Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Guest Post: National Roller Coaster Day

Today is National Roller Coaster Day!  I thought this was the perfect opportunity to have Eliot pop in for another guest blog post since it's been a minute since his last one.  I've mentioned that he originally dreamed of becoming a roller coaster designer when he and I first met back in college.  Obviously, life took us both down a different pathway, but his love of rollercoasters is still strong.  (He loves to talk about them.)  To celebrate National Roller Coaster Day, I thought it would be fun to hear more about his passion directly from him... 

Roller coasters, like life, have many ups and downs. Each coaster is made of wood or steel, different types of ride systems, and has many different elements to create a unique ride experience. And there are many types of coasters and elements!

I have been riding roller coasters all of my life. I started riding coasters at a young age. I rode my first one at Paramount’s Great America in their kids section, which at the time was themed to the Smurfs. This coaster was called Blue Streak. It was simple in nature, however I have fond memories of it since it's how I got my start riding roller coasters. It has a hill, drop, helix and some small airtime hills at the end. Over the years, it has had many names, but it's currently called the Woodstock Express

Woodstock Express at California’s Great America

While this ride does not have the biggest drop I was able to experience the thrill and realize how much I enjoyed riding roller coasters. Over time, the roller coasters I've experienced only got bigger, longer and faster from here (for the most part).

I was hooked, but since I could only visit the parks so much, I needed to find other ways to get my roller coaster fix. One great option was video games. As I grew up, Roller Coaster Tycoon (RCT) was one of my favorites. I really always enjoyed playing the 1st and 2nd iterations of this game (we won’t talk about the 3rd or mobile). 

Screenshot of RCT2

These games allowed me to "build" roller coasters and design theme parks. More recently there have been other games like No Limits and Planet Coaster. While these games are more focused on the roller coaster design, I have always enjoyed Roller Coaster Tycoon because it allowed me to design the whole amusement park. RCT2 continues to be one of my favorite video games to this day.

When I was able to visit theme parks, I always tried to ride as many roller coasters as possible. My local park, Paramount’s Great America (PGA), has had many coasters over the years with many different types of ride systems.

Entrance to Paramount’s Great America

Most amusement parks try to build a different type of coaster when building new ones to fill in their lineup. People don’t typically like to ride the same type of ride at the same park. PGA started originally as Marriott's Great America.  When Paramount took over the park, they changed many of the names to rides to make them themed to their movies. (New rides also followed this structure.) Some of my favorite rides here were Top Gun (B&M) and Vortex (B&M). Top Gun is a suspended coaster and at the time Vortex was a stand up roller coaster.  One of PGA's claims to fame was the fact they had the first flying coaster. This ride was called Stealth.  

One major problem for the amusement part is that they cannot make coasters or rides more than 225 feet due to airplanes flying low on their way into the San Jose airport. Paramount’s Great America is now known as California’s Great America. (The name was changed when it was purchased by Cedar Fair.) Unfortunately, the park I spent so much time at will be permanently closing its doors less than 10 years from now.

While Paramount’s Great America was not the only park that I visited under the age of 18, it was the one major amusement park I visited the most.

Stealth Coaster at Paramount’s Great America

As a child up until I went off to college, there was only one job that I really wanted... to be a roller coaster designer. Before looking into colleges and programs, I learned that Civil and Mechanical engineering were the best options to study. While at Wentworth Institute of Technology, I got a degree in Electromechanical Engineering.  

Unfortunately, one thing I learned in college was there were not many companies in the US that designed roller coasters. While this is not true as much anymore, I still did not design roller coasters for a living. Some of the major companies that design roller coasters here in the United States and around the world today are the following:

  • Vekoma (Netherlands)
  • Intamin (Liechtenstein)
  • B & M (Switzerland)
  • Mack Rides (Germany)
  • RMC (Idaho)
  • Premier Rides (Maryland)
  • S & S (Utah)

Each roller coaster company usually has many different types of roller coasters they manufacture. Coaster companies (and other companies in the amusement park industry) like to show off their new designs and prototypes at IAAPA each year. IAAPA stands for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. Many of the prototypes that are showcased never get made; however it is always fun to see the new ride designs companies are willing to make.  

