West Edmonton Mall Adds Looping Slide


by James Careless

As North America’s largest shopping and entertainment ­center, West Edmonton Mall (WEM) has been built upon the motto “go big or go home.” This is why WEM’s World Waterpark has always featured two super-tall “Sky Screamer” water slides attached to a multi­story play structure overlooking a giant wave pool.

Still, even the most thrilling of rides eventually becomes common-­place to the public. This is why WEM management decided to juice up World Waterpark by upgrading the “Sky Screamers” to “Sky Screamer Extremes,” adding an entirely new, truly extreme water slide the likes of which has never been seen in Canada before. Called “Cyclone,” this new 85-foot-tall attraction uses gravity to propel riders into a near vertical 360-degree loop before sliding them down onto a high-speed landing ramp. Riders hit speeds of up to 40 mph and move from 0 to 2.5 Gs in less than two seconds.

The cost of the upgrade: $1.5 million. That is what it costs to impress people at West Edmonton Mall.

“We like to update the park every few years, to keep it fresh for customers and add excitement,” says Jim Winters, WEM’s director of operations. “’Cyclone’ is just the ticket. It is an extreme thrill ride that delivers a serious wow factor, and the wow factor is what gets people talking and keeps them coming back.”

“Cyclone” is based on the AquaLoop water slide made by WhiteWater West Industries of Richmond, British Columbia. WhiteWater West has been WEM’s slide partner since the park’s inception.

“The AquaLoop is pushing the limits of water park technology,” says WhiteWater West CEO Geoff Chutter. “Riders go from zero to 2.5 Gs in less than two seconds. That’s a jump even NASA would be proud of.”

A Ride on ‘Cyclone’
Up on top of the World Waterpark tower, guests step into “Cyclone’s” Start Gate, where they stand on a trap door inside a vertical glass capsule. A
“3-2-1” countdown takes place: Suddenly the door drops, and riders go into free fall for 39 feet inside a translucent fiberglass tube.

The free fall does not last long; riders notice their bodies are shooting upward into a near vertical loop—as if they’re on a state-of-the-art roller coaster!

Before long, guests have executed a full 360-degree vertical turn, only to free fall again until the tube reaches up to meet them, then shoots them into a shallow water-fed landing ramp that quickly disperses the awesome momentum.

All that excitement takes only about 12 seconds.

Shoehorning ‘Cyclone’ into Place
The before-and-after photos of the “Cyclone” water slide make two points very clear. First, “Cyclone” is very big, requiring 361 feet of tubing to complete its run from start to finish. Second, even before the ride was added, World Waterpark’s tower was already packed with equipment.

“Finding space for ‘Cyclone’ was extremely tricky,” Winters says. “We needed to weave the ride through the existing attractions given that the two new ‘Sky Screamer Extremes’ essentially took the place of the two old ones. So we spent a lot of time consulting with WhiteWater West to come up with a plan for putting it into place.”

To be precise, it took nine different concept proposals before WEM and WhiteWater were able to come up with a solution that worked. “To achieve our goal, we had to support the ‘Cyclone’ using as much existing structures as possible,” Winters says. “We also had to ensure that the water slide connected into our existing water infrastructure and that all of it was accessible to our maintenance crew.”

Shoehorning “Cyclone” into place was difficult enough without the two items added to the challenge.

First, lubrication inside the ride has to be provided by water jets mounted at specific points on its tube. It is done this way so the entire vertical loop has water available throughout its length. The reason: Water does not flow uphill. The traditional approach of flowing water down from the ride’s highest elevation does not work because it cannot go high enough to lubricate the entire loop.

“Providing this water meant installing plastic piping and WhiteWater West took care of all that,” Winters says. “But they had to add to the water park’s plumbing and electrical infrastructure to make the water lubrication system work.”

Second, even gravity has its limits. There are some riders who, for one reason or another, cannot generate enough speed to make it through the loop. This is why “Cyclone” has a top-located escape hatch just before the loop section; the location where unsuccessful riders tend to rock back and forth to a stop.

Of course, this escape hatch requires the ride to have a platform and staircase nearby, plus a staff member to extract the rider. All traffic on the “Cyclone” ceases until this staff member has cleared the tube and is able to radio the “all clear” to the attendant at the start gate.

“Usually our water slides have two attendants,” Winters says. “But ‘Cyclone’ has three: One at the top, a second at the escape hatch, and a third at the landing ramp. It adds to our manpower costs, but that’s what it takes to offer the most thrilling water slide in Canada.”

WhiteWater West squeezed “Cyclone” into place without requiring major modifications to the existing World Waterpark tower. All that was structurally required were supports, a tower to hold up the 360-degree loop, and an extension to the main World Waterpark tower’s rooftop to make room for the start gate.

Making the Investment Pay Off
WEM hired WhiteWater West to install “Cyclone” and the “Sky Screamer Extremes” in March 2010. It took six months to hammer out how “Cyclone” would be installed, at which point construction began.

The three new water slides opened Jan. 13, 2011, trumpeted with all the public relations fanfare WEM could generate. “We did on our website, in social media, and in every form of traditional media we could tap into,” says Winters. “Fortunately, having TV reporters take the ride for themselves before the opening made for truly great television—and effective promotion.”

So what results have these new water slides delivered?

“Since we opened ‘Cyclone’ and the two ‘Sky Screamer Extremes,’ our attendance has gone up anywhere from 8 to 10 percent,” Winters replies. “More important, the rides have really generated a tremendous amount of buzz.

“The great thing is that ‘Cyclone’ can be seen from various vantage points throughout the Mall,” he adds. “Whenever I pass one of those positions where people are standing, all I hear them talk about is ‘Cyclone!’ So, yes, it did cost us $1.5 million to do this upgrade. But our investment has already proven to be worthwhile.”

James Careless is an experienced freelance writer with credits at Business Week, NBC News, and NPR. He is a frequent contributor to Funworld.

Cool Facts About the ‘Cyclone’

The "Cyclone" is the first water slide of its kind in Canada and features the first WhiteWater West AquaLoop slide to be installed indoors in North America.

Standing 85 feet tall, the "Cyclone" speeds riders from 0 to 2.5 Gs in less than two seconds.

Riders can hit up to 40 mph, helping propel them through the near-vertical 360-degree loop.

The "Cyclone’s" flume is translucent. This means that riders can be viewed going down the ride from the outside.

The "Cyclone" can handle up to 180 riders per hour.

WhiteWater West also makes a side-by-side version of this ride, known as Dueling AquaLoops. This allows riders to race each other in real time.