Magazine article Insight on the News

The Year of the Roller Coaster Has Enthusiasts in a Free Fall

Magazine article Insight on the News

The Year of the Roller Coaster Has Enthusiasts in a Free Fall

Article excerpt

Five centuries after the first roller coaster whooshed down a Russian ice bank, designers are making rides that loop, zoom, dip and dive, defying gravity and common sense.

The long steep climb up the initial incline of the $12 million Mantis at Cedar Point Park in Ohio offers plenty of opportunity for second thoughts. But before you can say, "I probably shouldn't have washed down that second chili dog with a chocolate milkshake," the hill crests. Over, under, sideways, down. Rational thought ceases. The only way to survive this two-minute exercise in antigravity is to open your mouth and scream.

"Awesome," was the response of Tim Slaybaugh, a member of the American Coaster Enthusiasts, an organization of some 5,000 like-minded individuals dedicated to the excitement of roller coastering. "The fact that you're standing up really changes things. The verticals were really dynamite."

This is the International Year of the Roller Coaster and amusement-park executives are betting that more people than ever want to have the living daylights scared out of them.

"Roller coasters have been with us since the 15th century and they still represent our best attempt at the ultimate thrill," says Geoffrey Thompson, president of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. "The rest of life is so complicated. But roller coasters are simple. They are pure fun."

And good business. From Las Vegas to Brooklyn, amusement parks have found that roller coasters are the be-all and end-all of thrill rides. There are more than 100 roller coasters in construction this year alone.

Roller coasters have come a long way since the Russians constructed ice slides on the outskirts of their villages in the 1400s. (The sleds were hollowedout ice blocks stuffed with straw.) It is said that Catherine the Great was an enthusiast of these coaster prototypes, and the first wheeled roller coaster was built in St. Petersburg in 1784, six years before she died.

The French refined the idea, building the first modern roller coaster, dubbed the Promenades Aeriennes, in the early 19th century. Its cars reached speeds of 40 mph. The safety-minded added belts to strap in riders, but that only encouraged designers to experiment with figure-eight tracks. …

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