of Adventure Sports Innovation

 

So, what is it that draws people to the high of an adrenaline rush? The truth is, there’s science behind it. The psychological term for those who chase thrills is “sensation seeking.” Sensation seekers looking for adventure thrive on physical challenges that provide the aforementioned adrenaline rush, and once they feel that rush that they’ve been seeking, they’re hit with a flood of dopamine – a mood-boosting neurotransmitter. This feeling is what leads people to chase that thrill again and again. 

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tandem parasailing at Lookout Mountain Flight Park

Photo Courtesy of Lookout Mountain Flight Park

 

Over the years, there’s been no shortage of thrill seekers across the country – so naturally, businesses have been rising to the challenge for decades to provide them with the experiences they seek. The first roller coaster in America – then known as a switchback railway – opened in 1884 at Coney Island, and skydiving recreationally has gained increasing popularity ever since skydiving was used as a military tactic during World War II. Haunted houses – where people literally pay money for the adrenaline rush of a jump-scare – have been evolving since the Great Depression. 

However, running a business centered on providing a very specific experience – a thrill – isn’t necessarily going to be like running a restaurant or a clothing store. So, how do they do it? We’ve asked local companies in the business of thrills to give us the inside scoop. 

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What They Offer 

The Greater Chattanooga area has been a hot spot for businesses in the business of thrills for decades, thanks to its rich geographical location. Mountains, lakes, and rivers with rapids are prime spots for those seeking an adrenaline rush in the great outdoors – whether it be something more low-key, like rock climbing, or something more avian, like hang gliding across the valley. 

For those looking to do the latter, the Lookout Mountain Flight Park has been sending people skyward for over 40 years. The family business has been owned and operated by Matthew Taber since 1980, providing thrills to both novice
and experienced adrenaline junkies looking to paraglide or hang glide. Those looking for one-time experiences can go on tandem flights with a certified instructor, while those looking for a rush on the regular can undergo training to be a solo pilot. “We love being a training club that offers on-site repair services, rentals, and custom equipment purchase options for long-time pilots and club members,” says Brittany Henley, the flight park’s manager. However, Henley says that the one-off, “bucket list” moments are rewarding as well. “Many times, this is a ‘dream come true’ moment that we are fortunate enough to be a part of for a guest’s special day,” she says. “We have helped plan proposals, returned former pilots to the air to remind them of their ‘glory days,’ and been given the honor of performing flights for individuals with ranging disabilities who did not think they would be able to experience free flight.” 

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Photo Courtesy of Adventure Sports Innovation

For thrills of a different nature, there is an abundance of spots in East Tennessee where one can go to enjoy the rushing rapids of white water, and Outdoor Adventure Rafting has been a mainstay in the area since the 1980s. While the company, owned by Rob Paden since 2000, offers options for a more relaxed and meandering tubing float down the Lower Ocoee River, whitewater rafting on the Upper and Middle Ocoee is where visitors will find sought-after challenges and excitement. Visitors 12 and up can choose between a three-hour Middle Ocoee trip through River Class III and IV rapids, or a six-hour trip, which takes rafters through the Upper Ocoee and a lunch stop, plus the previously-mentioned Middle Ocoee. For trips that include the Upper Ocoee, it’s encouraged that rafters have prior experience with the middle section of the river and are at least 16 years old. All trips are led by experienced raft guides and a full river trip will take rafters through the “Olympic Section,” which was designed specially for the 1996 Olympic Games. 

While tourism hot spot Ruby Falls is best known for its titular thundering underground waterfall, anyone local with a need for speed or an affinity for horror can find what they’re looking for there as well. Ruby Falls has offered a zip line course to visitors since 2010 and began partnering with High Point Climbing & Fitness to create the High Point ZIP Adventure in 2019. This course features approximately 700 feet of zip line with a scenic view as well as a 40-foot climbing tower for visitors who crave the thrill of high vantage points. Ruby Falls also offers chills and thrills via its Dread Hollow and Deliverance Escape Room experiences, both of which boast a “horror” theme. Not recommended for visitors 12 and under, Dread Hollow is a haunted attraction set in the cursed, fictional town of Dread Hollow. “This is our 19th year of operating a haunted attraction,” says Lara Caughman, Ruby Falls’ corporate communications manager. “Each year, our goal is to surpass the scares from the prior year and entertain guests with a fun, horror-filled experience. We’re in the business of making people scream and bringing nightmares to life.” 

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rafts for white water rafting on the shore of the ocoee river

 

Daring individuals looking for a vehicle-centered experience will find themselves in luck with Adventure Sports Innovation, a local adventure outfitter founded by Patrick and Carolina Molloy in 2018. The Molloys had an interest in investing in their own business, and when traveling, they often sought out new adventures, sports, and technology. “So, the idea occurred to us – wouldn’t it be great to let thrill seekers have an adventure outfitter to visit where they could try new sports and new technology? And that’s how the Adventure Sports Innovation concept was born,” explains Carolina. Customers can choose their own adventure depending on what they’re looking for. The business offers VR simulator experiences that range from roller coaster to hang gliding adventures as well as multiple outdoor adventure options, including the Swincar, an electric off-road vehicle that customers can use to hit the trails; hydrofoil surfboards, which allow you to fly hovering just over the water; and a variety of smaller vehicles, such as electric scooters, electric bikes, miniature Segways, and hover shoes, karts, and boards, which customers can rent to explore the city on. “All these experiences can be for one person or for a group,” says Carolina. “We host celebrations, corporate team bonding events, and academic field trips with both educational and fun components.” 

