By Michael Mander
John Wardley revealed in his autobiography that he believed that a wooden coaster would be “absolutely perfect” for Alton Towers.
The ride designer has designed many of Merlin’s most successful rides including Vampire (Chessington), Saw (Thorpe Park), Nemesis and Air (Alton Towers). He announced his retirement last week, making The Smiler his final ride.
In the third edition of his autobiography: Creating My Own Nemesis, Wardley claims “a traditional woden coaster would be an absolutely perfect attraction for [Alton Towers], and would thrill young and old alike”. But Merlin are reluctant to install one because of the public view towards wooden coasters.
But: should Alton Towers get a wooden coaster? And are they really as unsafe and old as the public view suggests?
Wooden Coasters were once abundant in amusement parks across the globe, but began to decline with the rise in steel coasters. Unlike wooden coasters (or woodies), steel rollercoasters are cheaper to maintain in the long term. The major disadvantage of woodies is the inability to include inversions, steep hills or banked turns. In this superlative world of fastest, tallest and most loops, wooden coasters are left a step behind.
So what’s the appeal? The simplicity of a woodie means that any one can enjoy it, young or old. This principle means it is simply ideal for the broad audience of Alton Towers.
But there is a negative stigma attached to wooden coasters. The rattly nature means they tend to feel unreliable (though this is part of the appeal in providing a wild ride). A book by David Glover called “Roller Coaster” summarizes the belief many people have of wooden coasters: “Old roller coasters were made of wood. Sometimes the tracks caught fire. There were some terrible accidents. Now wooden rides are banned.”.
Of course, this isn’t true: but it offers an indication of people’s views on these coasters. Merlin knows about public fear of woodies and Nick Varney, Merlin boss, has been quoted as saying he sees the installation of a wooden coaster in a Merlin park unlikely.
Alton Towers actually considered opening a wooden roller coaster at one point. In 2003, plans were submitted for a wooden coaster with 200ft drops and a number of twists and turns around the woodland. The plans were withdrawn due to problems with the noise and height of the rollercoaster. Despite Alton Towers intentions to release a new plan, no further developments have been made.
While it is unlikely that Merlin will invest in a wooden coaster any time soon, the possibility is interesting. Personally, I think it would be a bad idea: but that may be because wooden coasters aren’t my favourite! We’d love to hear your views on Facebook and Twitter, and some of your responses will be shown below.