On Saturday fans of one of the original wooden scream machines said goodbye to Colossus at Six Flags Magic Mountain. The ride, which has been running since 1978, is being closed by owners Six Flags Magic Mountain to make way for an all new attraction. Colossus is the latest wooden coaster to see the chipper, as parks move away from wooden coasters and towards either steel, or hybrid coasters. Is the classic wooden coaster an endangered species worth saving, or are the removal of wooden coasters a progressive move in an ever changing and evolving industry?
Colossus opened on June 29th, 1978 as the tallest and fastest wooden roller coaster in the world. It was featured as a back drop in the special “Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park”. It was the “Screemy Meemy” in National Lampoons Vacation, and it was used in several TV shows, including Step by Step, Doogie Howser, Wonder Woman and the A-Team. To say it has become an American icon is something of an understatement. It literally was the American Coaster that people thought of when they heard the term roller coaster and amusement park. Now the ride is closed, and Six Flags will more than likely rebuild it as a steel-wood hybrid with multiple inversions and steeper drops. The trend of turning wooden coasters into steel is one that Six Flags has embraced and is running with in all of it’s parks. The park has also closed it’s classic Cyclone coaster at Six Flags New England, which it will be replacing with a steel version. Last year the company closed Medusa, and Rattler to make huge improvements on the wooden coaster with steeper drops, faster speeds and steel inversions, all while sitting on a wooden frame.
Thanks to companies like Six Flags, and the amazing job that Rocky Mountain Construction does in turning wooden classics into amazing new thrill machines. Wooden coasters require a ton of care and maintenance, otherwise they are bumpy, painful rides that hurt more than they thrill. While steel coasters require maintenance and care as well, the level of care isn’t near as complex as a wooden coaster. Also the cost of constructing a wooden coaster can be more, as the cost of materials and the labor required skyrockets.
Still, what is it about wooden coasters that we love so much? Is it the classic clakety-clack of the wood, and the airtime that you get from being in a simple lap bar restraint? Maybe it’s the reminder of a simpler time, before things became more complicated? Whatever it is, there’s a love affair that Americans have with wooden roller coasters. There are more wooden coasters in the United States than any other country on the planet, combined. We have 115 coasters in the United States alone, with 17 of those coasters being in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania also leads the country with the amount of classic wooden coasters, with the oldest (still operating) coaster built in 1902, and the majority of the wooden roller coasters built before 1960. The last all wooden coaster in Pennsylvania opened in 2013, and it was a classic wooden bobsled. Flying Turns was a labor of love for the Knoebels family park, taking around six years to finally open.
Steel coasters have long since pushed the boundaries of human endurance, taking riders higher and faster than before. The new wave of steel coasters will once again reach new heights, as plans for the World’s tallest coaster will break the 500 foot mark. So where does that leave wooden coasters?
Wood coasters will always have a place in the hearts of many, and in parks worldwide. There may not be many new wooden coasters built in the traditional sense, with many wooden coasters going to the more durable steel/wood hybrids. Coasters that have fallen in disrepair such as some of the other Six Flags wooden coasters and even wooden coasters in Florida may opt to get converted, or demolished altogether. And though it’s sad to think, classic wooden coasters as we know them may, one day, be a thing of the past.