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Photo Courtesy of Ruby Falls

 

How They Operate

As mentioned previously, running a business that offers a service is going to be different from the operations of one that offers a product, and beyond that, running a business that offers a thrill-seeking experience is going to be a little different from places that offer experiences like spas, movie showings, or sightseeing tours. First of all, it naturally follows that where there are thrills, there will be unique and elevated needs for safety measures. “You must always be aware – in everything you do – of the risk involved in outdoor adventure activities,” says Outdoor Adventure Rafting owner Rob Paden. “It is paramount that your entire staff be trained in safety procedures. We actually have a continuous safety training program that we run all season for our staff.” 

At High Point ZIP Adventure, all guests must go through safety training before participating, and in Lookout Mountain Flight Park’s case, weather can be a life-threatening risk that staff must keep an eye on at all times. “If conditions are not within our safety margins, we will potentially delay or cancel for the time period in which the less-than-viable conditions are present,” says Henley. “This is something that can potentially be disheartening to a guest who may have traveled many hours to get to us, but we do this for the benefit of both our customers and our pilots.” Fortunately, the flight park monitors a range of weather conditions, including wind speed, direction, and gust factors, and takes care to staff pilots with a wealth of experience in reading these conditions. 

Ruby Falls ad

Photos Courtesy of Ruby Falls

 

As a haunted attraction, one of Dread Hollow’s unique operational priorities is hiring “scare” actors who not only excel in providing an on-theme, spooky experience, but also excel at anticipating guest reactions in order to keep them safe throughout their visit. “Actor auditions are held several months before the main fall haunt season, and these actors must be passionate about haunted houses and have the ability to fully develop the character they will portray at Dread Hollow,” shares Caughman. 

Adventure Sports Innovation
provides unique experiences for guests – but unique experiences mean unique required skillsets for those on the operational side of things. To meet such requirements, the Molloys have made studying operating guides and user manuals a considerable part of their training process. “Since we offer a range of recently invented products, we need to be able to speak about how they work, their specifications, and why they are unique,” explains Carolina. “For example, we have over 20 brands and models of small vehicles, so our guides need to be able to explain the differences between them and how they operate. We also need to be able to give feedback to manufacturers on performance and desired enhancements, and our technicians need to be able to maintain them.” 

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Photo Courtesy of Ruby Falls

 

Uncommon Challenges 

It’s no surprise that providing customers with the thrills they seek in an efficient, consistent, and memorable manner is not without its unique challenges. It goes without saying that safety is an entirely different ballgame for these businesses than it is for others, but the challenges extend past that. For places that offer experiences like these, it’s important to figure out a way to showcase what you offer in a distinctive and appealing way. “It can be tricky to explain the wide range of experiences we offer,” says Carolina. “We don’t neatly fit in any category like an amusement park, a family entertainment center, a tour outfitter, or an outdoor equipment retailer. Our business includes elements of each of these industries, and it does make our marketing message complex!” To address this, Adventure Sports Innovation uses a lot of imagery and video in their marketing to draw people in with gear they might not have seen before, and they have recently launched a new campaign with the simple but intriguing message of, “Explore Differently.” 

Perhaps one of the more universal challenges of being in the business of thrills is the unique staffing that is needed to run the business successfully. As discussed earlier, scare actors are vital to the experience of Dread Hollow, and it’s a niche skillset to hire for. The same could be said for the hiring challenges of Outdoor Adventure Rafting. “We have an extensive training program that not only meets the state requirements, but goes way beyond them,” says Paden. “It can sometimes be difficult to find qualified people who have the time and the willingness to spend eight weekends training to become a guide. This is a very specific skillset, and it takes time to develop.”

Lookout Mountain Flight Park faces a similar dilemma, due to the range of specific work needed to keep the park running smoothly. “We operate on several fronts, including providing a repair shop, tourist-based flights, cabin rentals, and extensive training programs,” Henley tells us. “Learning all of this information can make for a very fast-paced environment in which staff members will need to be sharp on understanding safety protocols and all of our regulations.”

 

Changing With the Times

One of the keys to maintaining a successful experience-based business over the years is innovating what you offer, and all of these businesses have been sure to do just that. Dread Hollow’s newest addition is the Deliverance Escape Room experience, and Ruby Falls takes care to craft new and fresh scary storylines for Dread Hollow each year. Innovation is, of course, part of Adventure Sports Innovation’s name, and the Molloys regularly upgrade and expand their products as well as design new experiences around them. “In 2021, we added a variety of seated electric scooters to our fleet and launched an on-demand e-scooter rental and repair service – which seemed to be needed in our community – called ChattaScooter,” says Carolina. 

Offering a top-notch gliding experience is paramount for the staff at Lookout Mountain Flight Park, and they continue to do so by regularly updating and streamlining their training. “We were able to open up our new and improved paragliding school in 2021, and we now offer a grassy-slope mountain launch for new students and pilots – which offers a new opportunity to do mountain launch paragliding tandems – right next to our main concrete launch pad for hang gliding pilots,” shares Henley. And up on the river, Paden and company have expanded their tubing offerings on the Lower Ocoee, providing customers with an even wider range of water experiences at Outdoor Adventure Rafting. 

As long as there are thrill seekers, there will be businesses vying to meet those demands and innovating the thrills they offer along the way. If you’re looking for the particular high that an adrenaline rush can provide, you’re in luck – there are places all across Chattanooga and beyond that are ready and waiting to provide you with what you seek. 

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