Some weeks ago it became apparent that I'd need to make a short business trip to Austin during the month of February. My dates were a few weeks too early in the season for the major parks in the area, but a number of smaller facilities were operational including ZDT's Amusement Park, a family entertainment center that put itself on the enthusiast map two years ago with the installation of a wooden shuttle roller coaster from the Gravity Group. The car park was virtually empty when I arrived about ten minutes before opening, but the main door was ajar, and moments later a friendly staff member had swapped my printed online booking for a wristband. He mentioned something about it being a bitterly cold morning, which made me grin; the 12°C temperature was perfectly adequate (and borderline pleasant) for someone used to Irish weather.
The park is small, consisting of a children's play area, two sets of arcade machines configured on free play, electric go-karts, a number of water slides, a family drop tower, a small Frisbee knock-off, a climbing wall, and the coaster. Switchback (#2415) is a substantial ride that looks positively enormous compared to everything around it. The station, lift hill, and first drop occupy an area of roughly fifteen thousand square feet on the north-eastern corner of the property that was originally part of the parking lot, and construction of this portion was likely straightforward. In comparison the rest of the layout weaves its way around existing structures, threading the proverbial needle in a manner very reminiscent of the coasters at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. The various elements were clearly restricted by available space, though fortunately for all the engineers came up with a superb design that is family friendly while being powerful enough to satisfy even the most jaded enthusiast.
The ride starts out like a normal wood coaster with a slow climb to the heights. The turnaround at the apex of the lift is unusually tight, being only marginally wider than Lost Coaster and various mice, and this leads directly into a superb drop almost to ground level that delivers in both the front and the back of the train. There is a flat section of track immediately afterwards with brakes, but they are held out of the way as the train races past into a series of small airtime hills and turns, notably a 104° over-banked curve negotiated with considerably more finesse than the slightly steeper non-inversion at my home park. This leads into a vertical spike, where the train stalls and rolls back the way it came. There is enough potential energy left at the end of the course for the train to make it half way up the initial drop, where a final moment of weightless can be enjoyed before the brakes bring the ride to an end. A transfer mechanism then moves the train back into the station.
There were only a handful of other guests in the park for my visit, essentially giving me free reign over the coaster, and with several hours available to me I'd probably have made it into triple figures if I'd wanted to. Unfortunately there were a few portions of the layout that were in need of maintenance work, and while I wouldn't describe the experience as rough there was a definite clatter that limited my desire to repeat. I felt the start of a headache coming on after five laps, and decided it was best to stop at that point. After stepping away I went in search of the perfect photograph, and ended up waiting nearly twenty minutes for the next train to be dispatched.
My next stop was at the Parachute Tower, a non-rotating sixty-five foot installation from Zamperla that is respectable if not quite in the same league as their larger models. I was the only guest riding, and with a free choice of seat I naturally chose the one facing the coaster. The view from the top was better than any available at ground level, but a quick check of the rules indicated that cameras were not allowed on the ride and that was that. The programme in use today was gentle and refreshing, consisting of both upwards and downwards launches; I rather suspect the experience may have been more powerful with more weight on board.
I also tried the Go Karts, and I'd encourage those retracing my steps to do the same as the on-board electric motors are unusually powerful compared to the gasoline lawnmower engines that one usually sees in amusement parks. That said, it'd be remiss of me not to record that the brakes were automatically applied before two sharp turns in the layout, presumably to prevent injuries but a complete pain in the tail for those of us trying to follow the racing line. This restriction, presumably put in place to avoid legal complication, felt a little strange considering that each driver had a "boost" button that could be used twice per race for a measurable increase in speed lasting around fifteen seconds. I found the best place to use this was at the base of a climbing turn, as the system was powerful enough to accelerate even as the car moved uphill.
The two arcades featured a handful of emulated classics, a range of racing titles, and a smorgasbord of other hardware that was almost certainly acquired second hand. Some of the games were in factory new condition, whereas others looked decidedly the worse for wear; the Dance Dance Revolution Extreme machine was in particularly bad shape, with a screen that was both fuzzy and faded, and it wasn't the only one. That being said, the inclusion of arcade games in the standard wristband was a very nice touch, if one that would only ever work in certain locations; I can imagine any attempt to try something similar at home would result in popular machines being monopolised for hours.