by Danny Miller
In the 1980’s, Arrow Dynamics had a stranglehold on the steel coaster industry. It seemed like every year more and more parks had at least one Arrow coaster, and each of them had more and more loops. In 1988, Six Flags Great America opened Shockwave, an Arrow seven-looper, now defunct. A year later, it was another now defunct ride, Great American Scream Machine, this time at Six Flags Great Adventure. In 1990, the final Arrow triplet came to Six Flags Magic Mountain, Viper.
That seemed to cap the inversion battle at seven, although several loopers continued to be built during the 1990’s by new companies like Bolliger & Mabillard. In the middle of the triplets though, Arrow shocked the world at Cedar Point. The park expected to swoop in and capture the inversion record did the exact opposite, they built a ride with none. Instead, the park elected to raise the bar from the originally planned 185 feet to 200 feet, marking the world’s first ever hyper coaster, Magnum XL-200. Arrow continued to build large coasters in the early 1990’s with attempts like Steel Phantom,Desperado, and Pepsi Max Big One. None quite measured up to Magnum however.
At the turn of the century, it seemed like everyone wanted a hyper coaster. Morgan Manufacturing provided three Cedar Fair parks with theirs, Valleyfair! getting Wild Thing, Dorney Park receiving Steel Force, and Worlds of Fun being awarded Mamba. Intamin jumped in with Superman: Ride of Steel atSix Flags Darien Lake, while B&M contended with Apollo’s Chariot and Raging Bull. Very quickly, every park that wanted to be talked about had a hyper coaster.
In 2000 though, Cedar Point once again caught the eye of the world with Millennium Force, the world’s first giga coaster. The ride immediately became the favorite among coaster enthusiasts, and is still right there more than a decade later. The giga coaster has become a rare find, with only a few parks adding their own. Morgan tried with Steel Dragon 2000 in Japan, but it failed to gain the accolades Millennium Force did. It wasn’t until just last year that B&M produced their first giga,Leviathan at Canada’s Wonderland.
The battle to 400 feet came to the foreground, with Cedar Point again getting to the punch first. Top Thrill Dragster claimed the title of tallest and fastest coaster in 2003. In 2005, Six Flags Great Adventure took both titles with Kingda Ka. Kingda Ka seemed to mark the end of the coaster wars, as it held the title of tallest and fastest for five years, and still holds the crown as the tallest in the world. Recently however, I’ve wondered if we are seeing the start of a new type of coaster war.
Recently, we’ve started to see new types of coasters, like the wing coaster, and the inverting wooden roller coaster. These are rides that have been played with very little before 2012, and now it seems like parks are just chomping at the bit to get their hands on one. 2011 saw the first wing coaster from B&M, Raptor at Italy’s Gardaland, with three more coming in 2012. In true Cedar Point fashion,Gatekeeper lapped the field for tallest, fastest, longest, and in most opinions, best wing coaster in 2013. It also boasts the most inversions. Hersheypark tried their own spin on the wing design with Intamin’s Skyrush last year, although that ride has been very much love/hate with guests in its first two seasons.
With no sign of the wing coaster breed dying out, it could become a trend much like the floorless or inverted coaster, where a battle will begin to build the biggest and best of the breed, and quite honestly, I think it already has begun. On the other side of the coin, Outlaw Run has so far climbed to the top of many enthusiasts’ lists. In less than two weeks, I will sample the ride myself. Is this finally the time for inversions on wooden coasters to work?
Mt. Olympus thinks so too, as they hired the Gravity Group to modify their existing Hades coaster and transform it into Hades 360, an almost completely re-tracked ride that changed the ride’s first airtime hill into an oversized corkscrew. With the addition of Timberliner trains, the ride’s smoothness has reportedly improved greatly, but could still use work in spots. The bottom line is that the issues it has do not seem to be related to the inversion at this point.
With reports of Darien Lake looking to transform Predator into a looping woodie of their own, and the growing possibility that the ride will feature multiple inversions, I think a new type of coaster war is upon us: the one to build wooden coasters with more and more inversions, just like we saw in the late 1980’s with steel coasters. I have not ridden Outlaw Run or Hades 360 yet, so perhaps I should reserve judgment for two more weeks, but personally, I don’t want to see too many parks get away from what has worked for wooden coasters for over a century.
The coaster wars were all about records and gimmicks, and although they may be great rides, inversions on wooden coasters are one of the ultimate gimmicks. If it works, it’s a great move for the parks because it will bring folks through the gates. Darien Lake’s declining attendance means the park needs something groundbreaking, and a gimmicky wooden coaster to replace one of their least popular rides is just what the doctor would order.
I think some of the best wooden coasters are some of the simplest. A simple out-and-back with lots of airtime is all I want in a wooden coaster. Rides like Phoenix, Boulder Dash, and Voyage are some of the best, and Outlaw Run will admittedly be awesome, but it will be interesting to see where it is in 10 years. Outlaw Run should have good longevity, but Hades 360 may not. Maybe we will all become Monday morning quarterbacks.
I have to keep an open mind though, because even if I’m not thrilled about wooden coasters all of a sudden becoming gimmicky and the next source of the coaster wars, the fact of the matter is they are going to be great and the battle will be exciting. It will be great to see how many parks try to put these kinds of coaster in. I suspect that the more we see of them, the more they could potentially become major failures, but that also points to how much better and better they could potentially become.