The Ten Best American Coasters

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The key to a great shuttle-loop coaster is intense speed. Montezooma’s Revenge is not only one of the few remaining shuttle loops but also one of the few that do not use brakes as the train rushes backward through the station into the back hill. The zero to fifty-five miles per hour launch is sudden and smooth. Montezooma’s Revenge is one of a very small number of rides that actually take my breath away.

Alpengeist:

Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Williamsburg, Virginia (built in 1997 by Bolliger & Mabillard).

In the early 1990s construction began on the most puzzling ride ever. Early photos showed a steel looper with rails on the outside of the loop, suggesting a suspended coaster. However, up to that time, because of design restrictions, suspended coasters could not execute a loop. The device was named Batman The Ride, and it was an amazing success. The designers removed the “floor,” so the riders’ legs hung free, added loops, and called the result an “inverted” coaster. The clever folks at Busch Gardens took that idea to heart and commissioned a new inverted coaster that took advantage of the park’s hilly terrain, added some well-designed ski-resort theming, and opened the most intense ride currently standing. Alpengeist features an amazing sequence of huge drops and fast loops. The tight, twisting run back to the station is an absolute joy.

Kumba:

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, Tampa Bay, Florida (built in 1993 by Bolliger & Mabillard).

In 1993 multi-looping coasters were the amusement-park rage. Impressed with the work of Bolliger & Mabillard’s inverted and stand-up coasters, the people at Busch commissioned a sit-down one with seven loops, then tying the record for the most. More important, the designers paid special attention to making the transitions between the loops exciting and interesting. Kumba manages at times to ride low on the ground, like a big cat, and other times to swoop up into the sky, like a huge acrobatic bird. Kumba and its slightly larger brother in Spain are tops in their genre.

Space Mountain:

Disneyland, Anaheim, California (built in 1977 by Disney Imagineering, current soundtrack added in 1997).

This is by far the gentlest of all the roller coasters on the list, but Disney has always done things its own way. Even considering the new looping techie coasters at Disneyland Paris, this Space Mountain remains Disney’s best effort so far. What makes Disney coasters work so well is psychology. With just enough visual stimulus during the ride, a rockin’ Dick Dale soundtrack, and great pre-ride theming, Space Mountain runs from launch to re-entry with plenty of dips and wild-mouse-like corners to keep almost the full range of Disney clientele, from jaded coaster-enthusiast to amusement-park neophyte, well entertained.