Remember when your high school physics teacher illustrated potential and kinetic energy using a roller coaster as an example? (I recall the difference between the two energies — to this day — by visualizing coaster tracks.) Since high school kids and roller coasters go together like Internet videos and cats, it's a smart route to take if you're an instructor, and it's those same physic lessons that have led to some incredible advances in roller coaster design over the last 20 years — and also what looks like the physical limits of propelling people in cars along tracks. Yes, it's true: we may have gone as far as we can with roller coaster design.
However, a great ride means different things to different people; I love wooden coasters, and then there are others who like steep drops, lengthy drops, longer overall rides, or flipping upside-down as much as possible. But whatever you're into, it's probably because you love the adrenaline rush of the ride, and the euphoria that lasts for minutes or longer after a great roller coaster experience.
Whether you are into adrenaline, or prefer to watch from your computer, point of view or POV videos are a great way to approximate what a ride is like. So full-screen these below, sit back, and enjoy the creativity, the innovation, the incredible physics (and of course the screams) that allow almost anyone over 54" tall to enjoy a crazy ride like those below — very safely.
1. Kingda Ka
At 456-feet tall with a 416-foot drop from the first hill, the Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey is one of only two Strata roller coasters (those dropping over 400 feet). Not only is it crazy-tall, but it has the longest initial drop. It may be a short ride, but the combination of the intense drops along with the immediate twists makes this one look absolutely terrifying. (This first video takes a moment to get started. Anticipation is half the fun.)
2. El Toro
The El Toro roller coaster, also at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey, is the second-fastest wooden coaster in the world, reaching 70 mph speeds. When it comes to wooden coasters, there aren't many with loops, since wood won't torque and maintain strength like metal can. But even without twisting upside-down, this coaster really brings it in terms of speed, competing with metal coasters on that level. And there's nothing like the bounciness of wood to truly scare you!
3. Intimidator 305
The Intimidator 305 coaster at Kings Dominion park in Virginia goes up to 90 mph in the first drop — as you'll experience in the video above. It's considered a Giga coaster, which is a roller coaster that drops over 300 feet, of which there are only four in the world.
4. Sky Scream
The Sky Scream coaster at Holiday Park in Germany (new for 2014) is included in this list because I've never seen a ride do what this one does at the start; an original take on the first minute, plus some really odd combinations I haven't seen before. Not the tallest and not the loopiest, this coaster scares with strangeness. You have vertical twists going up, vertical twists going straight down, you have loops and 360-degree horizontal twists; the result is "an incredible mix of different experiences packed into one ride,” Jim Seay, president of Premier Rides (which built the ride), told In Park magazine.
The wooden Goliath coaster at Six Flags Great America in Illinois (which just opened in June) is one of the few made from wood that can go upside-down (though they are spirals, not the giant loop-de-loops that steel coasters can achieve). Fans of this ride insist it's plenty terrifying, with an 180-foot drop and speeds up to 72 mph, which means it now holds the record for fastest wooden roller coaster in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. It also holds the records for longest drop, at 180 feet, and steepest drop, at 85 degrees, for a wooden coaster.
6. Formula Rossa
The fastest roller coaster in the world is the Formula Rossa, at Ferrari World in the UAE. And there's only a lap-restraint keeping you in (no over-the-shoulder belt or bar). While it doesn't have any giant hills, loops or inversions, if it's pure speed you're into, this one hits 149 mph, and riders experience the same g-forces that Formula 1 drivers do.
The Colossos coaster at Heide Park in Germany is the highest of the wooden coasters, at 197 feet. Not only does it look like a crazy first couple of drops, but riders get a great view of the German countryside along the way.
8. Steel Dragon
The Steel Dragon at Spaland in Japan has held the world's record for longest ride since 2000. You can tell from this video, which is over three minutes long (and mostly ride) that this isn't like the 45-second or minute-fifteen roller coasters. So buckle in and get comfy; you'll be riding the dragon for almost double the typical ride time.
The Banshee at Kings Island in Ohio has the honor of being the world's longest inverted roller coaster, which means that instead of sitting in a coaster car, you are hanging from the track above you with your legs swinging free. Over 4,000 feet long, with seven inversions, this ride looks pretty terrifying.
OK, this last one isn't a wooden or steel coaster — it's a water slide. But at 168 feet, the Verruckt is taller than the Statue of Liberty. Since you're sitting in a plastic tube-boat (sans any type of restraint system) and not a car, you'll have to climb up 264 stairs to access the top of the ride. While early tests with sandbags subbed for people flew out of the slide, delaying the ride's opening this past spring in Schlitterbahn water park in Kansas, the engineers seem to have worked the problem out — the ride officially opened on July 11.
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