What new twists may be in store for looping wooden roller coasters

Over the last six years, an upstart Idaho company has transformed the theme park landscape with a string of exciting wood-steel hybrid roller coasters that have wowed ride enthusiasts around the globe.

Rocky Mountain Construction has won numerous industry awards for doing once unimaginable things, like adding gravity-defying over-banked turns, corkscrews and loops to old wooden coasters and building new thrill machines that defy expectations and possibilities.

Although Rocky Mountain builds new coasters, the company is renowned for reimagining old rides with new twists. These makeovers allow parks to promote a “new” attraction to thrill seekers while fixing a problematic ride and paying a respectful nod to a coaster’s storied history. Compared with building a new coaster, modifying an existing wooden structure saves money and time.

Seven of Rocky Mountain’s 11 coasters reside at Six Flags parks. None are at rival Cedar Fair, which operates an 11-park chain that includes Knott’s Berry Farm, Cedar Point and Canada’s Wonderland.

Now it looks like Rocky Mountain is about to turn its attention to a number of aging Cedar Fair wooden coasters. Ohio’s Cedar Point has been dropping hints for months that a Rocky Mountain update to the 1991 Mean Streak coaster is in the works for next year. At the same time, Virginia’s Kings Dominion has begun teasing a similar upgrade to the 1994 Hurler. Cedar Fair officials declined to discuss either coaster project.

Mean Streak and Hurler have reputations for being rough and painful rides — a common wooden coaster ailment remedied by Rocky Mountain’s makeovers. But before we look ahead at what’s next for Rocky Mountain, let’s take a look back at the company’s recent history of coaster makeovers and new ride installations.

Rocky Mountain burst onto the scene in 2011 with a stunning update to the Texas Giant wooden coaster at Six Flags Over Texas. The coaster was originally built by Dinn Corp. in 1990. The $10-million rehabilitation added a 79-degree first drop and highly banked turns along with a million pounds of steel. The new track gave the bumpy ride the smoothness of a steel coaster and triggered a debate over just how to define this new breed of hybrid coasters. After the relaunch, the New Texas Giant picked up Amusement Today’s Golden Ticket award for best new ride of 2011.

Starting in 2013, Rocky Mountain began a four-year building campaign that saw the upstart ride-maker work on six more Six Flags coasters: Iron Rattler (Six Flags Fiesta Texas), Medusa (Six Flags Mexico), Goliath (Six Flags Great America), Wicked Cyclone (Six Flags New England), Twisted Colossus (Six Flags Magic Mountain) and Joker (Six Flags Discovery Kingdom).

Throughout that period, Rocky Mountain worked on other projects at smaller parks like Missouri’s Silver Dollar City, Tennessee’s Dollywood, Sweden’s Kolmarden and Kentucky Kingdom. But noticeably, Rocky Mountain never worked on any coasters at any Cedar Fair parks.

During an interview in 2015, Cedar Fair CEO Matt Ouimet told me he expected to revitalize or rejuvenate a number of wooden coasters in the amusement park chain’s portfolio over the next decade.

“The industry has developed some very good, solid players these days,” Ouimet said. “Rocky Mountain is a good example, GCI is a good example. We’ll probably work with all of them before we’re done.”

Which brings us to today and what’s next for Rocky Mountain. As you might expect, company officials refuse to discuss whether they are working on hybrid makeovers of Mean Streak and Hurler.

“I can’t comment on any projects that may or may not be happening in the future,” Rocky Mountain spokesman Jake Kilcup said during a phone interview.

Cedar Point bills itself as the roller coaster capital of the world. The park’s loyal fan base has long lobbied for a Rocky Mountain makeover of Mean Streak, a notoriously rough ride built by Dinn Corp. that has long lived up to its name. A Meaner Streak version of the ride with RMC inversions has long been the source of speculation — so much so that any talk of a Rocky Mountain Construction makeover of Mean Streak regularly meets with immediate skepticism. This time though, that outright suspicion has quickly transformed into guarded hope and now tantalizing possibility.

In May, according to Screamscape, astute coaster fans spotted survey markers near Mean Streak spray-painted with a neon pink “RMC.” Then in August, Cedar Point announced that Mean Streak would be closing forever at the end of the summer season. In September, a last rites ceremony complete with a Mean Streak tombstone was performed at the park by a mysterious man going by the name of Richard Michael Crosby, another obvious nod to RMC. But instead of completely tearing down the old coaster, construction crews carefully disassembled portions of the ride while shoring up other sections with steel crossbeam supports. Soon a Rocky Mountain crane was spotted next to Mean Streak. Then sections of RMC’s distinctive track showed up near the coaster station. On Twitter, Cedar Point spokesman Tony Clark humorously dismissed the track sightings.

