Tuesday, 11 October 2011

True family coasters, trick track and Maurer Sohne

Anyone who lives in Europe will have likely ridden one of Maurer Sohne’s fantastic spinning coasters, but in the US you’re restricted to the off-the-shelf and not particularly exciting Xtended SC 2000 layout. I cannot stress enough how impressive these rides can be, and their skill in entertaining a broad audience is something that should be praised.

Dragon's Fury at Chessington World of Adventures, England

Dragon’s Fury at Chessington World of Adventures is the largest of their spinners, and gets exceptionally good reviews from enthusiasts, but as someone who worked with the ride as an attendant, I know just how much the public love it too. With a low 1.2m minimum height restriction, small kids can ride it, yet it’s pretty forceful and scary which impresses adults and leaves the kids feeling like they’ve conquered a large roller coaster. A few years ago, Dragon’s Fury and it’s kin would have been fairly alone in that successful targeting of a broad audience, but the trend is on the rise to have low height restrictions and comparatively intense ride hardware. Whilst their throughput is not great, the queue ever present for Alton Tower’s smaller Spinball is a lot in part to popularity due to a broad audience. There was a time when every park who suitably should get one got one, and I doubt we’ll ever see many more of them, but they brought about the realisation for me that kids are braver than ever and parks need to present them with bigger thrills. If the minimum height restriction is too high on a tame ride, you get many unhappy customers. This is one of the reasons I think DiskO “coasters” are terrible, they are simply too tame for their 1.2m restriction.

Winjas are a pair of dueling Maurer Sohne S-Car (spinning) coasters at Phantasialand in Germany. They seem to be fairly unheard of. I wonder if they get a little forgotten about in the similar phenomenon we see with Revenge of the Mummy at Universal Florida, which never makes it half as far up Mitch Hawker’s Coaster Poll as it should do, presumably because in people’s heads it’s filed as a dark ride? Or perhaps, Winjas just isn’t ridden enough? Or maybe I’m the only person who thinks it’s amazing…  Whatever the case, if you haven’t already, get to Phantasialand – It’s a beautiful park whose theming is truly immersive. The streets feel narrow, with towering scenery and each world genuinely feels like a different place from the last. Black Mamba, their B&M Invert, is rather awesome too.

Winjas at Phantasialand, Germany

Winjas are situated indoors and my praise of them will pause for a second whilst I mention they possess one of the world’s worst queuing areas. It is a hot and sweaty box room with cattle pens. To make it worse, both coasters have their queue mirrored by each other, so instead of the usual trick parks employ to make the queue seem far shorter, it looks like you’ll be there for-literally-ever. The walls are themed and there is music, but it’s not going to take your attention away from the sheer mass of bodies crammed in there. I’d imagine it’s enough to make many people claustrophobic. Still, if you can brave that nightmare, you’re in for a treat!

What makes Winjas so outstanding will become clear within seconds, as you move forward and stop, doors closing behind you. In the darkness, you sense movement, but you can’t quite work out what’s going on. To anyone who has ridden a Vekoma Madhouse (such as Hex at Alton Towers), the sensation can be compared to the start of the ride when you can feel it moving but can’t see it, so cannot work out which way you are moving. When the door opens and light fills the small room, you realize you’re now at an angle, and if you’re facing forward in the car, there’s a drop before you, and your car is let go. It was a lift! A lift that tilts you at an angle, joining up to the track of the first drop!! WHAT?

Winjas has a couple more tricks up its sleeve. On one of the rides, you coast up into a dark space and stop at an angle, are met with a dramatic piece of audio, then tilt and are let go off in another direction. On the other coaster, there is a see-saw. As one of the rides comes to an end and slows down, but before it stops, it bounces…. Yes. Bounces. The track drops and then returns to where it was, whilst the car is in motion.

I was absolutely delighted when I went to the Euro Attractions Show (IAPPA) to find diagrams of these fantastic mechanisms in their S-Car catalogue.

Lets not forget to mention that Maurer are a company who’ve produced some absolutely duds too, but the broad age range to which they appeal and their willingness to try  things such as ridiculous curved, up-side-down lifts present and amazing trick track on Winjas has, in my opinion, been of great inspiration to the rest of the manufacturers.  I guess you could argue that Vekoma first came up with the trick track concept with their tilt coaster, but Winjas took the basic premise and made it truly a trick. When Intamin's world first drop mechanism was announced on Thirteen, I immediately thought “but, Winjas does that”. It turns out from the diagram above that actually it does not, but it feels like it on ride and I wonder if it was the inspiration for Thirteen’s drop?

Thirteen at Alton Towers, official promotional artwork.

