Theme Park, Amusement Park and Attractions Industry News

Really a Coaster?

The dictionary defines a roller coaster as “An elevated railway (as in an amusement park) constructed with sharp curves and steep inclines on which cars roll.” My definition is simpler. If it rolls on rails and is powered in part by gravity, it’s a coaster. But lately there are some rides that meet one of these definition that aren’t, some rides called coasters that aren’t, and some rides that don’t meet that definition that are. All of which is very confusing. Here is my dilemma.

First, there are powered coaster. Unlike a true roller coaster, the train is powered through the entire course, rather than being allowed to coast after an initial lift or launch. The most common manufacturers of powered coasters are Mack, Zamperla, and Wisdom. At least they look like coasters.

There is the mis-named but popular Sky Coaster, shown here with me dangling uncomfortably. It’s not a coaster at all, but a giant swing for up to three riders at a time.

I enjoy zip lines, which are gravity powered. But they consist of just one big gently civilized down-hill slope with no curves and no rails, unless you consider a cable to be a rail. Coaster? Not really.

How about the early Free Falls from Intamin? Guests were towed to the top of an L-shaped tower and dropped straight down. Guided by rails, at the bottom they leveled out and were braked to a stop. Almost a coaster, but most considered them as Free Falls. The same can be said of today’s drop towers. The ride carriage is guided by rails, powered by gravity, slowed and stopped by magnetic brakes. But no hills, no curves, just straight down. Not a coaster.


Have you ever encountered a dark ride which, half way through the ride, breaks into daylight from the second level, rolls down a small hill powered by gravity, and then continues on powered by its on-vehicle motor? It’s powered in part by gravity, but it doesn’t roll on tracks but is guided by a central power rail.


There were the classic Flying Turns which, powered by gravity, rolled through a giant trough like a bobsled. Mack and Intamin provide modern versions, and Knoebels in Pennsylvania built their own. Most agree these are coasters.


What about flume rides? These boats are fitted with wheels, float and roll through a water-filled trough, and are powered both by the water flow and by gravity. They are very similar to the Flying Turns but with water. Most consider them flumes, not coasters.


Then there are powered Giant Loops from Larson. It features a coaster-like train that rolls in both directions. Skyline Attractions recently introduced their Skywarp powered coaster-like ride with its on-its-side figure 8 layout and two dueling trains, and two new variations, the Eclipse double loop and Horizon flat figure 8. Parks are promoting these as roller coasters, but I’m not convinced. They are powered coasters, which is an oxymoron, a contradiction.


I count coasters. I enjoy all of the variety of rides mentioned above but of those only count the Flying Turns among those coasters I’ve ridden.

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