Roller-coaster fans go on the prowl for the next hill in ‘Coaster Wars’
- Last Updated: 11:35 PM, August 4, 2012
- Posted: 10:52 PM, August 4, 2012
The Travel Channel’s six-part series, “Insane Coaster Wars,” pits some of the country’s fastest, tallest and longest rides against each other in a battle that’s decided over the Internet each week by the public.
Each 30-minute episode examines four coasters. The series premiere dealt with “G-Force Giants” while last week’s episode was more elusively titled, “Wrong Way Up,” spotlighting coasters that deliver the disorienting sensations of 12-story loops, corkscrews and helixes.
Coaster expert Robb Alvey provides commentary for “Insane Coaster Wars,” articulating the thrills of each ride. As the founder (with his wife Elissa) of themeparkreview.com, Alvey connected the show’s producers to his network of 30,000 “coaster enthusiasts,” some of whom are seen on the show, including Gary, on this week’s episode, “Extreme Heights.” The silver-haired retiree has ridden the Diamondback at Kings Island in Mason, Ohio — it features a 220-foot drop — 5,970 times over the past 2 1/2 years.
“This is just what he does for fun,” Alvey explains, acknowledging there’s a certain level of insanity involved in his own obsessiveness. The coaster expert confesses to having ridden the Intimidator, which reaches speeds of 70 mph and is located at Carowinds in Charlotte, NC, 55 times over the course of three hours in one day. “It’s the same reason people want to ski the black diamonds. It never gets boring because it’s always a thrill.”
“Extreme Heights” pits the Diamondback and the Intimidator against the Kingda Ka, located at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson Township, NJ. The coaster goes as fast as 128 mph and features a 417 foot drop. “Kingda Ka was built for height and speed. The majority of the people going on that ride, they’ll never experience anything like that in their lives,” Alvey says.
“For me, what makes a great ride is all about fun,” says Alvey. Millennium Force, located at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, and another competitor this week is a great example. “You go up the lift hill, and it’s literally just hands up, scream your head off fun for the entire length of time you have going around the track. You don’t have to worry about anything. You’re 300 feet up in the air doing 90 plus mph.”
Alvey was raised in Southern California, grew up on Space Mountain and later worked at Disneyland in college. In the past two decades, he has honed his expertise on roller coasters from Abu Dhabi to Mumbai; one of his favorites — and his favorite on the show — is Great Adventure’s El Toro, a wooden roller built in 2006 that stands 188 feet high and has a 76-degree drop.
“El Toro to me is just this crazy amount of ejected airtime all over the place. People always think with a wooden coaster it’s going to be kind of rickety, but it’s so smooth. You just get ejected and launched out of your seat on every hill.”
The “controlled chaos” of roller coasters draws Alvey back again and again. “You want to feel, ‘There’s a chance I might die,” and yet know that’s not possible,” he explains. “You’re going to be much safer on a roller coaster than you’re going to be driving to the park. People get freaked out about it because there’s that element of the unknown, but what they don’t realize is the state of the art engineering that goes into these things.”
That engineering has led to the development of a new kind of roller coaster, where riders sit off the side of the track instead of on top of it.
“It’s called a wing rider,” Alvey explains of Wild Eagle, a new ride at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. “There’s no track above you or below you. There’s a free feeling all around you. A feeling of flight.” Because of all the inversions it makes, Alvey stresses how different the ride can be depending on where you sit, and that’s the thrill.
“A lot of coasters, you ride them once and you can move on.” But what’s the true mark of the most devoted? “You’re not a true coaster enthusiast until you’ve ridden in the very back seat of the Cyclone. If you can survive that, you can survive anything.”
INSANE COASTER WARS
Today, 9 p.m., Travel Channel