by Paul Ruben
The Shoot-the-Chutes first appeared in 1817 when the Jardin Ruggieri park in Paris introduced Saut du Niagara, or Niagara Jump. The ride featured a drop of more than 50ft. Paul Boynton popularised the ride he first called Shoot-the-Chutes at his Sea Lion Park at Coney Island in 1897.
Variations of this water ride have been with us ever since and we saw a flurry of construction in the US beginning in 1993 with 80ft drops at Cedar Point and Dorney Park, then a 100ft drop at Hersheypark, and finally a 115ft drop in 2000 on the Perilous Plunge at Knott’s Berry Farm. After that, no more appeared in North America, but Europe and China saw ‘Chutes introduced from Intamin, Mack, Golden Horse and others.
But it took a paradigm shift to re-ignite interest in the ‘Chutes. After ABC Engineering’s introduction of a vertical lift on its River Splash rides in Germany and Austria, Intamin re-imagined the ‘Chutes to employ two elevators lifting the boats skyward. Such a concept makes the traditional chain or conveyor lift redundant, saving space in the process. The first and so far only example? Pilgrims Plunge at Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari, Santa Claus, Indiana.
Pilgrims Plunge features a record-setting 131ft drop from a 165ft tower. Two elevator platforms move up and down a vertical lift that is bowed to allow the platforms to pass. The open-sided elevators are part of the fun.Guests are locked in their seats, where they can look over the edge of the boat and straight down. Vertigo, anyone?
But if Intamin can build a 131ft drop, you know they can build a taller one. Let the Shoot-the-Chutes Arms Race begin. They can build them taller. They can build them steeper. They can build them faster. But can they build them wetter?
Unlike earlier ‘Chutes that sent up a torrent of water, soaking both riders and onlookers, Pilgrims Plunge hydroplanes over the water before pushing its bow into the pool and eventually dampening riders. Don’t believe me? Is my shirt damp or what? Pilgrims Plunge is diabolical. It lulls riders into a false sense of security. They drop, hydroplane and, after a few sprinkles, think the worst is over. Wrong-O. The boat settles in and sends up a tsunami. It’s a deluge, a tidal wave, a mountain of water onto a boatload of happy screams. Yes, we’re soaked.
If you wish to join the Shoot-the-Chutes Arms Race, here’s my advice. Number one, spray the onlookers. No one should escape dry. Second, amp up the water on the riders so that it’s best ridden in a bathing suit. It’ll be the perfect ride on a hot, sunny day. Third, place the ride where both guests in both your ride park and your waterpark (if you have one) can board. That’s what they did at Holiday World, Hersheypark and Dorney Park. Finally, establish a new ‘Chutes height record. Makes sense, doesn’t it?