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The Death of the Wooden Coaster at Six Flags

This past month has not been a good one if you’re a wooden roller coaster residing at a Six Flags park. The chain announced the closure of not one, but two additional woodies: the Riverside Cyclone at Six Flags New England and the legendary Colossus at Six Flags Magic Mountain.

Colossus dominates the parking lot of Magic Mountain, but not for long.

Colossus dominates the parking lot of Magic Mountain, but not for long.

The Colossus rumor is the worst kept secret in the industry – but the Cyclone announcement was out of left field. In the past 5 years, five different wooden coasters will be either modified or removed from Six Flags parks. So why do I claim this as the “death” of the wooden coaster era there? You have to look at the pattern of other parks in the chain to understand it:

1.) Park builds wooden coaster.

2.) Due to unknown reasons (some insiders claim it’s to save money) maintenance is deferred, making the ride rougher.

3.) As a result, the coaster must be modified from original form to save on wear and tear, either via brakes or “topper track.”

4a.) The coaster is EITHER removed altogether due to lack of ridership, complaints or sheer amount of work needed to repair and restore it…

OR

4b.) The coaster is modified to a steel track, provided by Rocky Mountain Construction, making it a steel coaster with wooden structure. (a la the “New Texas Giant,” “Iron Rattler”)

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Iron Rattler at Six Flags Fiesta Texas

Now, to be fair – each of these rides (sans Medusa) were well beyond their prime. Of the five wooden coasters that have been converted to steel or are slated to close, three were heavily modified from their original form, making them shells of their former selves. (In the case of the Cyclone, the ride itself was just poor, rough and terribly paced to begin with.)

Hell, Colossus and it’s dual track hasn’t really raced for the past 20 years. Why? Usually only one track was open – you guessed it – to save on maintenance and wear. Anyone who’s ridden it this year will attest, the right side track hasn’t been used in months – and it shows.

The original drop of the Riverside Cyclone can be clearly seen below the modified drop.

The original drop of the Riverside Cyclone can be clearly seen below the modified drop.

Not many guests know, but most of the rides and attractions at Six Flags aren’t American built – they’re almost exclusively from Europe. The traditional wooden coaster is really America’s sole contribution to the amusement community worldwide (not forgetting the Log Flume).

So then, are we witnessing a generational shift in technology, much as our Great Grandparents saw the shift from side-friction coasters to safer (and more extreme) wooden upstop rides? Or are we witnessing a stopgap cost cutting measure? Tell me what you think in the comments section, below.

Personally, I’m torn – everyone loves the latest and greatest – but you have to remember and preserve the past, too. Wooden coasters are expensive to maintain, no doubt – but NOT maintaining them through their life ends up being more expensive in the long run.

My final thought – the Giant Dipper in Santa Cruz is 90 years old and yet it’s smoother than any wooden coaster at any Six Flags park. And yet, all of those woodies are at least 50 years YOUNGER.

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