Dear Coaster Friends,
Close your eyes and imagine you are on a roller coaster, maybe a special ride that you feel is exciting. You crest the top and dive down, whizzing past trees, hugging the ground, and just hauling at an unrelenting pace. What ride was it? The answer is probably different for many of us, but when I think of near misses with nature and the ground being a focus and not the air I think of terrain coasters. This special designation often deliver an extra layer of uniqueness to a roller coaster because its setting is intertwined with the ride experience.
There are many reasons to use the terrain as an element when designing a roller coaster. Often times the simple fact that using an existing hillside could help the park save money because they can get away with less materials. It is a great win win. Sometimes a park is built with limited area to develop midways and paths that are easy for guests to traverse, this may force designers to place the rides in more rugged surrounding terrain, to leave more flat space for people. Then there is a third option, add artificial terrain in a spare no expense approach to create an ideal setting. These types of rides often have that extra something that makes them feel more special. This isn’t a required ingredient because a good ride is a good ride and my favorite coaster, El Toro, does not have a terrain element. However when a ride does have this element is typically a welcome addition.
What ride did you think of when I asked you to close your eyes and imagine? I thought of Boulder Dash at Lake Compounce. This roller coaster was designed by CCI and was inspired by Rollo Coaster at Idlewild Park. Boulder Dash omits the most expensive part of a wooden roller coaster, the lift hill. By using the natural terrain to help shape the lift, first drop and most of the elevation changes on the first half of the ride they were able to save a lot of material cost while creating a very exciting ride. To me Boulder Dash is more than simply fast, it feels wild. The combination of the near misses created by the trees and rock face, help disguise a downward path that makes the ride feel like it is speeding up when you expect it to be slowing down. This is near the top of my list of wooden roller coasters and it is so wild and fun I excuse its biggest flaw. It is rough, but I love it anyway.
I have a positive impression of B&M hypers, and I really enjoy all of the ones I have ridden. The thing is they all leave a similar impression on me, in fact I rank them all together for the most part and they each have something that stands out even though they deliver a similar experience. I typically give the edge to Apollo’s Chariot, not because it is bigger, faster or steeper. It is actually none of those things. I give it the edge because it uses the terrain to enhance the experience. The reason this ride uses the terrain is to develop a part of the property that guests could not access, and it would not be useful for future expansion. I don’t think Busch Gardens saved any money on the slightly shorter lift hill because of the predrop that was added to get out to the elevation change, but I like the effect it created. Those few extra seconds to build a little momentum and take in the views is a welcome added extra the terrain helped dictate. The rest of the ride is fairly standard, but because the terrain is at different elevations at different points in the layout it makes the drops larger or smaller because they need to line up with the low points below them. In fact this is the one B&M hyper where the first drop isn’t my favorite part of the ride, it is the last drop. The last drop is very surprising, and even though I knew it was coming the first few times I rode it still got me. If you aren’t sure what I mean or why the last drop is worth talking about I won’t spoil it, just head on over to BGW to ride Apollo’s Chariot.
The final category of terrain coasters would be best examined by going to Florida, a state where a certain mouse set the bar on theming. My favorite mine train is Big Thunder Mountain, not because it has the best layout but because it has the best setting. This coaster creates its own terrain and takes riders off onto a mountain scene from out west in the hot, humid, awful, oppressive Florida sun. Wait, why are we in Florida again, oh yeah theming. A 90 minute car ride away from the Orland market will land you in Tampa Bay home of my favorite invert Montu. Montu is partially buried so the layout dives through these trenches themed to look like Egyptian ruins. If the whole ride was lifted about two or three stories and had the same layout but not terrain and scenery to interact with I don’t think it would have the honor of being called my favorite invert, just like natural terrain coasters the scenery creates near misses and enhances the feeling of speed. Cheetah Hunt does the same thing on a portion of its track where it reuses part of the old river raft ride. Both of these rides are arguably better than similar rides that lack these interactions.
There are so many of these types of rides to mention, and some parks have capitalized on it really well like Holiday World, Dollywood, Six Flags Fiesta Texas, and Kennywood. These are all parks that use their uneven terrain to their advantage and have put themselves in my sights because I know they will offer something that no place else can. They all offer something different and unique, and it is not just a big pile of dirt or a dangerous hillside. It was the bold decision to build on it that created a natural attraction for an unnatural experience. Click, Click, Click, Click, Click, Click, Click, Click…