by Paul Ruben
Amusement parks used to be a summertime diversion, a place for children and their families go when the school year concluded. No more.
In recent years parks have extended their “shoulder season,” often right through to Halloween. A few warm-weather parks, and even some not-so-warm-weather parks, even stay open until Christmas and New Year.
In Northern Europe, particularly Scandinavia, winter openings are increasing in popularity every year. At Hunderfossen in Norway you can visit their “Vinterparken” as late as February and stay in an ice hotel – like a nice hotel only colder.
And now the trend is catching on in the United States. This past year Six Flags extended its Holiday In The Park event to its northernmost property yet, The Great Escape. Located midway between New York City and Montreal, in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountain, it snows there in December.
So here’s what I’m thinking. I can dress for the cold. I can bundle up. I can go to The Great Escape and ride one of my favourite rollercoasters, the Comet. I know that when the coaster track is wet the trains run faster. When the track is coated with ice I can only imagine how fast the trains will fly.I take my big down-filled parka and climb in the car. Actually, the parka is so big I don’t fit behind the wheel. I’ll put it on when I get there. And the gloves, and the boots, and the sweaters, plus hats and ear muffs. And thermal underwear (too much information?). I can do this and not get cold. I’m a northern boy.
I arrive and find that while the park is open, the Comet is closed for the season. Should have checked. But all is not lost. The Great Escape does have snow tubing. I’ll get my gravity fix there. Almost the same. Dressed in my parka and all that warm clothing, I plop into the tube and scoot down the hill. This is fun, but now I can’t get out of the tube. In all these clothes I’m like a beached whale. I get a hand up, and decide to see what else is part of Holiday In The Park.
There are several flat rides operating, and the park’s train and sky ride. Guests ice skate on what is normally the bumper car pavilion. The park is decorated with Christmas lights, visitors find Santa Claus, reindeer, roasted chestnuts and a variety of shows. You don’t need global warming to heat up, just step into one of the theatres and be entertained.
Can a northern park extend its shoulder season to the end of the year? Judging from the guests at The Great Escape, yes. Visitors dressed appropriately for the weather. The midway was comfortably full, there were lots of things to see and do. The Great Escape took on a different aura for this event, it was a winter wonderland, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. Just don’t expect to ride a coaster.