Arms down, head back, hold on….AHHHHHHH! Amusement Park operators are always looking for the biggest, fastest, and most intense experiences for their guests. Many enthusiasts will point to Magnum XL-200 at Cedar Point for kicking off a golden age of construction, By starting a roller coaster war where record setting attractions was every park’s ammunition. Magnum XL-200 opened in 1989, as the first hyper coaster breaking the 200 foot barrier, and forever changing the skyline of amusement parks around the world. Previously parks were asking for manufacturers to add more inversions, but the success of Magnum XL-200 showed how ditching the inversions for height and speed records could widen the audience and ultimately be better for the park’s business. In the US the inversion record up till now stalled at seven right as Magnum XL-200 changed the dynamics of success in 1989. While Asia and Europe kept increasing inversions the North American coasters were growing bigger and faster.
Eventually these records became harder and harder to capture as the complex task of building bigger and faster became cost prohibitive. However at the same time the capacity to build more dynamic rides became increasingly profitable. The manufacturers started to change the roller coaster itself to change the experience. They created new chassis that created new ride positions, created motion on the train itself as the coaster traversed the track, and experimented with different technologies for a more immersive experience. Instead of pushing the limits of height and speed designers were enclosing coasters, adding special effects, drop tracks, scenery, and even adding VR to existing coasters to change the experience. The coaster wars may have slowed, or stopped depending on who you talk to but another effect of this shift was marketing.
The public was enthralled with the record breaking and innovations that were being introduced. They got used to hearing that every new roller coaster installation was a superlative or a first to use a specific chassis or technology. This expectation, devolved into a laundry list of records that were released with each new thrill coaster. I would say for about the last decade the amount of silly, region specific, and the narrowness of the records has made many of them insignificant. When a park has to qualify each record by limiting its scope to exclude all of the other roller coasters that exceed the record they should be looking at marketing the ride in a way that appeals to their core customer base, their pass holders.
I don’t want to say the only room for innovation in the last decade is deceptive marketing. Better manufacturing techniques have allowed ride manufacturers to give us new experiences and a variety of new elements. While new elements alone don’t break records, just like the new chassis designs they create new experiences. From the snappy low to the ground twists of Maverick we got rides like Intimidator 305 & Skyrush. When RMC started converting old wooden coasters into steel hybrids parks had a new experience to provide for their guests, and a new category to set records in. Wooden coaster manufacturers weren’t left out as old technology, they showed that they can still be innovative. The modern wooden roller coaster has been successfully reinvented as they started installing wooden coasters with inversions, another new record and innovation.
So where is the future leading us? Hopefully into another large building boom, but let’s take a step back first to take a look. Last year Steel Vengeance at Cedar Point opened with a marketing campaign with ten world records. Nine of those records were conditional on the hybrid style of the ride, but one was a really big deal and something of extreme significance. This roller coaster offered 27.2 seconds of airtime, a new world record worth keeping track of, bragging about, and breaking in the future. The 2019 season will have a few records of note being toppled as well. Kennywood will be introducing Steel Curtain, a coaster by S&S themed to their local football team the Steelers. Kennywood is of course offering a slew of local and regional records to help market this coaster but they are grabbing two solid records for the park. Steel Curtain will have the most inversions in North America at nine, and it will have the tallest inversion in the world at 197 feet. Six Flags Great America is also claiming some records in 2019 with Maxx Force. Maxx Force will launch 0-70 in under 2 seconds making it the fastest acceleration on any coaster in the world. It will also maneuver through the fastest inversion in the world too. There is also a new kid on the block, in the under construction American Dream Mall, where Nickelodeon Universe will be installing the world’s steepest coaster called TMNT Shellraiser.
With all these records being broken in North America next year there are a few that are seemingly out of reach. Speed is the most obvious, Formula Rossa at Ferrari World has a top speed of 149.1 MPH and took the record from Kingda Ka(128 MPH) at Six Flags Great Adventure in 2010. However Kingda Ka is still the tallest roller coaster in the world at 456 feet since 2005. Speed and height often go together and to build a roller coaster that can exceed 150 MPH is difficult to imagine, but that record could one day fall to another launched coaster as the speed Formula Rossa achieved is hard to imagine even today. There has been plans and concepts to shatter the height record with what most are calling a polercoaster, a roller coaster built onto an observation tower that can provide a structure that is cost feasible to break the 500 foot barrier. This project is stalled in the planning stage right now, and no schedules have been revealed to start construction.
