Troubling Trends: Roller Coasters

Ski resorts cash in on the amusement park pie with Alpine roller coasters

German-made, Weigand Sports’ Alpine coasters are making ski resorts the world over Grandma friendly! PHOTO: WiegandSportsUSA.com

Secret’s out, folks. The whole “came for the winter, stayed for the summer” trick is up. The Boston Globe spilled the beans last week on how good it is during the “secret” season in a ski town—summer. I mean, who would’ve thought? A ski resort without skiing and snow is, like, a plot of open space with hills, some trees, rows of mowed-down green shrubs. What are you going to do with that? Hike? I mean, how would you get down without your skis? Maybe there’s a man-made pond created to store water for snowmaking. At least you could swim in that.

Since the beginning of ski-resort time, execs locked up the lodge and let it sit empty for the off-season. With the exception of the few full-time employees who scored a contract with six month’s worth of “paid vacation,” the rest of us left the hill to work summer jobs in town. Then came the revelation that, hey, maybe those lodges would make good event centers?! Maybe we could rent the rooms in our faux European villages for conferences?! Maybe, we could even convince a bride to drop $40,000 to get hitched here?! The floodgates opened. Now every weekend a ski resort near you is booked with music in the park, movies in the park, festivals for dogs, festivals for crafts, festivals for yogis, and movies about music festivals for dogs doing yoga. As the Boston Globe says, “84 percent of ski areas now operate in the summer, up nearly 40 percent in the last five years.” Genius. But there’s another new trend in the summer ski resort business that is sure to bring in beaucoup bucks—roller coasters.

Now, I love a good roller coaster. When I was a kid, I dragged my dad all over Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, Ten Flags, and Great America to board every ride I could find. The twistier, the loopier, the better. Add in a water splash and some singing animals—I’m there. Roller coasters are the jolt of thrill a lazy summer vacation needs. Turns out, roller coasters are also the zap a ski resort’s finances need to come back to life during the off-season. This summer in particular was good for the roller coaster business—NPR says that 260 million people spend about $10 billion annually at regional theme parks. From the Alpine Coaster at Park City, Utah, to the Timber Ripper at Okemo, Vermont, ski resorts are cashing in on that pie with their very own German-made “tubular-steel rail systems.”

This is real, guys. Killington in Vermont is spending an estimated $2 to $3 million on a roller coaster to take riders down a 4,800-vertical-foot rip-roarin’ ride. Afterward, guests can venture into the High Ropes Course, the Zipline, and the Interactive Maze—if they dare. Across the country in California, Heavenly Ski Resort is building zip lines, rope courses, and yep—the Forest Flyer, a “vertical descent embraced by gravity and momentum with every twist, dive, dip, and turn.” (Sounds like skiing!) Now, I’m all for ski resorts diversifying themselves and operating a viable business, but roller coasters?! Only in the summer?!

Well, guess what. You can ride them in the winter, too. Here’s a video from Theme Park Review, the “#1 Theme Park & Roller Coaster Website on the Planet!”, from a guy testing out the Alpine Coaster at Park City in freezing temps in the snow. The coaster got good reviews. Here are a few standout comments:

“We are going balls out down this snowy mountain!”

“Helix of snowy death!”

“I fart on all you skiers going 60 miles per hour, in the snow!”

Wait, really? Isn’t skiing enough?