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.