An extensive renovation of GhostRider has returned the aging wooden coaster to its original glory and left the Knott's Berry Farm ride running smoother and faster than it has in a decade.
I rode GhostRider five times during media previews on Thursday and found the renovated coaster to be once again "wilder than a pot-bellied possum in a pine tree," as advertised in the pre-ride spiel.
GhostRider has long been my favorite ride at the Buena Park theme park. I loved the unrelenting speed of the classic double-out-and-back wooden coaster. But like other ride enthusiasts, I found myself riding GhostRider less as it got rougher over the years.
The restored GhostRider is better than it has been since the ride debuted in 1998, but not everything a wooden coaster could be in 2016.
The new track and Millennium Flyer trains from Pennsylvania-based Great Coasters International have restored GhostRider to its former fleetness and nimbleness. I loved leaning into the drops from my front-row seat as the restored coaster zipped under head-chopper near misses and around switchback turns. The once-again unrelenting ride maintains its speed all the way through the last helix before coming to a smooth stop in the new magnetic brake run.
The basics of the ride remain the same: The 118-foot-tall coaster still reaches a top speed of 56 mph over a 4,500-foot course.
In recent years, the jaw-rattling ride had gotten so rough that the coaster earned an unwanted nickname: RoughRider. Knott's often brought GhostRider to a complete stop during a midride brake run designed to slow the coaster train and prolong the life of the aging coaster track.
The removal of the midride brake run along with a reprofiling of the track and the new trains make for an overall smoother and faster ride.
The renovation removed some of the steel supports added to the structure for reinforcement during the last 18 years, and which had the unintended effect of making for a bumpier ride, Knott's vice president of maintenance and construction Jeff Gahagan said.
During the media preview, I spent most of my time recalling fond memories of riding GhostRider and contemplating the opportunities Knott's squandered with the ride renovation.
For instance, I wanted Knott's to hire Rocky Mountain Construction to do the renovation. The Idaho-based ride-maker has added corkscrew inversions and overbanked turns to several wooden coasters in recent years, to the delight of ride enthusiasts.
Knott's considered bids from Rocky Mountain and Great Coasters International and decided to go with GCI in part to maintain GhostRider's traditional wooden coaster feel that fits so well with the Ghost Town theme of the area surrounding the ride, Gahagan said.
Comparisons between GhostRider and Colossus at Six Flags Magic Mountain were inevitable. Rocky Mountain transformed the 1978 Magic Mountain wooden coaster into the Twisted Colossus hybrid coaster in 2015 with the addition of several mind-bending inversions.
Both parks made the right decisions for their demographics, with Knott's maintaining GhostRider as a family ride and Magic Mountain turning Colossus into a thrill ride.
Now that renovations are complete on both wooden coasters, Twisted Colossus is clearly the better ride. Instead of a new and thrilling GhostRider, we got an old, familiar favorite. That's fine with me -- even if I'm left wondering what could have been.