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 measure by enthusiasts, 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, only wooden rollercoaster with double barrel inverts. It is also the second-fastest wooden coaster at 68 mph and the first new wooden coaster built completely with a certain technology 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 the ride to the "depot" passengers pass through while waiting in line.
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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 forRollerCoaster! Magazine, the official publication of the American Coaster Enthusiasts — and who will hit the 1,000 mark in Europe this summer for the number of coasters he's ridden. "Everyone came off of the ride so jazzed, it's definitely a home run."
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," Rau says. "People want more. They want bigger and better."
Duane Marden, owner of The Rollercoaster DataBase, says 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," Marden says.
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That died down in the early 2000s, a lag that 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 ways 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 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," Rau says.
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 as it is today, Baldwin says. "It will not lose that smooth ride like many wooden coasters do over time, it's built to last."
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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," Rau says.
Some other spots coasters enthusiasts are watching this year (and you should too):
- GateKeeper at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio: A 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 steel coaster is using the wooden support of The Rattler but the new track technology in use with Outlaw Run. It will be the first hybrid steel and wooden coaster to use the inverted barrel roll.