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Behind the thrills of Busch coasters


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From the Virginia Gazette:


Behind the thrills of Busch coasters


JAMES CITY— If coffee doesn’t give you enough of a jolt in the morning, try the behind-the-scenes roller coaster tour at Busch Gardens.


Roller coasters and how they work are relevant now that the Big Bad Wolf is closing down, not for safety reasons but for sheer obsolescence.


The by-reservation tour, which begins before the park opens to the public, is the ultimate inside ride for coaster fans.


On Friday morning, tourists from Baltimore and a television crew from “Good Morning America” set out to get behind the Loch Ness Monster, Griffon and Alpengeist.


“We’re big coaster fans,” said Fred Leary, explaining why his family had signed up. They had ridden nearly every ride already.


The opportunity to avoid standing in line might be worth the $75 for adults and $35 for kids under 14. (They aren’t allowed to go to the top of the Griffon, for safety sake.)


Visitors are given all the facts and figures while they get to see how the ride is operated and maintained. And ridden.


“We like to give them multiple rides, because on every one of our coasters, riding in the front is a completely different experience than riding in the back,” said Derek Bowie, director of park operations.


Friday’s group judged the Loch Ness as best experienced from the rear seats.


Each ride is unique. Tour guide Lindsay Morgan explained that the Loch Ness rides inside the rails instead of outside. She demonstrated how that worked in a maintenance shed with samples of the wheels, which bear the weight of the ride and guide wheels, which keep it on the rails.


By starting with the oldest and newest coasters, the tour shows how coaster technology has evolved. Bowie said that when the Loch Ness was built in 1978, each stanchion that supported it had to be placed within six feet of specifications. By the time Alpengeist came along in 1997, the stanchions had to placed within one-eighth inch of the specs. The Griffon’s design was computer-assisted.


That precision design of the newer rides is evident in the difference between the Loch Ness Monster and the Griffon. The Loch Ness feels like a roller coaster, the way it rattles and shakes. The Griffon is so smooth that it feels like riders are flying.


Then there are the breathtaking views. An elevator used by maintenance crews carries guests to the top of the Griffon’s 205-foot first drop. The platform is slightly higher, 210 feet. Morgan said it’s the highest point between Richmond and Virginia Beach.


From the wind-whipped platform one can see the James River to the south and appreciate the scale of the massive brewery next door. One also gets a birds-eye view of the operation of the parks’ other coasters as their multi-colored tracks intertwine far below. The 130-foot first drop of the Loch Ness is far less impressive from the top of the Griffon than when one is hurtling down it.


Busch spokesman Kevin Crossitt said the tour, offered for the first time this year, has proved very popular. Busch also offers behind-the-scenes tours of the trains and the care and feeding of the animals.


Want to go? The behind-the-scenes tours can be booked through the website at www.buschgardens.com. Choose the Special Offers tab and then Tours.



From under Alpengeist, coaster stanchions rise like a neon forest.

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