I really admire Winjas, because of all the trick track coasters, it is so far the one that does it truly successfully. It pulls the trick off so quickly that guests are left truly confused. Expedition Everest at Disney’s Animal Kingdom takes far too long to reverse, ruining the pace of the ride and any sense of realism. Riders think it’s broken down, and try to look behind them. Thirteen has an impressive and forceful little drop mechanism, but it doesn’t utalise the feature enough with narrative or theming for something that it makes a huge deal out of as an event. Winjas isn’t pretentious. It’s as if it just simply gets great joy out of surprising its riders.

At the Euro Attractions Show, we asked Maurer about Winjas’ trick track and if they think they’ll do anything similar ever again, perhaps on a different ride type. Their answer was, whilst if asked by a client they would, they can’t see it happening. I find that incredibly odd considering the growing popularity of such effects and it leaves me wondering if Winjas has a lot of down time, was problematic to install or has even possibly had a minor accident caused by one of the mechanisms? Perhaps not, we’d have heard about that… I don’t know. It’s suspicious, I think. Or perhaps Maurer are just oblivious to the trend for these kind of rides that is obviously evolving out of their masterpiece? Perhaps because Phantasialand didn’t market Winjas as being trick-track centric, Maurer haven’t had many people go to ride it because of their interest in the mechanisms? Busch Garden’s Williamsburg’s coaster for 2012, Verbolten which is being built by Zierer, clearly has a drop mechanism similar to Thirteen at Alton Towers. They are currently building the ride and the mechanism is visible on the construction site. It'll be the newest ride to utilise this kind of effect and hopefully not the last.

Verbolten at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, USA construction

Trick track effects are interesting because they offer a platform for some kind of narrative. Winjas doesn’t have any specific story guiding you though the elements, it doesn’t need to. The use of audio with the track effects make some dramatic events along the ride which transform it from a roller coaster into something far more exciting. It feels like a chase through a strange temple full of booby-traps and secret passages to aid or inhibit your escape. No need to explain or try too hard when the concept works so well.

Maurer Sohne are doing very well, their rides are popping up everywhere. It gives the impression that they must be a delight to work with and that their rides suit a broad variety of clients. Technical issues seem to plague Maurer Sohne. We hear a lot about problems with their rides during testing or further down the line. Rip, Ride, Rockit (is one of the worst coasters I’ve been on) had serious trouble getting open, which drew lots of attention for being at such a high profile park. There is also the ever-present issue of capacity with all their rides, I hope they look into a ride with more seats if they ever want to appeal to more of the bigger parks… And the half-loading rule present at a number of parks that own their rides doesn’t help. It suggests some kind of technical problem related to car weight, I guess.

But, all in all, I think they are a pretty awesome company and their low height restrictions make them a fantastic choice. It’s a pity that Rockit (is awful and) had so many technical issues, I hope it hasn’t put the big players off. I feel Maurer coasters have great potential, potential wasted by Universal with Rockit. What were they thinking? Whilst the rest of the world is taking a step towards greater theming, narrative and creative input in their rides, Universal steps away from it to create an abstract roller coaster with a non-visual theme? Imagine an indoor launching X-Car which utalises trick track. That could have been a ride superior to Revenge of the Mummy! Not that Universal needed another similar ride, but it does seem such a waste.

Rip, Ride, Rockit at Universal Studios Orlando, USA
Photo by Author

This year, Maurer opened Shock at Rainbow Magicland in Italy, a launching X-Car coaster that has received incredible reviews from enthusiasts and the general public alike. The weird flying launch coaster called Freisch├╝tz they also opened this year at Bayern-Park in Germany, which can repeat it’s circuit without breaking continuously if the operator chooses, also looks pretty interesting – but that’s surely a capacity nightmare right there? Still, their willingness to try new stuff is commendable. 

Shock at Rainbow Magicland, Italy

Freisch├╝tz at Bayern-Park, Germany

We always hear about how Schwarzkopf and Arrow done so much for the industry, but I hope Maurer are recognized for their innovation years down the line. They provide a portfolio of thrilling and fun coasters with low minimum height restrictions, ready for the brave kids of today. Family parks increasingly have to invest in thrills, and Maurer Sohne and Gerstlauer coasters are popping up at said parks all over the world. Gerstlaurer have been immensely successful with their Eurofighter coasters. The 1.3m minimum height restriction on a ride that can do vertical drops and inversions is very impressive. I hope that the increase in these kinds of rides isn’t just down to cost, but down to parks wanting to provide rides for younger, braver thrill seekers.

EDIT on the 12th October 2011:

Turns out another trick track coaster has been announced right after completing this blog! Legoland Billund appears to be building another Thirteen-esque coaster. Read the news on TPR. A little disappointed that they are going down the Thirteen route of advertising the trick, but it still looks cool! Now, will it be Intamin, Zierer, or someone else entirely? Previous rumours speculated Gerstlauer launch. 

1 comment: