The next generation of looping wooden coasters promises to deliver a heart-pounding collection of near-vertical drops, over-banked turns and barrel roll inversions to theme parks around the world over the next few years.
The once-impossible pipe dream became a reality in 2013 with the introduction of a trio of rides in the United States that literally turned preconceived notions about wooden coasters upside down.
Now the next wave of looping wooden coasters is going global with rides planned for theme parks both big and small in Ireland, China, Sweden as well as the U.S.
This latest coaster trend is being driven by a pair of innovative American ride makers: Idaho’s Rocky Mountain Construction and Ohio’s Gravity Group.
The new hybrid rides blur the line between wood and steel coasters -- with the Frankenstein creations combining smooth steel tracks with traditional wooden structures. But regardless of the debate over how to classify the rides, there’s no denying the excitement level among ride enthusiasts for this new breed of roller coaster.
Tiny Tayto Park is probably the last place you’d expect to find a groundbreaking new ride, but the Irish theme park is planning to add a cutting-edge $11.5-million wooden coaster in 2015 built by Gravity Group.
The 105-foot-tall coaster will reach 65 mph over a 3,600-foot-long course and include at least one looping inversion or overbanked element. Owned by Tayto Crisps, the park located just outside Dublin includes a factory tour of the potato chip company.
Over the next year, Gravity Group is also designing a trio of wooden coasters for the Fantawild chain of amusement parks in the Chinese cities of Zhuzhou, Jinan and Wuhu, with at least two of the new rides expected to feature looping inversions.
Not to be outdone, Rocky Mountain Construction is currently working on three looping wooden coasters set to open in the next two years.
The triple inversion Wildfire wooden coaster built by Rocky Mountain will debut in 2016 at Sweden's Kolmarden Wildlife Park, located about 90 minutes southwest of Stockholm.
Set to become the second-tallest wooden coaster in the world, Wildfire will feature the second-steepest drop (83 degrees) and second-fastest top speed (70 mph).
Before that, Rocky Mountain will transform a pair of aging Six Flags wooden coasters into reborn looping behemoths for 2015: Colossus at Six Flags Magic Mountain and Cyclone at Six Flags New England.
Magic Mountain’s 1978 wooden racer will be transformed into Twisted Colossus, a 4,990-foot-long beast billed as the world’s longest hybrid coaster. Undergoing a similar makeover, the 1983 Massachusetts ride will become the triple inversion Wicked Cyclone wood-steel hybrid.
Long considered the Holy Grail of coasterdom, the looping wooden coaster became a brief reality in 2000 with the introduction of the Son of Beast wooden terrain coaster at Kings Island. But the Ohio park was forced to remove the vertical loop a few years later and eventually tear down the ride completely after a pair of accidents.
Then in 2013, to the delight of ride enthusiasts around the globe, not one, not two, but three looping wooden coasters debuted: Hades 360 at Wisconsin's Mt. Olympus, Iron Rattler at Six Flags Fiesta Texas and the triple inversion Outlaw Run at Missouri's Silver Dollar City.
This summer, Goliath at Six Flags Great America outside Chicago and Six Flags Mexico's steel-wood hybrid Medusa Steel Coaster joined the exclusive club.
So, what's next?
Gravity Group’s foothold in China should continue to pay dividends, where theme park expansion is exploding and riders are relatively unfamiliar with wooden coasters, which are viewed as exotic and terrifying. Company officials say several proposals for as-yet-unannounced Chinese wooden coasters include inversions.
Likewise, Rocky Mountain Construction’s relationships with Six Flags (which operates 13 North American amusement parks) and Herschend Family Entertainment (which owns Silver Dollar City and Dollywood as well as several other parks) will likely also lead to future projects. At the same time, company officials say they are in discussions to work with other amusement park chains and additional projects are already in the pipeline.
And then there’s the possibility of other coaster makers jumping into the game.
Utah-based S&S Worldwide is working with Rocky Mountain on the new Batman: The Ride fourth dimension steel coaster coming to Six Flags Fiesta Texas in 2015. How long before the companies team up on an envelope-pushing wood-steel creation?
Great Coasters International, the other major wooden coaster manufacturer, is building the 5,100-foot-long Viper wooden terrain coaster at China’s Wanda City park -- but it has no loops. Might the Pennsylvania-based GCI partner with a bigger ride maker like Bolliger & Mabillard, Mack or Premier on a looping wood-steel hybrid?
And while Intamin is largely known for its steel coasters, the Swiss-based ride maker has built some of the world’s best wooden coasters, including El Toro (Six Flags Great Adventure), Balder (Liseberg) and T-Express (Everland). Does Intamin have another groundbreaking ride in the works?
And finally, when will Cedar Fair build its first wooden looper? The parent company of Cedar Point, Knott's Berry Farm, Canada's Wonderland, Kings Island, Kings Dominion, Carowinds and a host of other coaster-centric parks has been surprisingly silent when it comes to the next big thing in the amusement park industry. Wouldn't Mean Streak, Ghostrider or The Beast look amazing with a few loops?