The second part of our weekend began under the shadow of thick clouds, and it began to rain in earnest as we arrived at Skyline Park. Though suboptimal for photographs the bad weather proved a blessing in disguise, as the only significant queues were for inherently low capacity attractions such as the Sky Circle booster and the Sky Shot reverse bungee, both of which we passed on today. We'd expected to be short of time thanks to our mid-afternoon flight from nearby Memmingen Airport, and though we'd happily have stayed longer we nevertheless made it through all the rides on our hit list with about an hour to spare.
During the summer months the park opens for the day at 9:00am with rides opening at 10:00am. Our early arrival gave us the better part of an hour to explore, and we made the most of the time. It was quickly apparent that the small park I remembered had grown substantially, but it was only when I looked at satellite imagery later in the day that I realised that the total land area had virtually doubled since my last visit in 2008. There was still an inexplicably empty field in the middle of the park, but on the positive side it was at least possible to walk across it today instead of having to use the original pedestrian footbridge in the north-east corner.
Our first ride ended up being Achterbahn, a 1967-vintage Schwarzkopf Wildcat that first opened at the park in 1999. After sixteen seasons next to the main entrance it was refurbished and moved to a new area for the 2015 season. Today it is the oldest example of the genre to operate in a permanent park, as the only other surviving model from the sixties travels with Wade Shows in the United States. Our lap in the Cadillac-themed cars was smooth without being memorable in any way, to the point that we didn't feel any need to go back for a second round.
Instead we headed for Sky Spin, the very first Xtended SC2000 from Maurer Rides that began life as Cyberspace on the German fair circuit in 1999. It was renamed Whirlwind for its installation at Camelot in 2003, and it continued to operate there until that park closed at the end of 2012. (It's worth pausing briefly to record that three of the four roller coasters present at Camelot that day have since found new homes, but in a cruel twist of fate the magnificent Schwarzkopf remains standing in the lonely graveyard of a dead park, tantalisingly visible from the nearby M6 motorway.)
Eighteen years of operations have taken their toll on what was in times past an excellent ride. Though the first drop was respectable enough things went downhill quickly afterwards (pun intended); there was a nasty thump at the base that could be heard as well as felt, and many more like it as the car clattered its way around the rest of the course in a manner very reminiscent of a vintage Pinfari. There was some spinning, but not much, with our car completing perhaps three complete revolutions in total. We walked past the ride later in the day after the park had gotten busier and it was telling that the operators were standing idle, waiting for guests to approach.
The major new attraction this year is Sky Dragster, the prototype Spike Coaster first announced by Maurer Rides at IAAPA in 2016. The design is a variant of the common powered coaster with two seat cars whose speed can be controlled by those on board. The installation here was very much in test mode today, with only one vehicle on track and a best case capacity of around thirty guests per hour, but there were just two other people in line in front of us on arrival and we were happy to wait for a few minutes while an engineer from BTS Dynamics made some adjustments to the programming. After some gesticulation and two system reboots he seemed satisfied, and handed the keys over to a ride operator.
The first group to ride accelerated at a moderate speed, then braked heavily on approach to the first corner. Their speed seemed very uneven for the rest of the course, which was realistic for a motorbike climbing over hilly terrain but definitely not what one would expect from a roller coaster experience where acceleration and deceleration are fluid. Nevertheless these people were obviously not enthusiasts, and we concluded that they were almost certainly operating the brakes themselves. They seemed to enjoy the experience regardless, and on that basis we boarded the car with an open mind, determined to hold the throttle at full to see what would happen.
The operator started explaining the controls to me in remarkably good English even by the high standards one typically associates with bilingual Germans. There were just two that mattered, namely a boost button on the left handlebar for a little more speed, and a regular motorbike grip on the right. He asked me where I was from, and when I told him he responded in perfect Cork "sure ye can't help that boyo". It turned out that he was originally from Birmingham, and accepted my proffered condolences with suitable amusement. Moments later he swiped a proximity tag against the back of the car which rolled forward to the start point.
I had both controls held as the start light turned green, and was seriously impressed by the initial acceleration which was perfectly smooth and for the average reader indistinguishable in force from attractions from Intamin and Premier Rides. However the thrill was quickly cut short as the brakes were slammed on prior to the corner, cutting about two thirds of the speed, throwing me back into my seat, and eliminating any hope of laterals. Much to my consternation the rest of the forty second long ride was essentially equivalent to what we'd watched; the obviously capable hardware was being throttled aggressively to the point that the overall experience was not particularly good. While Maurer Rides is to be applauded for creating something new there remains much to be done before the Spike Coaster concept becomes anything more than a curiosity. With luck the programming will be tuned over time to make things run better.
Also new this year is Kids Spin (#2340), an "three loop" version of the now-ubiquitous Compact Spinning Coaster from SBF Rides. The genre, introduced less than four years ago, is by some margin the most successful new product line that I can think of in my time as an enthusiast, with a total of forty-five examples listed in RCDB as of this writing and likely others that the community has yet to locate. This particular installation had a reasonable amount of spinning over its five lap cycle, and its appearance had novelty value too thanks to black and white spotted cars on neon green track. There were a few minor bumps around the course but nothing unmanageable.
From there we wandered across to Sky Wheel, the prototype installation of the Maurer Sky Loop, which we were pleasantly surprised to find operating without retrofitted seat belts. Megan commented that the ride was one of the few that she finds genuinely frightening as for a few seconds at the apex one's very life is entirely beholden to the skills of the park maintenance department. We decided that we'd sit in the back row, something that I've not done previously, and from that location the experience was respectable enough, marred only by the continuous tightening of the lap bar. The issue with the brakes on my last visit had been corrected in the intervening years, and thus we were lowered gently back to earth after one complete circuit of the track.
My taste in coasters has shifted somewhat over the years, and this was particularly obvious at Sky Rider, the world's only Caripro Gyroflyer described by me thirteen years ago as "mostly pointless" and nine years ago as "too gentle for my tastes". Today the ride was by far my favourite in the park thanks to the unique seating position, the mostly smooth tracking (lift engagement notwithstanding!), and good pacing with the speed gradually increasing all the way from the top of the lift to the final brake. There wasn't a huge amount of spinning today, and the experience was definitely a gentle one, but the enjoyment factor was high enough that we decided to go back for a second lap.
We wasted a good twenty minutes of valuable time queuing for Bob Racing, a rookie error given the clear language in my report from 2008. Today the layout was long but profoundly langweilig and somnolent thanks to a top speed that likely failed to break into double figures. Worse yet there was someone in the queue in front of us whose lack of deodorant and near-continuous gesticulation made the wait an endurance contest that we'd happily have aborted if we'd known. There was a far greater thrill from Butterfly (Bruno and Anita's first) which says it all really.
The final ride of the day and of our trip ended up being the Riesenrad. The timing worked in our favour for the most part, as the weather had begun to clear and there was the start of a blue sky. The coasters were a little too far away for the zoom lens in my camera, but I got some nice overview shots for my collection. After disembarking we went for a quick photo run at ground level before making our way to the exit.