Wooden coaster war heats up with Six Flags Great America’s Goliath debut

Six Flags Great America will launch the latest salvo in the ongoing wooden coaster war this summer with the addition of a steel-wood hybrid aimed squarely at dethroning the reigning king and knocking the heir apparent down a notch.

Set to debut at the Chicago-area amusement park on May 31, Goliath will set wooden coaster records for top speed (72 mph), steepest drop (85 degrees) and longest drop (180 feet).

The speed and drop titles unseat Six Flags Great Adventure’s El Toro, considered by many to be the best wooden coaster in the world (or certainly a worthy contender), while the steepness title bests Silver Dollar City’s Outlaw Run, the latest darling among ride enthusiasts.

Goliath has already left the collective jaws of the coaster community agape while prompting some to declare it quite possibly the best new ride of 2014.

Built by Idaho-based Rocky Mountain Construction, which also worked on Outlaw Run and El Toro, Goliath will feature a distinctive steel-framed lift hill, a dive loop and a zero gravity stall as well as overbanked turns, airtime hills and a tunnel at the bottom of the first drop.


The first volley in the current wooden coaster war was fired in 2011 when Rocky Mountain remade the Texas Giant with a new track that gave the bumpy ride the smoothness of a steel coaster and triggered a debate over just how to define this new breed of hybrid coasters.

Ohio-based Gravity Group responded a year later with Dueling Dragon, a dueling wooden coaster at Happy Valley theme park in China that featured a unique High Five element where the tandem trains tilted inward 90 degrees, allowing riders to almost touch hands during a dramatic near-miss moment.

The fight intensified last year with the introduction of a trio of looping wooden coasters, considered for decades the holy grail of coaster fans who had their hopes dashed when Kings Island built the Son of Beast wooden terrain coaster in 2000 only to remove the vertical loop a few years later.

In addition to the debut of the triple-inversion Outlaw Run in 2013, Rocky Mountain converted the Rattler at Six Flags Fiesta Texas into the steel-wood hybrid Iron Rattler while Gravity Group turned Hades at Wisconsin’s Mt. Olympus into Hades 360 -- with both rides adding barrel roll elements.

This year, in addition to Goliath’s debut, Rocky Mountain will convert the 2000 Medusa wooden coaster at Six Flags Mexico into the steel-wood hybrid Medusa Steel Coaster with a trio of zero-g rolls.

The battle is only expected to grow more intense with the arrival of each successive summer.

Within the next year, Gravity Group will build three wooden coasters at the Fantawild chain of parks in China, with one or more of the rides expected to include inversions.

Then in 2016, Rocky Mountain plans to build a triple inversion wooden coaster at Sweden’s Kolmarden Wildlife Park that could be viewed as Goliath’s understudy. Set to become the second-tallest wooden coaster in the world, Wildfire would feature the second-steepest drop (83 degrees) and second-fastest top speed (70 mph) -- both records soon to be held by Goliath.

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