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?