The real question going forward, is the war back on? I say it doesn’t matter, because a new building boom and period of investment is on. Many theme and amusement park operators are signaling that investments are planned for years to come. This a great indicator that we have a lot to look forward to. The pace of news and the length of time into the future we are able to see is an indicator that the plans are becoming more ambitious, the major manufacturers have been busy, and maybe even Dorney could be getting a new coaster. The time when it was all B&M or Intamin in North America is over. B&M and Intamin will continue to build great coasters moving forward for sure. They will have to continue to innovate and offer riders and parks something they want because competition is the new coaster war. Mack has a growing footprint in the US market branching off from their smaller scale rides, and building larger thrill rides. RMC has been a rising star that is offering new products for wood and steel. RMC might be best known for their Iron Horse conversions, but they are pivoting to new installations and their influence is beginning to be emulated by the “old guard”. S&S is stepping up to the plate with two large installations this year that will grab a few records. S&S has been working hard in Asia, but their work in North America has been smaller, however they are now creating signature attractions. There are plenty of other players who are hard at work too with rides opening this year in North America like; Chance, Gerstlauer, Premier Rides, Gravity Group, SBF Visa, Zamperla, Zierer, Skyline Attractions, and Larson? With so much variety on our plate the future should be powered by competition and good luck to all the players, when you do well we all win.
Dear Coaster Friends,
Living in a long distance relationship is tough, but at times it is necessary. My wife and I lived in two different cities for a period of time while we were still dating. Long drives, different time zones, and separate lives can all be difficult to deal with and can cause strain, but it makes being reunited even sweeter. During this off season while you are separated from your number one, how do you deal? Do you think about the good times in the past? Are you worried and jealous she is out there giving rides to others?!
Will you think about opening day? Many parks have already published their 2019 calendar, it is already marked on my calendar when we can can be reunited again. Have you been thinking of her sitting out in the cold, alone, maybe even rusting? Is she getting ready for you with a fresh coat of paint, rebuilt trains, or some trackwork to bring out those curves?
Do not let your mind wander to warmer ports. You could go to Florida to be with Montu, or California to be with X2… But they aren’t your number one. Every year there are new roller coasters tempting you to fall in love with them, and it is tempting. Steel Vengeance was out there collecting numbers last season, changing people’s hearts. Maybe I should look her up. There is just about a month and a half before it will be time to slide into that train once more and finally be reunited with my number one, El Toro.
P.S. Please don’t tell my wife I compared our relationship to a roller coaster.
Dear Coaster Friends,
As most of us are dealing with cold weather, and waiting for the thaw of spring I have been thinking about what might be on the horizon for next season and I started looking for what new rides I will possibly experience for the first time. When I say new I don’t necessarily mean new for 2019, but new for me. If you are thinking of ride type or category you might first let your mind wander to B&M. This manufacturer has made a name for itself with that familiar box beam spine on their tracks, but perhaps they are best known for their variety of chassis designs that change the riders’ position and experience.
B&M is often credited for their innovation by shifting the paradigm that a roller coaster train is meant to be sat in, as it had been for over a hundred years. They created stand-ups, inverts, and flyers that change the riders, position. They also created floorless trains, dive coasters, and wing riders that allow the designers to change the riders’ interaction with the track itself. With all of these innovations they are often criticised for being too formulaic, sticking to a script and just providing a very similar experience over and over again in a different location. I hear from enthusiasts that they want B&M to take chances and break the mold. Enthusiasts crave new experiences and say they want B&M to design layouts with more variety for their respective types. I do think that B&M has done just that in the past and as a result has been giving the people what they want, even if it isn’t what they are asking for.