“We are currently in the process of removing Mean Streak,” Clark said via email. “We don’t have any additional news to share at this time. Stay tuned.”

At the same time, questions about a Rocky Mountain upgrade of Hurler began percolating when Kings Dominion decided not to open the 22-year-old wooden coaster for the 2016 summer season. The ride’s unusual name references the 1992 Paramount film “Wayne’s World,” whose characters often used the word “hurl.” The ride originally featured a queue that passed through Wayne and Garth’s basement hangout. In September, according to Screamscape, speculation was further stoked when the park concluded its announcement about new attractions for 2017 with a cryptic message: “There’s really more coming.” Coaster fans immediately seized on another RMC reference. That was followed by another tombstone and a “rest in peace” video for Hurler that concluded with “for now” and then “2018.”

“We will make an official announcement about the future of the ride in the summer of 2017,” said Kings Dominion spokeswoman Katelyn Sherwood via email.

Six Flags added to the feverish speculation when it announced a slate of new attractions for 2017 that did not include a Rocky Mountain coaster for the first time in four years.

“We look forward to working with RMC in the future to create the next generation of groundbreaking coasters,” Six Flags spokeswoman Sandra Daniels said via email.

The wildly popular Rocky Mountain makeovers have not been without controversy. Ride enthusiasts basically fall into two camps when it comes to RMC’s Frankenstein hybridization of wooden coasters: Preservationists who zealously strive to maintain the classic look and looser feel of vintage rides, and thrill seekers who constantly long for the newest, fastest and biggest rides. To address both camps, parks that have converted existing rides with the help of RMC have typically maintained at least one traditional wooden coaster in their ride lineup.

It’s a fair bet two Cedar Fair parks won’t be getting the RMC treatment any time soon.

Knott’s in Buena Park spruced up the 1998 GhostRider wooden coaster this summer with a makeover by Pennsylvania-based Great Coasters International. Knott’s entertained a bid from Rocky Mountain, park officials told me, but ultimately went with GCI’s less expensive and more traditional approach. The family-oriented park did not want to be seen as trying to keep up with the thrill-focused Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, which gave its Colossus coaster a Rocky Mountain makeover in 2015.

Ohio’s Kings Island has announced plans to add the Mystic Timbers wooden coaster in 2017, another Great Coasters International creation. Traversing wooded terrain, the 3,265-foot-long coaster concludes with an intriguing mystery: What’s in the shed? Themed as an abandoned lumber mill, the ride ends in a mystical vine-covered shed that is expected to feature a special effects finale.

So what other Cedar Fair wooden coasters could be in line for a Rocky Mountain makeover?

The next obvious coaster candidate for a renovation would be Hurler at Carowinds, located on the border of North Carolina and South Carolina. The Carowinds coaster was built at the same time, by the same ride maker, with the same theme as the similar Kings Dominion ride. It also has the same reputation for rough rides. Screamscape’s Lance Hart predicts the Carowinds Hurler could go under the Rocky Mountain knife in time to reopen for the 2019 or 2020 season. Cedar Fair has been lavishing a lot of attention on Carowinds over the last few seasons, in hopes of raising the park’s profile in the region.

Another park that has been getting a lot of love from Cedar Fair recently is California’s Great America. The Santa Clara park opened the Gold Striker wooden coaster in 2013, another GCI creation. But Great America is also home to the 1986 Grizzly wooden coaster, which would be a logical contender for a Rocky Mountain makeover.

In fact, most Cedar Fair parks have an aging and rough-riding wooden coaster that could benefit from a Rocky Mountain renovation: 1981 Wild Beast at Canada’s Wonderland, 1988 Wolverine Wildcat at Michigan’s Adventure, 1976 High Roller at Valleyfair and 1989 Timber Wolf at Worlds of Fun. Even Kings Island, which is preparing to open Mystic Timbers, has the notoriously rough and bumpy 1972 Racer that’s crying out for some RMC love.

That leaves only two Cedar Fair parks that have only one wooden coaster and no obvious candidate for a Rocky Mountain makeover: Dorney Park and Knott’s. Dorney’s 1924 Thunderhawk, a Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters classic that just got new trains, updated lighting and fresh paint this summer, doesn’t seem like a good candidate for a RMC upgrade. And the only wooden coaster at Knott’s is GhostRider. Which means both parks would be logical locations for new Rocky Mountain creations — if the parks could find the space.

Which park will get the next RMC thrill machine? Only time will tell if Cedar Fair’s teaser campaign turns into an real-world series of Rocky Mountain updates for any of the 26 wooden coasters in its fleet.

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