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The Art Of Attractions - March 2017

Wooden Coasters Make Tracks

Everything old is new again.

Parks have long been showcases for the latest, greatest whiz-bang technology. Visitors look forward with great anticipation to flashy new attractions. But they also cherish parks as living pieces of history and love, returning to them to rekindle fond childhood memories, to connect with bygone eras, and to share the joy with their own children.

It can be a tough balancing act to preserve the old while embracing the new. Take wooden roller coasters, for example. Along with carousels, they are enduring rides that date back to the earliest days of the industry. Through the years, however, steel coasters have eclipsed woodies in sheer numbers and innovation. To the delight of my fellow coaster fans and myself, the wooden kings of the midways have experienced a renaissance recently.

Instead of completely demolishing beloved coasters that have reached the end of their lives, Rocky Mountain Construction (RMC) has been rebuilding and reimagining them. With groundbreaking track designs and other innovations, RMC has been preserving coasters while introducing ride experiences that would have been inconceivable in their original incarnations.

Today’s wooden (and wooden/steel hybrid) coasters can simultaneously hark back and dazzle with thoroughly modern thrills. For example, the DNA of a classic such as “Colossus” at Six Flags Magic Mountain lives on in “Twisted Colossus,” even as it delivers a wholly singular ride. RMC has also built woodies from the ground up that incorporate its track innovations and deliver inversions and other features not typically associated with wooden coasters.

Instead of the track, The Gravity Group (TGG) focuses on the trains. With their ability to steer as they race along the rails, the company’s Timberliners also enable woodies to include inversions and behave in novel ways. TGG’s “Switchback” coaster at ZDT’s Amusement Park in Texas is both a retro homage to Coney Island’s “Switch Back Railway” (complete with a switchback element) and a new age thrill machine.

Using a more traditional approach, Great Coasters International (GCI) has been crafting a great run of woodies such as “Gold Striker” at California’s Great America. The company’s articulated Millennium Flyer trains are part of its secret sauce. Coaster nuts like me are eagerly awaiting GCI’s 2017 projects, including “Mystic Timbers” at Kings Island. It will include show elements in a mysterious shed.

To succeed in this industry, you know it’s important to keep evolving and looking forward. Sometimes, however, it’s just as critical to, er, switch back.

I’ll see you at the parks. Save me a seat on the woodie.