My favorite type of B&M coaster is the invert, and one of them sticks out to me as different Great Bear at Hersheypark. Great Bear rides different from the other inverts I have experienced and it is a fun one too. However I have never heard anyone say it is their favorite, and it often gets lost in the discussion since it does have some major differences. The most obvious and visible difference is the first drop. The drop on most inverts is steep and banked hard to the right or left. This banking adds positive G’s and changes the direction, while keeping the track out of view for the passengers. Great Bear has a helix at the top of the lift that pops you out of your seat, and gives a brief panoramic view before dropping into a fairly straightforward drawn out descent. The inversions on Great Bear are more graceful, especially the Zero-G Roll, where the common sensations on the other inverts is intense positive G’s. Great Bear has a soaring sensation with moments of floating out of the inversions, while other inverts really pin you down.
Our next example is Raging Bull at Six Flags Great America, B&M’s twister style hypercoaster. Hypercoasters are large investments at a park both in real estate and cost. Six Flags Great America created something different from the norm, but they weren’t rewarded with praise from the community. Raging Bull is often called by enthusiasts, their least favorite B&M hyper. This is funny to me since Intimidator, Behemoth, Nitro, Goliath (no the other Goliath), and of course Goliath are often praised for their airtime and experience, but criticized for being rehashed versions of the same thing. Raging Bull changes the dynamic of a hyper being an out and back and creates a twister layout that can only be found in Chicago.
The floorless coasters offer a bit more variety, but again one stands out for being more different. Hydra the Revenge at Dorney Park suffers the same fate as its neighbor Great Bear. It rides with a different feel, has unique elements, and interacts with the terrain while most are built on flat ground. Hydra has the JoJo Roll out of the station, and that is usually where the conversation ends. Hydra does have another very rare element the inclined dive loop, and some odd pairings as well. Hydra has a Zero-G Roll that goes right into a Corkscrew in the opposite direction. The B&M formula typically calls for a layout with two Corkscrews to be back to back or interlocking, but on Hydra the two corkscrews are very separate and stand apart from each other. While I feel there is less consensus on the which floorless is best, I feel most people feel that Hydra is not in the conversation.
Next year we will see if Yukon Striker suffers the same fate as it does look to be the most different dive coaster that B&M has built yet. Will it be touted as the best of its type, or will people prefer Griffin & SheiKra? I don’t want to hate on B&M or the roller coaster enthusiast community. I just want to take a step back and think about what we ask for and how we react when we get it. Maybe the old saying,”If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is the best business strategy. I don’t think it should be though, because when engineers try something new it is a risk. I don’t mean it is a risk as in danger, but they are taking a chance on how people will react to it. I personally want to see fun rides, if the new yet to be named Hersheypark hypercoaster offers the same ride experience as their others I think that is great, because B&M hypers are really fun. If B&M wants to try something new and stray from their formula I think that is great too because I want to see innovation. I know everyone’s opinion is going to be different, everyone reacts differently to different rides, and for different reasons. However I want to end with consensus, Rougarou is the best stand-up coaster.
Dear Coaster Friends,
The 2019 season has not even begun, and it is looking to be an exciting year. Major roller coasters are planned at many destination parks including a few notable record breakers. The fastest launch acceleration, steepest drop, most inversions, and tallest inversions are all coming to North America next season. There is a very immersive themed coaster being built at Islands of Adventure, the tallest dive coaster, a few family coasters that are going to be scattered about, two very interesting launched coasters for the east & west coast, and of course many clones to round out the year. Looking forward to this year is easy to do with so many notable attractions to check out, but there is something else that has been looming on the horizon for months already, 2020.
The next two seasons are going to be introducing many new rides, and notable park expansions that we know of from Dollywood, Disney, Universal, Carowinds, and Hersheypark. We also know that all of the Seaworld and Busch parks are getting roller coasters in 2020. My friends, this is the beginning of a building boom. There are 2020 rides that have been formally announced, like the recently announced Goliath, I mean Maco at Seaworld San Diego. Other rides have not been announced but we are already making plans to ride, like Busch Gardens Tampa’s RMC Gwazi. And others where there is evidence, but no announcement like permits filed by Kings Island to work with B&M on a construction project. This could be anything from a giga to B&M’s first antique cars installation. I heard from the blue ice cream vendor that it might be the giga many of their fans have been foaming at the mouth for. Also in confirmed B&M news Hersheypark will be adding a hypercoaster to their line up.
