Travel Note

29th July 2018

After yesterday's adventures we drove south for three hours and change to Andorra, a small principality nested in the Pyrenees between France and Spain. Well over ten million visitors travel to the country each year, and as a consequence the vast majority of the eighty thousand permanent residents work in the tourist industry. The cost of one night's accomodation in the capital city was horrendous, but reflective of supply and demand; on our chosen weekend many of the hotels in the capital were sold out entirely. We were expecting to have trouble finding dinner without a reservation, but the Hard Rock Café was almost completely deserted due to a problem with the air conditioning. It was late enough in the evening that this wasn't a problem for us.

 

Naturlandia

29th July 2018

We had hoped to make it to Naturlandia for opening, but Garmin's estimate for how long it would take to drive from our hotel failed to take account of slow moving coaches and narrow mountain roads. The park had been open for twenty minutes by the time we arrived, and we were just in time to claim the last parking space in the car park. Soon after that we exchanged our printed tickets for wristbands and joined the short queue for Tobotronc, a Wiegand-built Alpine Coaster with over three and a half kilometres of track that has been the longest in the world for more than a decade.

The ride has four separate lift hills that take a cumulative total of around twelve minutes to traverse. These bring the two person sleds to a plateau almost four hundred metres above the start point, approximately one thousand three hundred feet for American readers. Our first descent started well enough with a series of good drops and airtime bumps, but then we caught up with the group in front of us and were forced to an unceremonious halt. We stayed put until the sled behind us got close, then let rip again, only to catch up with an extended convoy less than a minute later. The pattern continued throughout the descent, turning what should have been an extreme thrill into an utter disappointment.

Tobotronc

We had a fifty minute wait for our second round, and by the time we got to the front it was evident that we wouldn't have time for a third given the requirement to catch an evening flight. At the apex Megan struck up a conversation with the operator in the hope that he'd let us delay our dispatch so that we could get a clean run to the bottom. This worked very well; we spoke about all manner of things over a period of several minutes, including our weekend, how we'd be driving to an airport in France after our ride, and so on. When we were finally released we made it to the final corner before catching someone, five minutes of intense workout that did more for my arm muscles than an extended session in the gym.

Slow riders on alpine coasters are a perennial frustration for thrill seekers, but the issue is particularly serious on this installation given the ride length, and given that I'd like to see park management try to come up with a way of accomodating those who want to go at different speeds. Were I designing the system I'd introduce a button on the sleds to enable fast mode, which would lock out manual brakes until the last two hundred feet of track. The control computer could then hold any fast dispatch until those in slow mode were off the track. Another approach would be to run the ride with alternating "fast" and "slow" intervals, perhaps thirty minutes at a time, though once again a lock out would be needed to stop someone spoiling the "fast" period.

Tobotronc is a fantastic ride when experienced properly, but the cost and effort required to get there is such that the only way I could see myself going back would be for a coaster club event, possibly even with night riding which could be absolutely incredible. How about it, European Coaster Club?