Roller coasters come in several types, many with futuristic-sounding names such as giga coaster, hyper coaster and strata coaster. But the scariest one has a simple name: the dive coaster.
There are only three dive coasters in the United States. The most recent just opened at Cedar Point, an amusement park on the shores of Lake Erie just outside of Sandusky, Ohio, that is home to 18 of the world's most insane coasters. its newest ride, Valravn, is the tallest, fastest and longest dive coaster in the world. Valravn is so gargantuan that it broke 10 world records.
Named for a mythical Danish supernatural bird, Valravn towers 223 feet over the park. (It is nine feet taller than the next-largest dive coaster, Busch Gardens Williamsburg's Griffon.) Unlike most traditional roller coasters, dive coasters give riders the sensation of free fall by sending riders over the lift hill at a 90-degree angle. (That means they are headed straight for the ground.)
The unique design of Valravn, engineered by Swiss firm Bolliger & Mabillard, adds to the thrill factor by holding riders at the top of a 214-foot vertical drop for four seconds before plunging them down the track at 75 miles per hour. "We're always looking to take thrills to the next level," says Cedar Point project manager Adam Pooch.
The rest of the features on Valravn's 3,415-foot long twisted steel track are not for the faint of heart. Following that first scary drop, the ride includes a 165-foot Immelman (a half-loop with a half-twist), a dive loop, and a 270-degree roll. Ridegoers experience G-forces similar to what an astronaut feels traveling on a space shuttle.
Building a world-record breaking coaster was a challenge as big as the ride itself. Pooch had to use special equipment to bring the king of the sky to life.
"What makes Valravn so unique is how massive it is," says Pooch. "Our heaviest piece on a crane was 134,000 pounds, and we had to go 223 feet in the air with the load." That piece of steel weighs about the same as 11 fully grown elephants!
Cutting-edge coasters like Valravn take about three years to dream up and build. Even though Valravn just opened, newer, more goose-bump-inducing rides — at Cedar Point and other parks — are already in the works. What will they be like?
"I'm not at leisure to be able to tell you exactly what they are," says Pooch. Anxious thrill seekers will just have to wait and see.
Photos courtesy Cedar Point