Even though there is limited info from the other Seaworld parks the company has stated their intentions to expand their ride selections and Busch Gardens Williamsburg was one of the first places that rumors and speculation swirled around. At first it seemed like they might be installing a giga to rival their neighbors at Kings Dominion, it now appears that they will be getting a large launch coaster. Then there is of course the elephant in the room, a certain park is poised to get a coaster in 2020. A park that just feels like it is the perfect timing for, not so fast Dorney & Worlds of Fun, I am of course referring to Cedar Point.
Cedar Point is celebrating its 150th season in 2020 and such an auspicious occasion just screams roller coaster. While it isn’t confirmed, or teased by the park it just seems like they could possibly be making room for a large project to coincide with this anniversary. The dorms are being demolished, land has been bought off the peninsula, the 2019 attraction has a temporary feel to it, and everyone has been keeping an eye on the beach. I am sure the excitement at winter chill out will be reaching a new level with their dedicated fans looking for any evidence of what might be in the works for 2020.
Last year every rumor was met with the speculation that it will be a Mach, depending on how Maxx Force & Steel Curtain are received maybe the new trend will be to think every new rumor will be an S&S. However I want to believe in something else, it will be an Intamin. Wood, steel, family, or extreme I don’t care I’m calling all unconfirmed rides for 2020 Intamin, it is time for them to do something big in North America. So forget about Mach with their malfunctioning tails, let RMC spread their wings and go to Europe & Asia, and let's have a really unpredictable, and possibly in need of a redesign, year with Intamin in 2020!
- Jeff Goodman
Dear Coaster Friends,
It is that time of year again to reflect on ourselves and make resolutions to improve. But as enthusiasts how can we resolve to make next season better for roller coasters? Is taking every drop hands up making me a better person? Is that what we should be striving for, or finding a longer lasting deodorant to not offend other riders? Any self improvement I make or bad habit I break is surely not going to have an impact on the coasters I will ride. If I am more polite and patient the ride will not be smoother. If I adopt a healthier lifestyle it won't turn those OTSRs into lap bars. If I am more charitable the ride ops won't improve. So what is my coaster resolution?
Maybe I should identify my poor theme park habits first. I am very impatient, I go crazy in long lines and once I yelled at a line cutter and almost started a scene with a teen pushing his way through the queue to, “meet his friends”. His behavior was wrong but so was my response. That kid got the brunt of all my frustrating encounters with line cutters not just that one. Plus the little jerk still cut everyone so all I did was rile up the line. How could I improve on this? Should I cut others to get ahead? Physically stand up for myself and take a stand against all line cutters if they be child or adult? Fast pass? Actually fast pass sounds the best, but that is more of a treat than a self improvement.
Would new ride experiences or a new milestone on my track record be my resolution? We all knew that is where this was leading anyways. I resolve to enjoy my park days as a privilege and enjoy my leisure time. I also resolve to go to a new park, ride a new for 2019 roller coaster, and treat someone else to a day of coasters and fun. Thanks I feel better now.
As the holiday season draws near some people think of giving, others look forward to time off with family, a few days off from work, but I am going to be selfish. I want to make a Christmas list for the some of the parks that I frequent the most. Even though the park would be the recipient, let's be real these are for me. Even though we know what is in the works for 2019, and in some cases 2020 I will make some picks that works around what we collectively already know.
I’ll be giving to Busch Gardens Tampa first, and this is an easy one, FIX GWAZI! I know there has been rumors that RMC will be giving Gwazi the Iron Horse treatment, but since it is still a leak or rumor I still consider it unofficial. I would like to see the two tracks remain separate and for the near head on collisions to be retained. Unlike Twisted Colossus where the original layout was a simple racer this layout already has a dueling element, and it could run four trains with the two tracks separated. This high capacity set up would be great for this busy destination park since their next addition will be a low capacity Skyrocket II model. Busch Gardens Tampa is also a twelve month park they could, in theory keep one side open during maintenance cycles by alternating to allow the attraction to remain open more.
The next park I’m putting on my gift list is Dorney Park, Santa has passed them over so many times. They also have two newly vacated adjacent areas to possibly build their next attraction. I know the consensus pick there is a GCI woody, but think that they could be part of a new trend. Dorney park has a variety of different experiences, but none of their roller coasters have a great first drop. I think Dorney should get a B&M dive coaster; it is a compact layout with a big feel, and a great first drop. This would be sure to add to the skyline and deliver a very unique experience for the region. It would be totally different from anything at at nearby Hersheypark, Kennywood, or Six Flags Great Adventure.
