Dollywood’s record-breaking wooden coaster was expected to shatter all expectations when it opened in April. The problem? It didn’t open until May, and then suffered from a series of issues with its launch system, causing it to shut down. Since then, Lightning Rod has been in and out of technical ride rehearsal, disappointing many enthusiasts who visited the park solely to catch a ride on the coaster. For me, this long summer of waiting proves that innovation comes at a cost.
What is innovation? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods. For decades, members of the amusement industry have been competing to build the world’s most innovative roller coasters. Each of these record-breaking rides has shaped the way we think of the modern roller coaster.
The addition of Magnum XL-200 to Cedar Point in 1989 began an era now known as the “Roller Coaster Wars,” during which parks competed to create the world’s tallest, fastest, and longest steel coasters. Once the records reached a certain point, it became evident that they couldn’t go much further without becoming potentially dangerous due to intense G-forces, and many feared we’d reached the end of the era.
Then, having reached the limit, the industry turned its attention towards wooden roller coasters. For many years, wooden coasters fell without exception into a stereotypical category of rough, predictable, and non-inverting rides. When Son of Beast’s first-of-its-kind vertical loop in 2000 proved to be a disaster, it was only further “proof” that wooden coasters couldn’t go upside-down. But Rocky Mountain Construction’s creation of Outlaw Run in 2013 proved everyone wrong, featuring not one, but THREE inversions.
In 2015, the company came back with their latest big idea – a launched wooden coaster. Dollywood loved the idea, and shelled out $30 million for the ride, making it their biggest investment yet. But the launch mechanism, like most of the new ideas before it, didn’t have all the kinks worked out yet. It had never been done before, but Dollywood and Rocky Mountain Construction were willing to try it anyways for the sake of innovation.
That’s what innovation is – risking everything to make something new and exciting, more than your average coaster. It’s what Arrow Dynamics did with Magnum XL-200 when they created the world’s first 200-foot coaster. It’s what Intamin did when they built the world’s first launched coaster. And it’s what Rocky Mountain Construction did with the world’s first looping wooden coaster. Each ride, whether it immediately succeeded or not, made a huge leap forward in coaster design. Each had its risks and challenges, but the manufacturers overcame them and set a new benchmark for future rides to improve upon.
Lightning Rod is the same way. Though it might be disappointing that it didn’t open on time, that’s totally okay. There’s always a risk of failure with each innovation, and I applaud Dollywood for taking that risk. Even if the ride is still closed when I visit the park next month, they have plenty of other rides to enjoy, and it will certainly be up and running in the future.
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