NEW YORK (MainStreet) —When the owners and operators of Silver Dollar City, a 19th century themed park in the heart of the Ozark Mountains in Branson, Mo., were trying to come up with what they knew their visitors wanted – a big, new ride – they knew it would have to be something really thrilling.
That's when they came up with the idea of having a wooden rollercoaster that not only broke records in several categories that rollercoaster enthusiast's measure, but one that also carried the theme of the park.
Outlaw Run opened a few weeks ago to much fanfare in the rollercoaster enthusiast circles. It may not be the biggest or the fastest, but it is the first and currently, the only wooden rollercoaster with double barrel inverts. It is also the second fastest wooden coaster at 68 mph and is the first new wooden coaster built completely with a new technology on the track that allows for a smoother ride rather than jerky ones typical of wooden coasters.
The coaster is also built like a Hollywood movie set to represent a 19th century stagecoach, from the authentic stagecoach outside of the ride to the "depot" that passengers pass through while waiting in line.
The ride also carries passengers through the natural forest of the Ozark Mountains and uses the natural steep slope and deeps into the valleys as part of the fun.
How did the $10 million ride go over on opening day? "They hit it out of the park," says Tim Baldwin, a coaster enthusiast and editor for RollerCoaster! Magazine, the official publication of the American Coaster Enthusiasts. "Everyone came off of the ride so jazzed, it's definitely a home run," added Baldwin, who will hit the 1,000 mark in Europe this summer for the number of coasters he's ridden.
News like that is good to hear for people such as Lisa Rau, director of publicity for Silver Dollar City.
The 53-year-old park was long known for its crafts and festivals much more than its rides, but Rau says about two decades ago, Silver Dollar City, like many amusement parks, entered into the competitive world of building bigger and better rollercoasters.
"We're still a friendly industry, but I would say a fairly competitive one," says Rau. "People want more, they want bigger and better."
Duane Marden, owner of The Rollercoaster DataBase, says that the industry, like coasters themselves, have peaks and valleys.
"There was a time in the 80s and 90s that we call the Coasters Arms Race, where parks were building them bigger and faster, but they weren't paying attention to whether they would last," says Marden.
That died down in the early 2000s and continued until a couple of years ago, he says, possibly in sync with the declining economy. When the industry rode back, it did so by creating coasters that may not necessarily be the biggest and fastest but that are creative and make a mark in one or more of the markers measured in the coaster world.
Outlaw Run breaks several of those markers in the world of wooden coasters but also incorporates the theme of the park, which is to teach kids and adults alike, about life in the 1880s. "We have something that the parents realize, but the children typically don't--they're learning something while having fun, they're taking home a better understanding of what life was like over one hundred years ago," says Rau.
The coaster is even built in a new area of the park, on the western outskirts, symbolizing its adventurous theme into the unknown. Most importantly, Outlaw Run will be just as good of a ride in 10 years, says, Baldwin, as it is today. "It will not lose that smooth ride like many wooden coasters do over time, it's built to last."
So far, Outlaw Run is pulling its weight in stagecoach gold. Although the spring season to date has been cooler than normal and rainy, the park drew 11,000 visitors on one wet Saturday and has booked several coaster enthusiasts groups throughout the season. The park is expected to draw an additional 80,000 visitors this year due to Outlaw Run. "That's good; we have to see the returns for us to continue to grow and bring new rides and attractions," says Rau.
Other coasters enthusiasts are watching this year and you should too:
- GateKeeper at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio: Full circuit wing coaster that will drop passengers 164 feet. This $30 million coaster is scheduled to open in May.
- Iron Rattler (formerly the wooden coaster The Rattler) at Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio, Texas: This new steel coaster is using the former wooden support of The Rattler, but is using the new track technology in design as with Outlaw Run. It will be the first hybrid steel and wooden coaster to use the inverted barrel roll.