The last park up for a new coaster is Lake Compounce. This small park in Connecticut has room to grow, as they have plenty of undeveloped land to build new attractions. This park needs to finally install a signature steel coaster. The best place to build a station, I think could be by the former sky ride. A lift hill could run along the cliff face heading away from Boulder Dash’s turnaround. It would be cool to use the natural terrain for support, and to use the mountain to both reduce cost and add excitement. This shouldn’t be a steel Boulder Dash, I think the layout should include at least three inversions, a drop of over 150 feet, and at least 70 MPH. I think a ride like that could expand their footprint of passholders and draw people from a bit further away to check them out.
I could keep going, but hopefully Santa will put me on the nice list for not overdoing it. I will be sending my list first class so it will be delivered to the North Pole in time. If you see him at the mall in the meantime please put in a good word for me.
It is now November, and suddenly I feel low. At this point most regional parks have closed their doors to guests and roller coaster season has come to a close. I know some parks do holiday events, but this is fairly hit and miss. Some parks are partially open running some rides while others are just purely open for the ambiance, but not offering thrills. Even though I was buzzing about the 2019 season in August, right now it seems even further away than ever. If you live in Florida or Southern California I don't want to hear about your never-ending theme park season right now.
As the weather turns cold the planning, scheming, and adding up vacation days begins. I am sure many of us will refuse to call in sick so we have good attendance for when theme parks reopen. It is a tough pill to swallow that I have to wait so long before I head back out, but I want to put together a game plan. Should I be going where the new roller coasters are being installed or should I be looking for new parks? Maybe I should be driving to Kennywood or Canada’s Wonderland. Do you think Lightning Rod will work next year? Nah, probably not. I haven’t been to a few localish places in quite a while, in some cases over a decade, should I revisit? Should I buy too much hair gel and glittery T-shirts and head down the jersey shore? I can’t help it, making a plan even if I don’t follow it later makes me feel like I am getting closer to pulling down that restraint and rolling out of the station.
Luckily I can always reflect and then turn to fantasy. Next week the Ride Warrior Choice Awards will be kicking off and I can put my stupid, uniformed, and personal opinions out there just like everyone else. Maybe you all will finally get it right this year and vote El Toro number one. Then opinions turn to prediction for the Thrilling 32, that will keep me excited and looking forward to the conclusion. Even if El Toro loses again, a tragic crime, when the contest ends it will be spring and I will surely be on my way to the next park.
For many years I have enjoyed visiting theme parks in the fall. I love the cool temperatures, early sunset, and the ambiance of the leaves changing color. There is one aspect of the fall season I have never experienced, the haunt mazes that have become very popular at parks in all regions. The fall haunt season has become a more popular time to visit than the summer at many parks. I feel many people think of July/August as peak season, but the popularity of these haunt events has shifted the attendance to October. So for many years I have gone in and enjoyed the decorations, but stuck with only the roller coasters. So this year I decided to enter the haunt mazes and scare zones to see what I have been missing that draws so many people to the park.
I am not a horror movie fan, so suspense and gore do not usually find their way into my entertainment. I made travel plans, packed an extra set of underwear (just in case), and met up with a few haunt veterans for my first experience. I decided to let them choose my fate so our hauntoverse host Andy and his friend Dason met me down at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. We did not visit all of the mazes, and I didn’t get to see the haunt themed shows, but I think I got a good idea of what was offered. The event did start before sunset so we chose to try an indoor haunt first. At first I was just sort of wandering around looking about , and I kept expecting to be surprised by a trap door opening. However most of the staff were hiding in plain sight like statues, and then they would spring to life. The first actor who caught me off guard was holding a large ax, and he swung it at my head. It came so close, as a reflex I grabbed it. The actor froze, and I started to laugh and put up my hand to high five him. He grabbed my hand, and we stood there for an awkward moment. Then I moved on. As soon as I rounded the corner Dason whispered to me don’t touch them or we are going to get ejected. Oops.
