Day 22 of my trip began with a five hour drive to what can only be described as a curiosity: a faux Bavarian village located in northeast Georgia. Helen is a tourist trap located on both sides of the Chattahoochee River. It has a permanent population of just 430 residents, yet despite that it is the third most visited city in the state, drawing almost 3 million people each year. It is primarily known for the country’s longest-running Oktoberfest, one of the largest motorcycle events in the South, and an elite hot air balloon race.
The Georgia Mountain Coaster is located on Alpenrosen Strasse, a suitably authentic name, albeit one that had apparently lost its eszett (ß). Today there was a prominent “Help Wanted” sign at the entrance, despite the fact that I spotted six members of staff manning the load station, as well as two more at the cash desk and the gift shop. To paraphrase a well-known joke, how many Americans does it take to operate an Alpine Coaster? Tens of thousands, because that’s how many Alpine Coaster jobs I’m going to create. Probably more. I don’t know how many, but it will be yuuuuge. Do you know how many Alpine Coaster jobs we lost while Obama was in office? People say at least a million. But you can bet Crooked Hillary was behind it...
The ride is for the most part a standard and not particularly memorable alpine coaster. I noticed a small amount of auto braking along the minute-long descent, but it didn’t impact things too much. The one unexpected moment came at the end: a descent of about 30 feet built into a tight 180 degree turn, right at the location where one would ordinarily be slowing to a stop. I took this at full speed and really thought I was going to come off the track, and not only because I realised I had come within inches of a nasty collision in the station.
Island in Pigeon Forge
26th August 2021
Three and a bit hours in the car brought me to Pigeon Forge, where I’d planned an evening of unmitigated credit whoring. The first stop on my radar was the Island in Pigeon Forge, a collection of tourist shops that also happens to feature a figure eight spinning coaster. There was light rain for my arrival, and while there were plenty of people milling about I learned that all rides were temporarily closed due to lightning in the area. A quick check of my phone revealed that the forecasted conditions in nearby Gatlinburg were radically better, so I decided I’d go there instead.
Rowdy Bear's Smoky Mountain Snowpark
26th August 2021
This park was known as Rowdy Bear Ridge at the time this trip report was written.
The route out of town took me directly past one of two Rowdy Bear parks in the area, and I decided to stop on the off chance that rides might be open. There was no obvious sign of activity for my arrival, but the window on the ticket desk opened as I approached which I took to be a good sign.
The park has an interesting admission policy, in that they do not sell individual ride tickets. The minimum purchase is a wristband valid for any two attractions, costing $26.99 plus tax – totalling $30.30 as of this writing. They were however offering a special promotion for coaster riders: for the same price you could have one ride on each coaster, and a bonus lap on the one you liked better. The staff warned me that they operated in all weather conditions and that I would not be entitled to a refund if the heavens opened. Fortunately they didn’t.
Laser Gun Coaster (#2945) is the American premiere of the Wiegand Mystical Hex, a suspended coaster line that has seen three different vehicle designs over the years. The prototype was a self-operated flying coaster; guests climbed into a flat tube for their ride. The next few versions had two face-to-face seats in a chassis that couldswing as it went around corners; one of these even turned up in China. Both have now been superseded by a new vehicle with two forward facing seats. The new rolling stock is an upgrade, but not enough of one to save what is a fundamentally boring ride that nobody in their right mind would pay for more than once. The Rowdy Bear people have attempted to spruce up the lacklustre experience with a target shooting system, and while this might be a worthwhile addition at night, it is effectively pointless during daytime hours as only those with amazing eyesight will be able to see what they’ve managed to hit. I thought I'd hit nothing whatsoever, though apparently I clocked a score of 1100 – well outside the "good score" range of 2000 to 3000.
I was much more taken with Power Coaster, the world premiere of the Wiegand CoasterKart. The new product is a replacement for the venerable Bobkart, which has sadly been discontinued. I was sceptical about this ahead of time, but enjoyed it far more than I expected to; the cars pick up a decent speed, and while much of the route hugs the terrain there’s a single coaster drop beside the on-ride photo that generates some airtime when hit at full speed. I decided to do my free ride here, and as luck would have it I timed things almost perfectly. The heavens opened seconds after I returned to the station, and while the run to my car left me a little damp it could have been much worse.
Moonshine Mountain Coaster
26th August 2021
Gatlinburg is just eight miles from Pigeon Forge, but it might as well have been a different country today. The weather was overcast, but completely dry, and a quick touch of the ground indicated that it had been that way for a while. The heavy storm I’d caught the start of half an hour earlier was apparently isolated to a very local area. This is apparently not unusual in the Great Smoky Mountains, and while I found it surprising I probably shouldn't have, given that I live in a country where it's entirely normal to get all four seasons in the same day.
My first attempt to ride the Moonshine Mountain Coaster took place back in July 2016, when I found it unexpectedly closed. The cause turned out to be an accident; a woman had been thrown from the ride a few days before, and the state had shut the ride down for an inspection. It reopened before the end of my trip, but I was more than five hundred miles away by then and it wasn’t practical to get back. In researching this report I’ve learned that a very similar accident took place in March of this year, though the shutdown on this occasion was much shorter – it was open again the next day after a third party inspector determined the ride was safe.
