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Apr 26

Roller Coasters: Bigger is not Always Better

We’ve got a fantastic guest article by Sally Stacey.  Sally loves roller coasters, travels around the world to ride them and even works in a theme park in the UK from time to time as a ride controller! She writes for a number of websites including Vision MX where she got herself a Contour helmet camera to record on-ride action when she gets the chance.

I absolutely love roller coasters and often travel great distances to ride these thrilling machines. These days I constantly marvel at how things have moved on since I experienced my first coaster back in 1977. In those days the corkscrew at Alton Towers was where it was at with thrill rides but coasters of this type are now rather tame in comparison to the complex masses of colourful metal that now propel their riders to ever increasing altitudes and speeds. Curiously, though, it not always the tallest or fastest rides that prove to be the best. A great coaster is produced when the perfect combination of elements result in the creation of a superlative ride experience. Bigger is not always better and now coaster manufacturers seem to moving away from creating more and more enormous constructions towards novelty, innovation and even playing tricks on the mind.

The Best

All coaster enthusiasts have their favourite rides and so there can never be one which is definitively the best but for me the greatest ride experience in the world is to be had on Maverick at Cedar Point in Ohio. At 105 ft this ride is diminutive in stature compared to many of the behemoths on offer but the 70 mph chase through sharp twists and inversions, the mid cycle launch and the ride’s layout combine to produce a compelling experience with no equal that I have found. Having constructed the 420 ft giant Top Thrill Dragster and the much heralded 310 ft Millennium Force, the park turned away from altitude and maximum velocity to commission a ride full of energy and surprises that may be small but packs a real punch. The construction of this ride seems to have turned coaster design in a whole new direction with some interesting results.

Maverick at Cedar Point, Ohio.  Photograph by Craig Lloyd via Flickr(CC BY 2.0).

New Innovations

Just as steel coasters saw a new breed emerge with the introduction of Maverick so have wooden coasters taken a new turn. Like their steel cousins wooden coasters were growing bigger and bigger but new rides built by Great Coasters International Inc (GCII) use twisting tracks, steep cambers and high speed station passes to generate the thrills. The new woodies use articulated Millennium Flyer trains to negotiate the track. These vehicles can cope with the sharp turns and certainly deliver a very comfortable ride. Wodan, the new coaster at Europa Park in Germany, is a fine example of a GCII ride and delivers full on thrills from start to finish. I love this ride and it doesn’t matter at all that it is neither the highest nor fasted woody on the planet.

Wodan at Europa Park, Germany.  Photograph by Gabriel Rinaldi via Flickr (CC BY 2.0) .

Mind Games

Things are now set to take yet another twist with Alton Tower’s new ride for 2013. Smiler will be a steel coaster with multiple inversions but that is not where the trickery will end. The ride is set to incorporate several features deliberately designed to confuse the mind in order to exaggerate the intensity of the experience. The cars will charge towards giant hypodermic needles and hypnotic spinning wheels with the accompaniment of lighting effects. These features will distract riders, diverting their attention from the drops and inversions thus making them more surprising and of greater intensity. Well that is the theory anyway! There are strict limits to how much G force a coaster is permitted to inflict on riders and so if you have reached that limit and cannot make the ride any more severe you simply have to make it feel like it is. I can’t wait to try Smiler which is scheduled to open in May 2013 and I shall try to smuggle a helmet camera onto the ride in order to record the faces of the guests which are often as much fun as the rides themselves!

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