Despite the fact that the essence of a rollercoaster ride is feeling out of control, there is one version of coasters, the mountain coaster, that puts the rider in control. Paul Ruben visits a ski resort in Pennsylvania to test a new system.
On a mountain coaster, each vehicle comes with its own hand brake so riders can control their speed. They can ride serenely and sedately down the mountainside at a leisurely pace, or they can ignore the hand brake and – like a bobsled on rails – fly down the mountain, slowed only by the occasional cart in front of them. Either way, such rides are gaining in popularity, at a variety of different kinds of venue.
There are now more than 150 mountain coasters around the world (nine in the US), with more being built each year. Because of their relatively low capacity they have appeared mostly in ski resorts and fun centres. German suppliers Wiegand, Brandauer and Erbschloe have been joined more recently by a new manufacturer, the US-based Aquatic Development Group (ADG).
The first ADG installation (pictured) is now open at CBK Mountain Adventures, part of the Camelback Mountain Resort in Tannersville, Pennsylvania, and it comes complete with a number of safety features. Get too close to the cart in front of you and the brakes will automatically come on. Take your seat belt off, and again the brakes will come on for protection
Barrelling down the mountain at high speed, it offers a wild and breathtaking ride. Keeping the hand brakes unengaged we felt out of control, the sure sign of a thrilling coaster ride. Then, as we approached the cart ahead of us, the collision avoidance system worked like a charm. It automatically slowed our descent as we approached the cart ahead of us and stopped us dead in our tracks. Three times. Playing bumper cars was not an option.
The Aquatic Development Group (ADG) acquired the assets of Alpine Products in 2011. This acquisition expanded ADG’s portfolio of revenue-producing products for ski resorts, mountain attractions and aquatics-based recreation and leisure facilities (Camelback also operates a summer waterpark).
Founded by Stig Albertsson, Alpine Products’ roots were in manufacturing alpine slides for the ski industry. Its first slide installed at Bromley Mountain, Vermont, in 1976 is still in operation today.
In 2010, Alpine introduced the first US-manufactured Alpine Mountain Coaster, at Attitash Mountain Resort in New Hampshire. It was the only mountain coaster to incorporate speed restrictors, collision avoidance systems, brake lights and audible warning alarms. Prefabricated to require little to no field-welding, the stainless steel construction is engineered to accommodate all manner of mountain terrain.
Camelback’s Mountain Coaster consists of 4,500ft (1,372m) of modular stainless steel track that’s 38ft (12m) up at its highest point, with two vast 360º turns and a total vertical drop of 350ft (107m). The coaster is a year-round attraction that provides amazing visibility of the mountains, skiers, swimmers, bungee jumpers, zip liners and more.
“The Mountain Coaster is on a low impact track that is staked to the ground, providing an environmentally friendly, ecologically-sound experience,” explains Ken Ellis, president of ADG and also co-owner of Camelback Mountain Resort. “This is the wilderness and it’s important to keep it that way.”
A steel rope pulls each two-seater cart up the ski slopes of Camelback on the track. The ascent takes about five minutes. Then, as you get to the top, gravity takes over, but you control the speed and the brakes as you head down, gaining maximum speeds of 25 to 30 mph (40 to 48kmh). It carries from 150 to 220 riders per hour.
Adding the Mountain Coaster was an easy decision, says Ellis: “In 2010 Camelback opened CBK Adventure Park with ropes course and zip lines. We thought the Mountain Coaster would be a perfect addition. We are a very interactive resort; people want to enjoy the outdoors, they want to recreate and be entertained and the Mountain Coaster is an ideal product for that. It appeals to all ages, I’ve seen grandparents over 80 taking their grandkids with them and having a great time!”
Mountains of fun
ADG’s new Mountain Coaster was part of $3 million (€2.4m) expansion to CBK Mountain Adventures in 2012. It follows a similar investment the previous season at Camelbeach Mountain Waterpark, which operates from late May through until early September. Other attractions at the Camelback Mountain Resort include winter skiing and snow tubing, a pair of 4,000ft (1.2km) Zip-Flyers, twin 1,000ft (305m) zip lines, six treetop adventure courses, mountain Segway tours, plus a Hummer tour to the top of Camelback Mountain. A 453-room Camelback Mountain Resort Hotel, complete with a 120,000 sq ft (11,148 sq m) indoor waterpark, will open soon.