Some of the different types of roller coasters are the following: 

  • Flying Coaster
  • Stand-Up Coaster
  • Floorless Coaster
  • Dive Coaster
  • Inverted Coaster
  • Suspended Coaster

There are also many other types of roller coaster that are not included in the list above.

There are also many different track layouts that include:

  • Boomerang Coaster
  • Corkscrew Coaster
  • Dual-Tracked Coaster
  • Figure 8 Coaster
  • Out and Back Coaster
  • Shuttle Coaster
  • Twister Coaster

Sadly not all companies always make it. One company that fits this build is Arrow Dynamics. They ceased operations in 2002 after trying to complete X at Six Flags Magic Mountain. They never completed this design and needed to be completed by SF Magic Mountain. (In 1959, Arrow designed and manufactured Matterhorn for Disney.) For me, Arrow’s most known feature of their rides was they were very bumpy steel coasters. Demon at PGA was an Arrow coaster as well.  (That explains why the ride has only gotten bumpier over the years.) Demon opened as Turn of the Century when Marriott’s Great America opened up in 1976.

Demon at Paramount’s Great America

Let’s talk about my favorite rides. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to go on many roller coasters and visit many amusement parks all over the country. To date, I have been to 20+ amusement parks coast-to-coast and I hope to be visiting more soon. Some of my favorite roller coasters (so far) are the following:

Except for Lightning Rod, all of these are steel coasters. Most of them are over 200 feet and have many airtime moments. Each attraction features a very smooth ride and that's probably why I like them so much. If you click the links above, you can see a Point of View for each of my favorite roller coasters. And if you want an extra special experience, try any of them in virtual reality... but make sure you are sitting down for them! (That quick shuffling noise was Melissa running to hide!)

I have never been a fan of wooden coasters. In fact, other than Vekoma’s SLC and Arrow Steel coasters, these are my least favorite type of coasters. What all three have in common is they are bumpy and uncomfortable rides. Most times I visit amusement parks, I will only ride wooden, Vekoma’s or Arrow rides once and sometimes not at all. Rides like Kong (at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom) or Riddler’s Revenge (at Six Flags New England) are part of Vekoma’s unforgettable SLC lineup. Riddler’s Revenge was originally called Mind Eraser and that's the exact feeling I had when I rode it. Melissa will even tell you that it's always my least favorite ride at Six Flags New England!

Roller coasters are made up of different elements that create the experience for the rider. Each element of a ride has a different name. Here are some of my favorites:
  • Hammerhead Turn

  • Horseshoe

  • Cobra Roll

  • Butterfly

  • Banana Roll

  • Pretzel loop

There are many names for other roller coaster design elements. While I have not ridden all of these personally, I always love the different names they come up with. And they're always coming up with new names as well!

There are many roller coasters that I have not had the opportunity to ride here in the US and internationally. Some of the US rides I would like to ride someday include:
  • Any Raptor Track Roller Coaster

                    - Railblazer (California’s Great America)

                    - Wonder Woman Flight of Courage (Six Flags Magic Mountain) 

                    - Jersey Devil Coaster (Six Flags Great Adventure)

  • X2 at Six Flags Magic Mountain

  • Tatsu at Six Flags Magic Mountain

  • West Coaster Racers at Six Flags Magic Mountain

  • Iron Gwazi (Busch Gardens Tampa)

As you can see, I have enjoyed riding many roller coasters over the years. In fact, I have ridden a roller coaster in 11 states, 20+ amusement parks and over 100 roller coasters in total. I will never get tired of riding them. I hope that someday I can travel internationally to visit some of the high class roller coasters that are around the world!

And there you have it!  Eliot loves rollercoasters and learning more about how they're designed.  Hopefully we can check off a few more of these attractions that he'd like to go on.  (I'll be hiding far, far away from them!)  °o°

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