A classic roller coaster is never over the hill. Just look at Darien Lake.
This park has a history of being the first and the fastest. The Boomerang Coast to Coaster hurls you backward. The Mind Eraser, said to be New York State’s only suspended coaster, dangles you from the track, your feet in the air. The Moto Coaster was the first of its kind when it opened in 2008. It puts you on a motorcycle, and you zoom from 0 to 40 mph in a matter of seconds. If you’re a fan of traditional wooden coasters, they have a dandy –- the Predator. And the Ride of Steel, considered Darien Lake’s signature coaster, is the tallest in the state and tops out at over 70 mph.
But the granddaddy of them all is the Viper.
Opened in 1982, the coaster is old enough to boast the nostalgia factor. Western New Yorkers grew up riding it, and now they take their kids on it. A steel coaster, the Viper was the first to feature five inversions, i.e., loop-the-loops that turn you completely upside down. The ride is two minutes, 13 seconds long. Its biggest drop is 75 feet, and the speed tops out at 50 mph. Its manufacturer was Arrow Dynamics, a company that grew out of Arrow Development, which pioneered the log flume and also had a hand in such legendary Disneyland rides as Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and the Mad Tea Party. Coaster nuts refer to the Viper affectionately as one of the classic Arrow mega-loopers.
When the Viper rolls up, you realize up close that it looks like a snake. The sides are painted with green scales, and the train begins with a sleek snake nose. It looks like a snake, too, when you’re watching from beneath. It coils and pounces.
But there is a beauty to this creature.
“This is my favorite ride,” one dad declared, exiting the ride with his son. Taking their places in the back car, two of us from The News felt a bit of trepidation. I hadn’t ridden the Viper since I was in college. What would it be like?
We were brave, bringing up the rear. My dad, who had cut his teeth on the Crystal Beach Cyclone, had always sneered that the front car was for amateurs. Seek out the last car, he had advised. You get tossed around more there.
And sure enough. It started out calmly, rolling up the hill. Then all hell broke loose. The coils came out of the blue. We were flipped, flipped again.
Wham! We shot forward. Another loop approached, not that we saw it coming. Upside down, then upside down again. Then another loop. You had to brace yourself so your head didn’t slam against the headrest. I was laughing and gasping. I couldn’t breathe.
We zoomed into a tunnel. Everyone screamed, the screams comically magnified in the darkness. Then daylight again. Then the brakes. Then the end.
Now that was as ride. Later, we tried it in the front car.
Much as I loved the experience, I saw what my dad was getting at. In the front, the ride seemed smoother. You could see the loops coming up. It was great fun but it worked a different part of your brain. Let’s sum up your choices. If you want elegance and a visual thrill, go to the front. If you want a violent ride, as my dad apparently used to, entrust yourself to a back car.
Isn’t that what great art is about? You can look at it from different angles.
I am my father’s daughter, and I love the Predator, with its wooden tracks, its click-click-click ascent, its fast-forward steep drop, its rickety forward force. Eagerly trying the Ride of Steel, I thrilled to its high, steep hill, its skinny track, and the feeling it gives you of weightlessness.
But the Viper? That started it all. Once you ride it, you’ve been bitten.