I was expecting an unusually aggressive ride given the two incidents, but the experience was standard enough. It starts with a brief chain lift (yes, an actual chain) followed by a right turn and the usual extended sequence of cable lifts. The descent portion is perfectly respectable, lasting about seventy seconds at full speed. There are no automatic brakes on the course, and the result is good fun, if pricey; I decided against paying for a second ticket.
Ripley's Mountain Coaster
26th August 2021
This park was known as Rowdy Bear Mountain at the time this trip report was written.
The ticketing policy at Rowdy Bear Mountain appears to have come out of the same playbook as that in use at Rowdy Bear Ridge, and it's fair to say that it's a nuisance for enthusiasts. Those wanting to ride the Rowdy Bear Coaster must pay for two laps at a cost of $24.58 ($22 plus tax). The ride is adequate but not one of the better examples of the genre, thanks to automatic braking in key areas; I definitely wouldn’t have bothered doing this more than once if I hadn't already paid for it.
The park is also home to a pair of zip line coasters which are either sold individually for $22.35 or as a supplement to an Alpine Coaster package for $11.18. The Mountain Gliders share the same support structure and a virtually identical layout; the only significant difference is the number of magnets used to restrict speed. Those who weigh under 180lbs have the option of riding the faster left side, which has three magnets; everyone else has to ride the right hand side, which has seven. The operator told me that the restriction is necessary to stop people swinging so violently that they break things, including themselves. Unfortunately my 185lbs weight tonight (three weeks of American food...) limited me to the slower track without enough ballast to compensate for the additional braking, resulting in a fairly dull experience. I tried to blag my way onto the left track given the relatively minor discrepancy, but didn’t manage to get anywhere.
26th August 2021
Anakeesta is home to what is by some margin the most expensive non-credit in the Smoky Mountains. The cost starts with a $15 parking ticket covering ten hours of use, which is restricted by license plate to stop departing visitors passing theirs on. Admission is a further $32.40, and this does not include the alpine coaster which requires an additional $14.52 per ride at the mountain top. Those after a single lap on the Rail Runner will therefore need a minimum of $61.92, or for preference, slightly more than a full year of unlimited access to all the Six Flags parks in the world.
Having said that, Rail Runner is not an average alpine coaster. Brandauer is known for aggressive installations, but I’d sort of assumed that an American version would be emasculated for insurance reasons. I could not have been more wrong. The ride has an elevation differential of 105 metres (344 feet) covered in about 40 seconds, giving an average vertical descent approaching 9 feet per second – a multiple of what one normally sees on a ride of this type. There are a few points in the layout that are significantly more than that, and there are sharp corners following drops. The result can only be described as demented, fully justifying two seatbelts, a safety ring around passengers’ feet, and indeed the obligatory legal waiver. Those with the wherewithal to do a brake free run, I salute you; I tried, but couldn't maintain it after the first few turns.
After disembarking I decided I’d wander around the rest of the park. There wasn't a whole lot that caught my eye; the one notable exception was the Treetop Skywalk, a set of linked cable bridges routing through tall trees. I wouldn't have paid money to do this as an up-charge, but since it was included I figured I might as well enjoy a little exercise.
Rocky Top Mountain Coaster
26th August 2021
After a short drive back to Pigeon Forge I arrived at the Rocky Top Mountain Coaster. The $18.67 attraction is unusual in that it has been given quite a bit of theming, including artificial rock work, tunnels, and building structures. Unfortunately the experience is disjointed at best thanks to the design, which features four half-minute-long descents separated by extended lift hill sections. In Branson this might have been called the world’s first quadruple alpine coaster – but in my world, it’s a marquee ride where the designers forgot to think about pacing.
The big problem tonight was that I kept catching up with people in front of me, forcing me to brake when I didn’t want to. On similar rides it is often possible to mitigate the worst of this by waiting for a bit to build an artificial gap, but tonight this wasn’t possible; I was hurried out of the main station, and I found that I couldn’t slow to a complete stop at other points as the brakes in my sled were not up to scratch. I found myself wondering whether this was a deliberate modification or just slightly suspect maintenance; answers on a postcard please.
On a somewhat happier note, I can report that riding at night is a lot of fun (and yes, the double entendre is intentional). Many areas of the course were lit with brightly coloured lights that really added to the overall experience, especially given the relative darkness in other sections. I just wish I’d been there when it wasn’t so busy so I could enjoy the ride as Herr Wiegand intended; with luck I'll get back at some point.
Island in Pigeon Forge
26th August 2021
With the alpine coasters all checked off, I headed back to the Island in Pigeon Forge. I was able to buy a ticket for the coaster shortly before 8:30pm, but on arrival at the ride I was just in time to see a staff member locking the gate. The earlier rain had apparently soaked the drive wheels, causing the train to lose traction on its way up the lift hill. I asked whether that was it for the night, and was told that any reopening would depend on the weather; if no additional rain fell before closing at 11:00pm then I might be in luck. This information was enough to persuade me to relocate to a nearby bench, where I began tapping out trip report notes on my phone.
There was no rain of any kind over the next two and a bit hours, during which I watched guests enjoying the other rides in the vicinity. Many walked up to the coaster, looked at it for a bit, then walked away again. Despite the demand the operator never returned. At 10:45pm, with a sore thumb and 9% left on my phone battery, I came to the obvious conclusion that I’d been told what I wanted to hear in order to make me go away. It was tempting to complain at guest services, but I figured that it wouldn't actually achieve anything. I swore emphatically under my breath before returning to my car.
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