From gas fitter and plumber to park manager at the Kletterwald Sayn adventure forest: Stefan Lossin is responsible for visitors’ safety and loves being out and about in the great outdoors. Here he tells us why it’s so much fun.
Stefan Lossin is a state registered building services technician, gas fitter and plumber – and is passionate about climbing. So he turned his hobby into a career. Since 2008, he has been the safety officer and park manager at Kletterwald Sayn, a high ropes adventure park owned by Freiraum Erlebnis GmbH, along with the Vulkanpark, Hennef and Freischütz high ropes adventure parks. Stefan is in charge of all the new systems for Freiraum Erlebnis. We met up with him for an interview. He told us about why he swapped his plumbing wrench and pipe cutter for a climbing harness and what makes working in the Westerwald forest so special for him.
Question: Stefan, blocked pipes, faulty heating systems and broken wash basins couldn’t be further from what you’re doing now. How did you end up at Kletterwald Sayn?
Stefan Lossin: It’s not as if I didn’t have anything to do with climbing before. I was already into Alpine climbing and bouldering. When I was studying to become a utilities technician, I worked as a trainer and I saw it as my hobby. But then it became more than that. I got my qualifications so that I could work in any high ropes adventure park.
Surrounded by nature.
And why did you decide to turn your hobby into a career?
Because heights really appeal to me. When I’m climbing, there is nothing around me, apart from nature. It’s a feeling of freedom. And I often get that feeling here. Here in the Westerwald forest, we have some of the highest trees in Germany. There are amazing views out from these trees over the valley. You can almost forget that there can be up to 300 people on the high ropes course at the same time.
Climbing in Germany’s tallest trees.
It sounds like it’s a well-run business. So who comes to the course?
We have about 35,000 visitors a year on average – adults, children, pensioners, students, families, beginners and advanced. We have 14 courses with increasing levels of difficulty and up to a height of 25 metres. There are courses with rope ways between the trees, with free falls, with slides or zip lines – so there’s enough challenges to suit everyone. The “Himalaya” is our most difficult course and it will test even the sportiest people to their limits. It can take two hours to complete that course. The heights at which you are climbing will vary enormously. Sometimes you might only be seven metres above the ground, whereas in other places it could be 20.
In high rope courses, a harness, a suitable lanyard and a helmet are a must.
What do you do to ensure visitors’ safety? After all, they are climbing at heights at which the risk of accidents is not to be underestimated.
The adventure park fulfils the standards in force (DIN EN 15567) for the construction and operation of stationery and mobile ropes courses. So we comply with clear regulations. Our steel cables, for example, have to be able to support up to seven tonnes. The climbing materials, which have to be worn by all visitors, have to support up to 2.3 tonnes.
What else is important when it comes to the equipment?
As I have already mentioned, we need equipment that can withstand a great deal and last a long time. After all, we have to assume that it will be used continuously for several hours at a time. It’s also really important to us that the equipment is easy to use. It must be easy to understand even for people who are new to using it. Harnesses that are lightweight are ideal, because then our visitors don’t feel that they are a nuisance. “Great fun in the trees!” is our philosophy at Freiraum Erlebnis. So we need to make sure that our choice of equipment doesn’t affect this in any way.
What do you do if someone gets stuck when they’re high up above the ground?
If there is a sudden problem, such as a spell of dizziness, we’ll try to encourage the person concerned. That often works and the visitor continues after a short break. That’s what we aim to do. After all, we want people to complete the course successfully. It can happen, however, that one of our trainers has to climb up to the person because they can’t go on. In these cases, we use the MILAN device to safely lower the person concerned down to the ground.
Presumably some visitors who are not used to heights must be quite unsure at first. What do you recommend for beginners who are visiting a high ropes course for the very first time?
You don’t need to be an expert to go climbing. There are courses everywhere that are suitable for amateur climbers. You do need a certain level of fitness. It’s important that beginners do not overreach themselves and that they start with easy courses. Sporty, weatherproof outdoor clothing should be worn, as well as suitable shoes. Generally speaking, safety is also about feeling right. You need to handle the equipment and try it out to see whether you feel OK in it. Only then will you be happy to wear it. If people don’t feel right, in many cases they might then have doubts about their safety. Anyone who wants to climb at our adventure park has to take part in a safety briefing. This means we can check whether people have understood how to use the equipment.
Relatively easy tasks … (c) Freiraum Erlebnis GmbH
… and sections with particular challenges. (c) Freiraum Erlebnis GmbH
Do you have any favourite stories to tell about the high ropes course?
Yes of course. One experience from a couple of years ago stands out. An old lady, probably around 70 years old, came to us. She spent about two and a half hours on our courses and in the end even tried the “Himalaya”, which is the biggest challenge here. When she’d finished, she told us not to say anything about it to her husband because she would get into trouble. Then she got on her mountain bike and cycled off up a hill. That was impressive! It’s also great when groups come to celebrate children’s birthdays. The parents are mostly scared as they scramble along behind, whilst the little ones soon put their fears behind them. They’re often one step ahead of the adults.