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Monday, April 7, 2003 10:05 AM
I was in town for a conference in San Francisco, and decided to tack on an extra day to visit SFMW to start my season. The forecasts had been for consistent rain throughout the day, so I was not sure whether I would be riding, or just dropping by to buy a Six Flags pass. Luckily, the folks at the Weather Channel were pessimistic as always. It was chilly (never much above 55 or 60), but mostly sunny all day. The park was almost empty, even with a few schools on physics-day-style trips. Longest waits were about 20-30 minutes mid-afternoon for a one-train Roar and a one-train Kong. Everything else was basically a walk-on, with at most 2-3 train waits for the front/back seats. Rides were so easy to come by that I had spun myself nearly sick well before closing, despite several breaks for shows. However, the lack of people in the park sapped some of the electricity one usually finds.

First impression: Look, Pa! It’s the Valley of the Coasters! (Apparently) due to height restrictions, almost all of the coasters are in the front third of the park; the sole exception is a Boomerang about halfway back. The remainder of the park holds flats (many of which were closed) and animal attractions. This makes for an impressive entry, but gives the park a very split personality. The adrenaline fiends are all up near the front, and the families/kids/etc. are scattered throughout the remainder. The park is wide, but not particularly deep; it is a longish walk to get from Medusa/Kong to Roar/Vertical Velocity.

Best coaster: Medusa. A fantastic floorless looper. The station/queue area are well-themed, the remainder is Parking Lot Chic. As others have commented, the floorless thing is a bit lost on me except when riding in the front, and I think the inverted effect (e.g. Kong) is more terrifying. However, the elements more than make up for it. The zero-G roll packed the best punch for me. Most of my rides were in the front, though I took one spin in the back. The clear field of vision and plenty-exciting forces in the front made this the money seat for me. Two-train operation with only moderate to minimal stacking. Loud modern/alternative rock in the station to liven things up.

Biggest (pleasant) surprise: Kong. This was my first SLC, and I was riding it with some trepidation and low expectations. They were only allowing one trainload of people into the aisle queues at a time, so seating was luck of the draw, but I drew an Ace with a front seat. Maybe the front is smoother, but I don’t see what all the complaints are about---no major jostling, and the compact layout gives plenty of convincing footchoppers, particularly in the second half. Single-train operation, and could have used the second mid-day.

Others I rode: Roar and Vertical Velocity. (Boomerang was testing early, but not taking passengers when I was in the neighborhood. I skip the family/kiddie coasters unless I’m with my kids.) Roar was actually somewhat disappointing. It’s a good looking ride, and definitely a member of the wooden twister family, but is a bit thin on the forces for my tastes. The laterals were decent, but the airtime was all but missing. The ride may run better in warmer weather, though; it was pretty chilly all day long. I seemed to be getting better air in the front than the back. Vertical Velocity was a ton of fun, if now mis-named. I haven’t ridden a “normal” impulse, but the 45’ angle on the front spike made things interesting; in the front seat, you stall out while upside down. Front and back seats were both fun, but I thought the extra twistage in front made up for the better forces up the rear spike in back.. The restraint was a tight fit, but a fit nevertheless (6’, 235). Time to drop a few of my winter wine-with-dinner pounds. I'm not sure if it was due to short cycle-time, or a lack of interest, but V2's lines never approached Kong or Roar.

Biggest disappointment: lots of stuff was closed, from food outlets to flats to the main aquatic stadium. Probably the right thing to do given the crowds, but I’ll need to go back to get the true flavor of the park. Luckily, I have two more in-season business trips to the Bay Area planned.

Distinguishing feature: I really like the mixture of animal/aquatic park and ride park. There are just enough coasters to give a decent variety, but the strength of the park is clearly the animal exhibits and shows. The dolphin and tiger shows were very cool, and the ski show was worth seeing. The butterfly exhibit is one of the most relaxing things I’ve ever done in an amusement park, except nap! An environmental/conservation focus was present throughout the park.

Early-season shenanigans: Clearly, the Roar operators are still getting the hang of things. On my second train out, a forward op saw someone’s seat belt open, and was yelling to the operator in the rear to stop the train. The only problem was that she had her thumb up in the air. She didn’t signal a stop until just after the train cleared the last station brake. One e-stop on the lift, plus a walkback by another op for belt check, plus a maintenance restart, and we were on our way. Later that day, some moron lost his mini-basketball, which promptly wedged between the track and a brake caliper just after the train was dispatched. The operator looked pretty flustered, waving her hands in the air wondering what to do. I suspect she would have figured it out eventually, but it was suggested that she e-stop the ride. Finally, Medusa was down for a few hours in late afternoon; someone I met in the Roar queue told me he saw a large bolt that looked like it probably belonged to the ride underneath the track, and told the operator about it. Must not have been too serious, as the ride re-opened later.

All in all, it was a fine trip. I’m looking forward to going back to see the park in full swing later this season. Makes today's Michigan snowstorm just a bit more tolerable.
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http://www.eecs.umich.edu/~bnoble/

*** This post was edited by Brian Noble 4/7/2003 2:06:16 PM ***

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