My first trip to Kolmården took place in 2011, and it's fair to say that the place wasn't exactly an enthusiast destination at the time. There were just three rides in total, including a pirate ship, an off-the-shelf Roller Skater, and a lengthy cable car safari, and their location almost a mile away from the main entrance necessitated altogether too much effort for all but the most hardened credit whores. The European Coaster Club and Freundeskreis Kirmes und Freizeitparks both fit the park into longer Scandinavian itineraries, but no group made a dedicated trip, as there was really no reason for one.
There was considerable surprise in the community and quite a few raised eyebrows when a press release published in early 2014 announced the addition of "the world's best wooden roller coaster", a fifty-seven metre high machine with three inversions and twelve airtime hills that would be the fastest wooden coaster in Europe. The owner of the business was quoted as saying that this was the realisation of a long-term goal, even if it seemed to some (including this writer) that the plans were out of scale for a zoo that had until that point been targeted primarily at families with young children. Construction proceeded over the ensuing twenty-two months, despite a few minor hiccoughs along the way, and the new ride opened on June 28th.
It took us just over twenty minutes to walk from the main entrance of the park back to Wildfire (#2280). We were immediately impressed not just by the sight of the enormous structure, but also by the way that the track came into view no more than a minute before we reached the area, blending into its surroundings far better than those reading the press release might have assumed. An antique fire truck sat next to a themed souvenir shop and the ride station, both of which were roofed with rusted corrugated metal sheets. The general area was completed by a huge boulder that stood at the base of the lift hill giving a perfect vantage point for avid photographers, though every few minutes an operator leaned out of the control booth to ask those climbing on it to step down.
The staff on duty today were allowing people to wait for the front row, but all other seats were luck of the draw, and as a result our first lap ended up being in the third row from the back. There was a two pass restraint checking process for seat belts (done visually) followed by lap bars, but unlike the similar procedures at Six Flags New England there was no farting around, and as a result the train was ready to go about ninety seconds after it parked. (It's worth noting that the ride cycle time is marginally under two minutes, meaning that operations were easily fast enough to run a second train without stacking).
The lift hill runs at a fairly sedate pace when compared to other recent rides, taking of the order of thirty seconds to haul the train to the ride apex. Once at the top the remainder of the track comes into view, but the view of that pales in comparison to the spectacular landscape, which falls away rapidly to a bay located some one hundred and thirty two metres below. Though the ride drops less than half that height, the descent, taken at an 83° angle, is memorable for intense ejector airtime in all seats of the train, to the point that I'm tempted to label it as the best first drop I've experienced on any coaster, wood or steel; it really is that good. The ensuing climb out leads to the overall highlight of the layout, a superb inverted zero gravity stall that is negotiated effortlessly.
From that point on, however, the intensity is somewhat reduced when compared against other recent Rocky Mountain designs. The course continues with a sequence of turns, airtime hills, and two further inversions that are handled very well indeed, but the raw aggression of the initial few seconds never comes back. Worse yet, the final hill prior to the brake run is crested at a speed that would suggest the designers overspent their potential energy budget, constituting a definite dead spot in what is otherwise a well-paced ride. I'm still inclined to rate the overall experience as the best wood coaster in Europe based on the first few seconds alone, but were those taken away I think I'd probably leave Cú Chulainn in my number one spot.
We managed another eleven laps over the course of the day, including both back and front, and for me at least there was no clear winner between locations; the forces towards the back were stronger than those in the front, but not dramatically enough to offset the lesser visuals. As with everything from Rocky Mountain Construction there were no bad seats anywhere, making the inability to wait for specific rows less of an embuggerance than it might otherwise have been.
Megan was thrilled to be able to log the ride as her one thousandth credit, joining the four digit club in style with a brightly coloured handmade sign. After disembarking for the first time we spent about twenty minutes capturing the perfect photograph for her on the grounds that it is unlikely to be possible to move into the five digit club in our respective lifetimes, even allowing for hundreds of undiscovered rides in obscure parts of the world. Right now there are at least two enthusiasts in the running to be the first to three thousand, and I wish them luck with that; they're sufficiently far ahead of me at this point that there's no sense in wasting my life chasing down Jungle Mice just to score a meaningless record that nobody sensible really cares about anyway.
With the star coaster completed we hiked most of the way back to the main entrance for Godiståget (#2272), a Zierer family coaster added to the park last year. At the time the ride was announced I remember thinking it a strange choice, given that it was of a similar design and scale to the existing Delphinexpresen, but the physical distance between the two rides made the decision somewhat easier to understand; it was clear that park management had decided to invest in a second children's area to act as a buffer between the various animal exhibits. We also took the time for the Safari cable car, a thirty minute experience that remains an absolute must for all visitors to the park. The first portion of the course gave us some excellent shots of Wildfire and we found ourselves constantly switching between close-up views of animals and coaster porn.
This narrative began with a brief note about enthusiasts, and I'd like to conclude in the same fashion. In the roughly two months since Wildfire has opened, some one hundred and sixty four people have ticked the ride on Coaster-Count, and that headline number does not include the more sensible among us who choose not to count their credits. It's worth calling out also that just thirteen of those ticks have been from users in Sweden, a testament (as if one were needed) to the fact that the park is located in a remote location. Group visits have been made by CoasterForce, the European Coaster Club, and at least one group from the United States, and many more people have made private pilgrimages. During our visit we ran into several friendly people from CoasterClub Denmark whose company made our last rides of the day particularly memorable. Though the number of enthusiasts worldwide is not large (fortunately!) I rather suspect that inbound tourism to the Östergötland area will have been boosted by a measurable percentage in 2016. It'd be fascinating to see by how much.