We moved onto the next zone called Buzzsaw. It was outside, but it wasn’t really dark yet. It really would have benefited from being in the dark. This one looked so cheesy without the cover of darkness that everything looked very fake and the actors effort was very lack luster because they knew they were not going to take anyone by surprise. Some of the other haunt mazes were staffed better than others. Some of the actors hid behind different transition areas and door frames, jumping out after you passed by. I started to get the idea of what to expect. I would easily find the hiding spots. I knew where people should be but they must have been on break. The two haunts inside of The Curse of Darkastle were the ones that I thought were the most well done. The scenery was more detailed, the actors were more into their roles, and they had the added benefit of a large dark building.
I think the park did a great job with adding the haunt ambiance to the midways and large public areas, the costumes of the actors wandering around and interacting with the guests were the best outside of the haunt mazes ironically. They even had a guy on a bungee cord at the entrance to Canada scaring people, and he got the best reactions I saw all night. While I was not disappointed with the haunts I wasn’t impressed either. I feel the potential for a fun unique experience was there, but the execution was just not enough for me. I am glad I tried it out and I would consider going somewhere else next fall to compare experiences, but it does not give the same thrill and excitement I get from the roller coasters. I don’t feel like I have been missing out, but maybe I do need to be more open to try new attractions and not sprint from coaster to coaster and call it a day.
I got into roller coasters as a hobby later in life, not because of a lack of love for roller coasters, but simply it never occured to me that it was a thing. I always enjoyed going to theme parks as a kid and throughout my life. I grew up asking my parents to include going to parks as park of family vacations, and sometimes I was indulged and other times it wasn’t in the cards. The desire to be hurled around a circuit of wood or steel was my love and it was not shared by my family, so I was the lone voice begging to ride one more when the day was over.
When I became a teen I attended a summer camp that brought us to amusement parks, and it became my first job too. So a few outings a summer to amusement parks were a welcome perk. Then when that first summer of work was over I needed to find a year round after school job and my priorities shifted to work and school. I still had fun and went to parks with friends, but because of the cost of paying my own way it became less frequent. Then I became a college student and almost all of my free time was about working for extra money, so I could socialize with my friends, and not eat Cup-O-Noodles for every meal. After several years with no amusement parks I started going to Great Adventure at least once a year with friends, and my girlfriend who later became my wife. I was working on my career, but it still never occured to me that I should be branching out and seeking new experiences.
Then all of a sudden it clicked when my wife and I were in Los Angeles attending a family wedding. We realized we had an extra day to visit and we were on our way to Magic Mountain with my cousin and his wife. They ran out of steam after a few hours but we kept on riding and enjoying our day at the park. On the drive back to LA we were like, “Why aren’t we doing this more regularly?” So we started making a spring and fall trip every year to Great Adventure, and every time we were out of town with the opportunity we visited a new park. Then the sickness really kicked in and I was like let's plan road trips to parks too! We gradually started making our travels a bit further and more frequent, we started visiting lesser well know and sometimes out of the way parks too.
Age starts to creep up on you and things change, responsibilities expand, and life happens. One year I injured myself and I couldn’t ride roller coasters for a year, I was devastated. I even had to face the possibility that I could be done, at the risk of ruining myself physically. Thankfully I healed and hit the ground running again. Then came the biggest change, my wife was pregnant and our family would be expanding. This was a welcome change that was both scary and exciting. It did however change my thinking on the future and family time.
I now have a daughter who is about to turn three and I have gone from adrenaline junkie to coaster dad. As soon as my daughter was the right height I brought her to Adventureland, the first park I went to as a kid. Instead of waiting on line for the roller coaster I was folding myself in half to fit into the kiddy rides with her. My wife and I will still go to parks without her when we are lucky to have a babysitter and enjoy that time. However the conversations have changed from, “Do you think we can find a time to visit Cedar Point this year?” to “How long before we can all go to Storyland/Great Escapes/Disney?”
