Cover Story: Hot Seats: Ohio's New Roller Coasters

The 'coaster arms race' has been fought fiercely in the Buckeye State, with the park-going public as winners

 
Magnum XL at Cedar Point, voted best steel coaster two years in a row.



North Carolina bickers that we in Ohio have "Birthplace of Aviation" on our license plates and dispute that claim. Perhaps a better slogan for Ohio, and one that's less debatable, is "The Roller Coaster State."

We have more monster rides than any other state, mostly concentrated in three large amusement parks. How convenient. Between Paramount's Kings Island, Six Flags Ohio and Cedar Point, there are 35 coasters! In a well-planned three-day mini-vacation, you can ride them all.

People who love coasters don't look for the same things in a ride. Some prefer height, while some look for speed. Still others seek inversions and weightlessness ("air time"). Some like it all in different combinations.

Of course, we're probably most familiar with the home team's arsenal of coasters, so let's start up near Mason.

PKI (Kings Mills, Ohio)
Paramount's Kings Island has traditionally been at the forefront of new coaster technology. This year has seen the debut of Son of Beast — a shaky debut, actually, as park officials have kept the ride closed for much of the season so far for repairs and tweaks.

Dad has a little more track, but Son outdoes The Beast as the world's tallest, fastest, only looping wooden coaster. The latter record is unique, overshadowing its height and length.

There are several steel coasters at the 200-foot mark (and one at 300 mentioned a little later), but for a wooden coaster to feature a 214-foot drop is unheard of. And SOB has other drops of 164 and 149 feet, too.

The Beast's top drop is 135 feet, and it reaches a top speed of 64 mph. Son clocks in at 78 mph, but the speed of a wooden coaster should always be followed with an asterisk. The lumber on a "woody" is responsive to the weather. As the day wears on and the sun beats down, the wood expands and contracts — which has the effect of increasing the coaster's speed and "loosening up" the overall ride.

Son of Beast is actually deceptive in that it's built into a small valley. Not eclipsed entirely by woods as is Dad, Son looks big but not particularly threatening. Riders getting off seem a bit wobbl, and describe it as "jerky" — not uncommon for this type of coaster. To compensate, you have to realize you'll experience positive Gs (being pushed down or side to side) and negative Gs (being lifted off the seat) and simply relax.

Expect to wait about four hours to ride Son of Beast. Though it has three trains, they were inexplicably running only one on a busy Memorial Day Monday. Thankfully the cue line is snaked out, though, so you're not scrunched into a cattle line until you reach the platform.

Face Off is the park's next newest coaster. Opened in 1999, it doesn't make a complete loop but pulls riders up a lift hill, letting them go backward through the loading station, around a camel back loop and up another hill before reversing the path back to the platform. As the name implies, riders face each other on suspended seats. This "open circuit" design from Vekoma of Holland has been popular with many parks and, while it's not earthshaking, it makes for a satisfying ride.

Back in 1996, PKI launched Flight of Fear, an indoor coaster that brought a unique element to the party. Instead of being tugged up a lift hill by a chain, FOF riders are rocketed out of the loading area courtesy of linear induction motors that bring the ride to maximum speed in seconds. A bit jarring, it's a great experience if you remember to keep your head back and still.

Top Gun is still a fan favorite after seven years on the job. The big complaint still holds true, though — it's too short. Wonderfully tucked into a wooded hillside, it's fast and smooth, and even the most cautious rider can climb aboard without trepidation.

Showing its age but not feeling it is Vortex. One of the pioneers of the looping steel coasters, it still packs a punch. Built in 1987, this ride taught its designers (Arrow Dynamics) several things — most importantly, how to separate the inversions slightly. Subsequent versions for other parks are actually a little more tame.

The Racer still packs them in as well, with its forward and backward trains running on tandem tracks. You just can't get that picture of the Brady Bunch out of your head as you rattle along its wooden frame and follow its classic out-and-back course.

A few doors down is Adventure Express, with not a lot of bells and whistles but a smooth ride that seems faster than it probably is. The banked turns add a little wallop to the trip, too. This coaster's oddest feature is that it ends by bringing you up a lift hill and back into the station.

There will likely never be another Beast. They make them taller and faster, but The Beast still has no peer. When it was being built, there was no final plan. The designers kept adding on to it, as park officials rubber-stamped each phase.

They ended up with a ride that features two lift hills, lasts around four minutes and rockets you through a 35-acre woodland setting on 7,400 feet of track. The average coaster built in that era was only about 4,000 feet.

Yes, The Beast is still king.

Cedar Point (Sandusky, Ohio)
America's second oldest amusement park now has 14 roller coasters — more than any other park in the world. The crown jewel is the brand new Millennium Force.

