Specific Type: Inverted Coaster
It was a chilling winter that year. Busch Gardens Williamsburg was in hibernation after the long 1996 season, with snow drifts heaping up to the rooftops of quaint European cottages. Gone from the streets were the tourists and sounds of mirthful crowds. Instead, chilling gusts whistled and roared through the hamlets, blowing snow from the shivering treetops. On the outskirts of one German village, cries soon rang out from the blue and white mountain's peak. This could mean only one thing: it was back. In a part of the world already haunted by such menaces as the Big Bad Wolf and Loch Ness Monster, it was anything but a welcome guest. It was the Ghost of the Alps, or Alpengeist in the native tongue. The legend was well known among the native settlers, but it was ski season now, and that could mean only one thing: ignorant thrill seekers tramping into the Alpine wraith's resort.
In 1997, those thrill seekers arrived by the busload to strap on their skis and ride a new ski lift to the top of slopes advertised as the biggest and best of them all. The new ski lodge at Busch Gardens was a warm and cozy contrast to what those thrill seekers would soon face. On March 22nd, thirty-two riders were in route to the mountain's peak, starting off on the 3,828-foot lift when something went wrong. Something went terribly wrong. At about 195 feet in the air, it became apparent that the Alpengeist was about to have an ultimate revenge on the foolish pleasure seekers invading its neck of the woods. The course ahead plunged, a sharp 170 feet, into a mess of loops, rolls, and twists. Alpengeist had contorted the ski lift into a daunting six inversions and six other curves making for a high-speed crash course on how not to design a ski lift. But it had taken more than just the Alpine ghost itself to craft this menacing ride.
Alpengeist had traveled across the Alps to Switzerland seeking the help of a duo named Bolliger and Mabillard, and the co-conspirators came through in their area of expertise with the world's tallest, fastest inverted roller coaster. And word got out. Ironically, news of this disastrous ski lift only drew more thrill seekers to the French Alps at Busch Gardens, and the Alpengeist would never hear a moment of silence again. Screams echoed through the park, and enthusiasm for the new thrill ride echoed to the outer bounds of the world, with the new ride nicknamed after the menace that created it drawing rave reviews from roller coaster lovers from around Williamsburg, Virginia, North America, and beyond. That success, however, came as no surprise to Busch Gardens, the same theme park chain that had seen the slightly smaller, yet loopier inverted coaster known as Montu debut at sister park Busch Gardens Tampa in 1996 with a similar outcome.
Continuing the time-honored tradition of the 1975 Williamsburg theme park, the inverted coaster's immersion in a detailed theme and storyline enhanced an already impressive experience. Oeckham Guytib Akbers and Viets Inc., and Suzanne Sessions, Inc., both of St. Louis, teamed up with Busch to design a theme fitting with its New France section. Furthermore, the 1997 addition followed in the footsteps of the 1978 coaster classic Loch Ness Monster, weaving through natural terrain for added thrill. In the case of Alpengeist, the track layout was woven deeper and deeper into a valley leading down to the banks of the park's central lagoon. From there, the track works its way out of the ravine as it loops and rolls back towards the station. And despite its twenty-million-dollar price tag, Alpengeist proved such a success that Busch Gardens Williamsburg unveiled the even larger Bolliger and Mabillard project Apollo's Chariot just two years later. Now, the Swiss steel coaster duo reigns over the Williamsburg park.
Milling about the theme park, strolling through the European villages, thrill seekers soon either approach the giant first inversion of Alpengeist sweeping over the pathway or cross underneath the monolithic lift hill from the Germany area. Then, they notice an interesting sight: skiers, smashed through the rooftops, headfirst. An intimidating sight for some, maybe, but not for the coaster lovers eager to get their fix of looping, swooping Swiss bliss. Passing through the queue line into the ski lodge, guests decided on a course of extreme thrills choose the resident five-diamond slope and get set to board the ski lift. Loading into the floorless coach four abreast, attendants help secure reddish harnesses, locking them into seat belts, then give the thumbs up. Starting out of the lodge, the train immediately moves onto the lift hill and ascends higher and higher over the treetops towards the 195-foot crest. Just beyond the top, all that's visible is the towering bluish structure of the newer Griffon vertical drop coaster.
Towering well over the German and French hamlets underfoot, the white track tops off with a slight dip to get things moving, and then all insanity breaks loose. With a bend to the right, teal supports guide the track into the first dive to the ground curving 270 degrees while losing 170 feet of altitude. Speeding ahead with legs forced back by the velocity, the train levels out at sixty-seven miles an hour to pull up into the first inversion: a mammoth, 120-foot Immelman. Starting off with a half-loop, the inversion whisks riders towards the sky, then ends with a half-corkscrew underneath the upcoming brakes and back to the ground. Gaining back every bit of speed, the train takes on the traditional vertical loop, a 106-foot version, then dives further down towards sea level. Emerging from a brief tunnel, the silver rails aim skyward over the lake, looping sharply to produce a maximum 3.7 g's of force while heading into the turnaround cobra roll. This signature double-inversion starts with a half-loop, uninverts with a half-corkscrew to the left, re-inverts with a second leftward half-corkscrew, and then dives back down with a second half-loop.
The track meanders around the second inversion with a slight forty-five-degree bend to the right, then a ninety-degree left turn pastGriffon's support columns and into the mid-course block brakes. Though slowing the ride slightly, the train proceeds with a forty-five degree turn and dive to the right into the second brief tunnel and under a pathway. Running parallel to Le Scoot Log Flume, the white track sends passengers through a picturesque zero-g roll between two stands of trees and then into a trench of snow-covered rocks. A flat spin to the left flips the train into a second themed trench where the grand finale begins. Alpengeist quickly banks and sends thrill seekers around a sharp, clockwise helix, then a U-turn in the opposite direction feeds into the final brake run and back to the lodge.
Alpengeist is undoubtedly king of France at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, but will it always remain that way? We shall see...
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