The first few drafts of my trip itinerary this year included an entire day at Carowinds, and in an ideal world that would have remained the case in the finished product. Unfortunately I was forced to reshuffle when Kings Dominion switched to weekend-only operation a full three weeks before the usual Labor Day cut-off. Management subsequently added a series of additional “Summer Bonus Days” presumably in response to guest feedback, but these had very restricted operating hours and only included a small section of the park – not including the rides of most interest to me.
After quite a bit of back and forth I came up with a revised plan that included a three hour whistle-stop tour of Carowinds. While that was less time than I’d have preferred, it was nevertheless about as much as I felt I could justify given that even spending that long meant that I wouldn’t make it to my overnight hotel before midnight. I also considered sacrificing part of my route to give myself a longer window, but that wasn’t a good option either as it would have kiboshed a specific personal nerd goal: to visit every Hard Rock Café in the lower 48.
The changed schedule made sense to me on paper, but after 23 days on the road (including some pretty lengthy drives) I realised that I’d bitten off more than I could chew, and decided on the fly to cut my stay back to a single hour. This was long enough for four coaster rides, and while that was far from satisfying it was nevertheless infinitely preferable to zero. There are probably some mitigating circumstances here, like the fact that I used a season pass to gain free admission, but I'd still urge readers retracing my steps to never do something quite so stupid.
Copperhead Strike (#2950) is a custom layout Mack launched coaster using the same basic technologies as those that premiered on Blue Fire back in 2009. The ride wasn’t the first of its type in the US (that accolade belongs to SeaWorld San Diego) but it was the first stateside model to go upside down. It is perhaps for this reason that the ride is operated with a mandatory locker policy, which in deference to the laws of Cedar Fair involves some nickel-and-diming: a two hour rental set me back $4. Having said that, readers should be aware that the inspection is visual rather than electronic, and as such those with non-obvious zip pockets (and money belts) may well be able to avoid the up-charge.
The ride has an unusually large queuing area that has been built without a bypass for quiet days. Around half of it comprises cattle grid, with the remainder giving a close-up perspective of the cutback inversion. The three trains are more or less the same as other recent Mack installations, though the pull-down lap bars feel a little different to the norm, perhaps because of the seatbelts that have been added to the standard specification. (It’s worth noting that just two of the fourteen extant examples of the type have seatbelts: this one and the new Steel Taipan in Australia. I rather suspect that the retrofit was inflicted on the park by a paper-pusher at an insurance company seeking to justify their existence, as they are most definitely not required.)
The experience begins with a slow heart line roll that I’d argue to be the weakest moment of the layout. It’s not particularly exciting, or for that matter comfortable; it’s almost as if there was a spare piece of track taking up space at the Mack factory that the park was able to buy at a discount. Fortunately things improve markedly from that point; the train pauses briefly in a themed shed before the LSMs kick in and accelerate the train into a vertical loop with quite a bit of hang time. Slow inversions are arguably the signature of the ride; all five are negotiated at a minimum pace. At the half way point a booster launch over an airtime hill (an interesting novelty) gives enough speed for the rest of the route.
Overall the ride is a respectable addition to the park, though I’d personally rank it in fourth place in the park’s roster after Fury 325, Afterburn, and Intimidator. Its Achilles’ heel is a definite rattle throughout the course; I’m not sure if the tracking was smooth when it premiered in 2019, but it definitely wasn’t today. I took three laps, two in the front and one in the back, and noticed no difference in comfort level between locations. I also resent the approach with lockers; I’ve paid to park, I’ve paid admission, and most of the time I’ll be paying for food too; why charge me even more because I happen to be carrying a bag? "Because we can" is not a customer-friendly answer.
With the new credit ticked off I made my way towards the front of the park for a token lap on the park’s best coaster. Six years after its premiere I’d argue that Fury 325 remains the best of the world’s Giga coasters by some margin for two reasons: it does something interesting with its height, and it’s long enough not to feel stunted. The brake run is still much higher in the air than it needs to me, and the train still hits it at a fair clip – but I suspect that may well be the lesser of two evils, as a slow finale would be significantly less impressive than what came before.