Someone once reasoned that we'd reach the limits of coaster height when they built one so tall that no one would go on it. The line for this one indicates we're nowhere near that point. With a mind boggling 300-foot drop, it's currently the tallest and fastest coaster in the world. Though it officially clocks in at 92-mph, word on the midway is that some days it goes a bit faster. Highly in demand, expect to wait close to four hours during the afternoon, less in the morning and evening.

When you come to the top of the lift hill on other coasters, you feel as though you're being nudged over the precipice. Millennium Force's 80-degree drop gives you the sensation that you've been thrown off the lift hill as you hurdle towards the bottom.

There are no loops or corkscrews, but its two 122-degree banked turns are as steep as you can get without being turned upside down. This is what a coaster is about — height, speed and turns.

Across from Millennium is Mantis, one of the world's tallest stand-up coasters, though its 137-foot drop looks absolutely puny next to its neighbor. That's misleading, though, because Mantis sends you along at 60 mph and would probably go faster if you weren't standing straight up for the whole experience.

Magnum XL won the "best steel coaster" award two years in a row, and after 10 seasons it's still formidable. Though only two-thirds the size of Millennium, its 205-foot drop is nothing to sneeze at. With a top speed 72 mph, it's still a fast coaster, with a great view of the park's lakefront property. Scenic and thrilling.

Six years on, Raptor invites long lines of thrill seekers to climb into its ski-lift style seats. It was built by the Swiss firm Bolliger and Mabillard, who are probably the world's top steel coaster builders. One of the world's premier suspended coasters, this steel bird of prey allows you to kick the sky six times while reaching a top speed of 57 mph. Intense.

One of the country's top wooden coasters, Mean Streak, sits on the edge of the Cedar Point peninsula. Designed by one of the men who helped bring you The Beast, this ride earns its name. Some complain that it's actually a little rough, but if you merely go with the flow and move with the train you'll have a very satisfying and thrilling ride.

Coming off the first drop, you swear you're going to fly off and into Lake Erie. But you're pulled back and dragged through the coaster's superstructure several more times.

Other Cedar point coasters include the racing Gemini, Top Gun's older sibling Iron Dragon, Blue Streak (the park's oldest from 1964) and five others. That includes two "family" coasters, which are loads of fun for younger coaster enthusiasts.

Six Flags Ohio (Aurora, Ohio)
The former Geauga Lake amusement park once teetered on the edge of despair, barely looking much more inviting than a travelling carnival set up in a K-Mart parking lot. Two years ago, new ownership began a makeover. Late last year Six Flags showed up with a $40 million bankroll, and the park now looks incredible.

Space is at a premium here, but they've made it cozy without seeming cluttered or crowded. The workers are the most pleasant bunch of folks you could run into. Even those with the seemingly less exciting jobs still offer a smile and warm greeting.

The new owners brought four new coasters with them, bringing the park's total to nine. Topping the list is Batman: Knight Flight, another built by those yodelers, Bolliger and Mabillard. There are actually several Batman rides in the Six Flags system, but these are all suspended. Knight Flight is also "floorless," but you're seated more like you'd be in a standard coaster, not ski-lift style. Knight Flight also claims to be the world's longest floorless coaster.

Continuing with the superhero theme is Superman. Using technology similar to Flight of Fear, the ride is u-shaped. Riders rocket out of the station via linear induction motors at 70 mph and corkscrew — exclusive in North America — up one tower before plummeting back down through the station and up a straight tower.

The Villain has set up shop next to the old Double Loop. Built by Custom Coasters of Cincinnati, it's a wooden coaster that sits on a steel frame. Very smooth, with lots of "air time." No record, but easily worth several rides.

Another relative of The Beast resides here — Raging Wolf Bobs — designed by one of The Beast's "fathers." All wooden, it's not a monster; it shimmies a bit more than The Villain and therefore packs a bit more punch.

The aforementioned Double Loop is fun, though it's basically a one-trick pony. Installed in the mid-1970s, it was one of the first looping coasters.

Its sister ride, Corkscrew, was removed a few years ago to make room for Mind Eraser. That ride is PKI's Face Off without the face-to-face seating. Interesting, but not essential.

Two years ago, the suspended Serial Thriller opened. Another production of those flying Dutchmen at Vekoma, this is a fun ride. It's a bit deceiving as it sits next to Knight Flight and is dwarfed by the caped crusader's ride.

Off the old midway sits Big Dipper, the oldest coaster in Ohio, opening in the 1920s. It's got the classic design, with several dips. Nestled back in the corner of the park, you can just imagine how many rides it's given in a "if these tracks could talk" sort of way.

Within Ohio's borders, you can find a great example of every major coaster design going. Standing, floorless, suspended, wooden, wood on steel, linear induction, you name it. And "The Roller Coaster State" will undoubtedly see the number of these rides grow, as PKI, Six Flags and Cedar Point duke out for the hearts and minds of coaster enthusiasts. ©

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