Today began as a designated sightseeing day with a morning visit to Graceland. I won’t pretend to be a serious fan of the King – or even a fan at all – but I was heading to Memphis anyway for the Hard Rock Café and it was apparently the number one thing to do in the area. I enjoyed the tour immensely. I spent time looking at the planes, the cars, and of course a tour of the mansion. I blitzed the rest of the museum in about ten minutes having run out of enthusiasm for the topic, but I’m glad I took the time that I did. (I feel that the Graceland administrators missed a trick by not constructing a replica of the Zippin Pippin on property; if they ever do that, I'll be back.)
Branson Mountain Adventure Park
16th August 2021
The drive from Memphis to Branson took almost exactly five hours, and though I was pretty tired I decided to head directly to Branson Mountain Adventure Park. I’d planned to visit the area’s first alpine coaster tomorrow after a full day at Silver Dollar City, but the opening hours were altered in early August, forcing an impromptu change of plan.
Runaway is an alpine coaster manufactured by the the Aquatic Development Group, a company better known for its water slides and park design services. Their Mountain Coaster product is advertised rather creatively as "the only coaster on the market that brings the authentic thrill and excitement of a rolling, dipping, zigging and zagging coaster ride to your mountainside" – a curious statement given that similar products are offered by a range of manufacturers, not least Brandauer, Stahl-Hacksteiner-Metall, and Wiegand. ADG currently have nine authentic operational zigging (or should that be zagging?) installations in the United States, and this example was my second, coming five years and change after I blogged about the version at Ober Gatlinburg.
The experience begins with the requirement to read and sign a 1545 word legal waiver that is ridiculously one-sided even by American standards. Some of the more interesting terms include accepting medical costs even if the injury incurred is caused by negligence of Branson Mountain Adventure LLC; accepting that the company can use your name, face, likeness, voice, and appearance in exhibitions, publicity, advertising, and promotional materials without limitation or payment; and agreeing not to sue even in the event of bodily injury, death, and/or property damage caused by BMA's gross negligence. There's even a clause requiring guests to cover any incurred legal fees required to defend the insane agreement and any awards a court might make. One suspects that very few people read what they're actually signing until it's too late.
After boarding, a series of cable lifts take just over five minutes to lift individual sleds to the highest point of the layout, located roughly 100 metres above and 600 metres west of the boarding platform. Much of the ascent track is elevated several feet above the terrain, something not generally seen on similar installations elsewhere; my guess is that this was done to allow wildlife to pass underneath the mechanism without damaging the ride – as of this writing the grotesque American legal system has yet to consider whether Black Bears can be held liable for property damage, though perhaps BMA will bring a test case at some point.
The descent follows an interesting and varied layout with sharp turns, a two helices, and some pretty impressive airtime moments. One of the most dramatic is synchronised with the on-ride camera, resulting in some brilliant shots for those who can afford to pay for them. I'd rate the experience highly only for the fact that the comfort level is not even close to where it should be for a ride costing $18 plus tax; there are bumps where track sections are joined together, bumps on corners, and occasional supplemental bumps for no reason at all. The build quality felt somewhat better than the installation at Ober Gatlinburg, but it definitely wasn't at Brandauer or Wiegand level.
16th August 2021
By the time I returned to my car I'd picked up a second wind, and decided to attempt rides on the other alpine coasters in the Branson area before heading to my hotel. The Branson Sawmill was always going to be a bit of a long shot, as it generally only operates during the day, and indeed it was shut as expected. My brief detour proved serendipitous, however; it revealed a sign in the window indicating that, despite what the website said, the ride was closed until 18th August.
Shepherd's Adventure Park
16th August 2021
Shepherd's Adventure Park is an offshoot of Shepherd of the Hills, a tourist complex with a working farm, dinner shows, and observation tower. It is located on the main road from Silver Dollar City to Branson, and perhaps unsurprisingly it opens late to catch those seeking one more thrill on the journey back to their nearby hotels.
As with Branson Mountain Adventure Park all visitors are expected to complete a legal waiver, and this one comes in at almost two thousand words. Risks guests are required to accept include but are not limited to equipment malfunction; defective design or manufacture of equipment; incomplete or inadequate warnings and instructions, improper or negligent installation of equipment; inadequate or negligent use, operation or supervision of the equipment, negligent maintenance of equipment; cuts; bruises; muscle strain; twisted or sprained ankles, knees, shoulders, or wrists; burns; dirt or other materials in eye; concussions; broken bones; physical or emotional injuries; landing wrong; over-exertion; failure of the attraction surface or attachments; collisions with other participants; erratic co-participant behavior; collisions with standards and supports; using improper form or technique; slipping, falling, or tripping; equipment failure; error of judgment by employees; paralysis, disability, or death; personal injury to third persons; or property damage. On a happier note, however, there is (currently) no attempt to claim rights to visitors' likenesses et al.
Copperhead Mountain Coaster is a genuine Wiegand product that is specifically designed to be operated after dark. The entire track has been lined with coloured lights, and while I didn't get the full effect riding at dusk, what I could see looked pretty. The descent without braking takes a little over ninety seconds, with two particular highlights: a head-chopper effect about twenty seconds in, and a side-to-side section just before the braking area which works particularly well at full speed. The lift comes at the end, taking about three and a half minutes to return riders to the boarding platform.
The ride is excellent, and infinitely better than its older neighbour. Though the layout is a little shorter and arguably a little less aggressive, both facts are more than compensated for by flawlessly smooth tracking. The ride does have the infrastructure for automatic safety braking, but I didn't notice any for my descent and was able to go around corners at full pelt; my guess is that the system is only engaged when cars get too close together. I discovered subsequently that this was my fiftieth alpine coaster and I'm quite satisfied with that landmark.
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