I was never the enthusiast who would ride kiddy coasters without a kid. No judgement if you want to I just felt like I would rather be going on something I enjoyed more or I felt self conscious and silly. But last spring when visiting Kings Dominion with Daniel Westfall I jumped on Woodstock Express solo. I told Daniel I wanted more wood credits so El Toro would be number one in the Ride Warrior Choice Awards, but really I wanted to feel a kids roller coaster to see how long before I thought my daughter could ride something like it. I even got mad and upset at the thought a kiddy ride could get removed before we have outgrown it. I did get to ride with my daughter on her first roller coaster a few months later in the summer back at Adventureland. I really hope it is the beginning of a family pastime. So does this mean I need to slow down? NO! I WILL BE GOING FASTER AND HIGHER THAN YOU ON KINGDA KA! But now every time I ride I am doing mental math, how long before my daughter can ride this too?
Roller coaster enthusiasts were treated to a varied list of new for 2019 attractions in North America this summer from a varied group of manufacturers. However the most surprising and ambitious plans came from S&S. At this time parks have announced three roller coasters being built by S&S. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom is building Batman: The Ride, a Wing Freespin model that has been a staple of Six Flags ride announcements for the last several years. However the other two are a bit more ambitious. Maxx Force will be built at Six Flags Great America, and Steel Curtain will be built at Kennywood. While the layouts and ride types have not much in common these two additions stand out because they are going for some serious records.
Let us take a step back though and take a look at more recent work by S&S in the North American market. They have been knocking out the Freeflys at Six Flags park across the chain, partnering with RMC for track manufacturing. These coasters all have the same layout and they are fun, they are no doubt a home run for S&S. These off the shelf models have sold well since 2015 and there are currently seven of them out there with the eighth on the way for next season. The two custom coasters that were designed for Dutch Wonderland & Playland’s Castaway Cove have had a different, but similar narrative to each other.
Dutch Wonderland has an S&S family suspended coaster that opened in 2018, however it was intended to open in 2017. There was not a lot of public information about what caused the delay, but many people talked about rumors of clearance issues. The park issued vague statements on social media but did not offer an explanation as to the delay, and reassured their followers that it would open when completed. It is difficult to assign blame to the delay since there are no official statements from the park, manufacture, or any subcontractor. It is worrying that a fairly standard, and tame ride had delays that spanned an entire year.
Playland’s Castaway Cove installed GaleForce, a triple launched coaster that opened in 2017, however it was intended to be opened in 2016. There was again no information shared with the public addressing the delay and both GaleForce and Merlin’s Mayhem shared these quiet mysteries. However there was an additional issue with GaleForce, you would think the launch system was temperamental as many launch coasters have teething pains, but this was not the case. Many riders were reporting this brand new coaster was rough, and had a very distinct rattle. A trait that is not confidence inspiring for a brand new roller coaster. The plot thickens because during the winter between the 2017 and 2018 season the entire track was dismantled and replace to solve the issue. Again it is difficult to assign blame as all of the parties involved kept fairly quiet while the problem was being fixed.
So that brings us to the uncomfortable comparison; the parks are different, the installers hired were different, but both rides were developed by S&S. Neither one of these ride stood out as technically difficult or particularly ambitious, but Maxx Force and Steel Curtain do. Marketing of new roller coasters often gets silly tacking on records that are so specific they don’t apply to other coasters that they may be compared to. Maxx Force will be pneumatically launched and have the fastest acceleration in North America, and the fastest inversion in the world. Those are two ambitious and interesting records. Steel Curtain will be introduced with the most inversions in North America, and the tallest inversion in the world. Again two serious records, and shows a level of ambition we haven’t seem from S&S in recent years. I will also say both rides have layouts that look exciting and fun regardless of their superlatives.
There has been one big change since these problem coasters were built and the ambitious record breakers were announced. S&S has purchased Dutch roller coaster manufacture Vekoma. I am very aware Vekoma has not gotten a lot of love for their coaster in North America from enthusiasts, but those rides are old. Vekoma has, not unlike coaster enthusiast darling Mack, being doing a lot of interesting work in Europe. This new modern Vekoma might have something to offer S&S and these new coasters could represent a collaboration, or at the very least a shared set of technologies to build something new with. For the last decade or so coaster enthusiast have looked at Intamin vs B&M as Coke vs Pepsi. Other manufactures have tried to jump in and give them a run for their money, but it is difficult to dethrone these two powerhouses. The real question is, with these ambitious plans can S&S? Or are we just looking at another RC Cola? I will be anxiously waiting for 2019 for these two rides to open an find out, or will it be 2020?