Roller coasters: You love them or hate them. But if you’re among the fanatics who worship the coaster gods, there’s an amazing worldwide assemblage of thrilling and chilling rides to choose from.
Whether twisting, flying, looping or just plain speeding, last year coaster fans took more than 900 million rides in the United States alone. With more than 2,000 roller coasters worldwide, located on six out of the seven continents (Antarctica has no coasters to date) the thrill-ride phenomenon has been gaining momentum for years and is now better than ever.
Records are regularly broken, as amusement parks fight for the title of fastest, tallest, longest, or downright scariest coaster. This year, Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey, the world’s fastest roller coaster since it opened in 2005, will lose the speed title to the German Ring Racer, a Formula 1-themed thrill ride that will go an astounding 134.8 miles per hour. That’s faster than Kindga Ka by 6.8 miles per hour, though Kindga Ka will be able to console itself with the record for tallest roller coaster—for now. With new rides going up every year (83 in 2009 alone), thrill seekers will never be without a new heart-pounding roller coaster to try out.
Coaster lovers worldwide make pilgrimages each year to the king of all coaster theme parks, Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. With 17 roller coasters in one amusement park, Cedar Point has gained a following as a coaster mecca with thrill-ride devotee groups, such as the American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE). As the self-proclaimed roller coaster capital of the world, Cedar Point is able to offer a thrill ride for everyone. Bryan Edwards, sales promotion manager for Cedar Point says, “Every one of our coasters is unique in its own way, no two are alike.”
One of the most interesting (and record breaking) coasters at Cedar Point is Wicked Twister, a 215-foot high behemoth that is the world’s tallest and fastest double twisting impulse coaster (which combines two vertical drops with a twist on each end).
Reaching a top speed of 72 miles per hour, Wicked Twister is not your typical coaster. It has one U-shaped twisted track that the train rides on backwards and forwards, increasing in speed as it also increases in height.
Edwards says one the best parts about this ride is that every seat is a good seat. “For most coasters, the first or last seat is the most desirable, but with Wicked Twister, they all have a unique ride experience. When the ride moves forward, the front seat goes the highest and when the ride moves backwards the last seat goes the highest, but if you’re in the middle, you get height on both sides.”
Wooden versus steel coasters is a hotly debated topic among enthusiasts like Mark Cole, president of the ACE, who prefers wooden coasters. He says every ride is different because the wood shrinks or expands with the weather and age. Don Helbig, public relations area manager for Kings Island, believes what makes a good coaster is a mixture of all of its thrills—speed, height, loops, and drops. “If you can’t pick out one element of a ride that stands out more then the others then that tells you it is a great ride,” he says.
In England, the Colossus at Thorpe Park smashes records with 10 whopping loops. Known as the thrill capital of England, Thorpe Park attracts adventure seekers from all points with its ‘unholy trinity’ of rides which includes Colossus, Stealth, and Nemesis Inferno, billed as the ride from hell. Mike Vallis, divisional director of Thorpe Park, believes that “rides like Colossus with its fast-paced journey through a vertical loop, cobra roll, corkscrews, and heart line twists provide an intense adrenaline rush that leave guests wanting to ride again and again.” He says that even waiting in line is an experience because the “trains swoop past excited guests waiting for their turn.”
Dueling Dragons, at Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Fla., is something of a spectator sport, too. As customers gear up for their own ride on the world’s only inverted dueling coaster, they can watch the double trains duke it out for most intense ride as they decide on their own track—and fate.
Customers have a choice of either Fire Dragon or Ice Dragon, which engage in “aerial combat, as riders of one ride whooshes past within inches of the other."
Thrill rides will undoubtly continue to be as tall or as fast as engineering and science will allow, but a new element has also come into the mix: the psychological factor. Vallis says “The future of roller coasters lie in challenging guests psychologically as well as physically. For example, Thorpe Park’s newest coaster, SAW–The Ride, is themed around the popular—and bloody—horror film franchise. It challenges riders not only to face the intensity of the roller coaster but their own fears.” No matter how fast, tall, or scary a coaster is,” says Vallis, “most riders just want a great experience from start to finish." In the end, screaming until you’re hoarse and leaving the ride with a huge smile on your face are what it’s all about.