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Kennywood no longer boasts the most coasters of any park. Several others have surpassed the Pittsburgh park recently. But Kennywood still has three of the top 15 woodies, the number one hyper, the top indoor coaster, and a state of the art LMS inverter. Beautifully designed, meticulously maintained, smooth, comfortable, and well run, this is an impressive collection. KW has always had that magnificent terrain advantage. The park is built high on a horseshoe shaped plateau with ravines and cliffs dropping off on three sides.

It could place flat rides, landscaping and even a lake out on the level and drop the coasters off the edges. This makes KW coasters mysterious, since you can't see the ride until you're on it, and even taking good photos is a real challenge. (Over the years, hundreds of enthusiasts have gotten in trouble with security for climbing over fences, scrambling along cliffs or sneaking in maintenance gates to get photos.) It gives KW coasters that marvelous twist of dropping off the cliff right out of the station and then climbing up a lift hill sometime later. It also makes maintenance somewhat easier because with less wooden superstructure, there is less flexing and less wood to keep up. Then the new Skycoaster sits right at the front entrance, partially hidden in trees, popping into view at the top of its loops as you walk toward the entrance tunnel, then roaring through its corkscrews at you as you emerge from the tunnel into the park.

Kennywood's coasters use no gimmicks. They don't splash down on water, go underground, roar through the station halfway in, or expose you to hissing animatronics. They rely on old fashioned gravity, hard core speed and air time. There's no braking action along the way and the seats and restraints are old school. Purists insist this is roller coastering as it was meant to be.

Jackrabbit. #15. Every modern roller coaster---Beast, Legend, Mean Streak, Voyage, Thunderhead, all of them --- traces its ancestry back to this ravine runner. Because it was the upstop wheel that made all things possible, and Jackrabbit debuted the upstop. To make the point in dramatic fashion, Miller designed the famous double dip. By the physics of the day it was impossible to keep the trains on the tracks with such a maneuver. People crowded the picnic shelter, noses pressed to the screen windows, to figure out how the wheels stayed on the tracks. 82 years later –- really --- on a hot humid evening when the Jackrabbit is running at full speed, it’s still the greatest air in coasterdom. Art Deco trains. Precisely tracked, every joint ground to a feather edge, oiled and greased like a race car, this priceless classic fulfills its promise. Fixed lap bars and plush seats. The tunnel is a standard feature now, but when Jackrabbit introduced it, riders found it disorienting. Outfitted with magnetic brakes in 2002. The ride is deceptive in that most of it is hidden from view. The structure is only 40 feet tall, but the drop is 70 feet, using the ravine. An ACE Coaster Classic. Elegant design squeezes more ride into a very small space than any other full sized coaster. Anticappointment ? Not here. Like its brother Thunderbolt across the park, the Jackrabbit glides out of the station and drops immediately into the ravine. It resurfaces, screams around the turn and drops back in a second time before finally climbing the lift hill to a vantage point atop the station.
There are no tricks here. Century old Jackrabbit doesn't use quick direction changes or intense laterals. It gives you straight drops, turns around, and lines up more straight drops. Out and back. The thrill is in the speed and descent. This is a great family coaster, a great first adult coaster for children who have maxed out their fun on kiddieland rides and the Kangaroo. But because of early safety restraints, built before modern liability paranoia, rugrats need parents along. This is, after all, a real coaster, and that double dip airtime is not to be taken lightly. There are also no brakes restraining the train coming around the bends, and this antique still smokes on hot summer evenings. If you want a mild vintage coaster, go to Camden Park. Jackrabbit still has a kick.
Racers. #10. One track wrapped around itself, coming through the station twice. Two trains, neck and neck for 2250 feet. 50 pounds one way or the other determines the winner. No silly gimmicks, like running one train backward. 72 feet of structure, plus the ravine. 77 years of silky smooth breakneck racing. Still the crowds come. High school and college students, little old ladies, mothers with children, teenyboppers and ACE veterans line up under the classical 1920s façade. Twice voted the most beautiful design of any American coaster, seen from the air this is a geometric masterpiece. Teenagers still spend hours trying to figure out how the trains reverse tracks. Whatever Kennywood pays the maintenace engineers on this ride, it’s not enough. Carowinds should hire them at double their salary. This ride alone is worth a KW trip.
Thunderbolt. #5. The greatest ravine runner of all time. Still the #5 woodie in the world. Opened as John Miller’s Pippin in 1924, retracked by Andy Vettel in 1968. Drops straight from the station down the cliff. You don’t need a lift hill when the City of Pittsburgh stretches out below you like a model train layout. With the Turtle circling to your left and Phantom diving under, over and through your trackage, the dive into the ravine can be disorienting enough. THEN you come up for air and hit the Spaghetti Bowl, a double circle of The Potato Patch (a famous French fry counter) and the waiting line. By the time you drop back off the cliff one more time, you’re wondering why all the fuss about Legend and Thunderhead. This is the only coaster in the world with the longest drop at the END of the ride. The reason nobody else can build another coaster like this is because nobody else has an amusement park built on the edge of a cliff.
Phantom’s Revenge. #1 hyper in America. Magnificent steel monster, flashing around and through Thunderbolt and Turtle trackage and into and out of wooded ravine. Airtime. Intense laterals. Inversion fans will look elsewhere, but sheer speed freaks can ride this all day. That plunge down through the Thunderbolt combines headchopper effect, the river and Pittsburgh far below spreading out into the distance, heavy tree cover closing in on both sides, and the Turtle circling up and down to the right in a very disorienting sensation. For half of the ride, this could be considered the world’s only terrain steeler. If they’d stop the train, the photos of the city from the top of the lift hill would be award winners. Just when you think you’re finished, you hit the series of dips for the final feast of airtime. What an incredible experience. In the photo to the right, that long green device extending all the way down to the base of the cliff is not a support. That's the track. You're plunging straight down that track. That railroad way down there is the Thunderbolt. Hang On.
Exterminator. #1. The best indoor coaster in America. This is basically a Riverchon Spinning Wild Mouse on steroids, running in the dark inside a three story building, with extensive theming and cars that spin as they dip and turn. Usually has the longest lines in the park. We love rodent coasters and dark rides, so we should love this. We’d love it a lot more if they upholstered the hard plastic seats to absorb some of the forces as you spin and drop. Whiplash is a real concern here. In the dark riders cannot anticipate car movement and lean or brace accordingly. Veteran riders learn to grab one of the two inside seats on the four seat bench. The outer seats experience more of the whipping motions. If riding this is one of your top priorities, we suggest entering the park at opening and heading straight for Exterminator. By afternoon, the hour long lines have backed up, and they stay that way until closing. Beware of the fact 90% of the line is que'd around inside the building, so you can't judge your wait from outside appearances. The extensive theming extends outside the building with barricades, vans, hoses, etc.
Skycoaster replaced Kennywood's beloved Turnpike just to the right of the entrance tunnel. It's a short but wild ride, featuring barrel rolls and inversions. This is the 2010 extreme of the Linear Synchronous Motor technology, which rockets the trains upward at 0 to 50 in less than three seconds. Probably the most appealing aspect of this steelie is the comfortable seats. You can reride it several times without fear of a headache or nausea, despite going upside down and around in a cork screw numerous times. This is a short ride and compact layout but has received rave national reviews due to comfort and intensity. These are MUCH more comfortable cars than those on Superman and Rock n Roll, the other coasters across the nation with similar features. The 95 foot vertical and 90 foot drop come right out of the station and the barrell rolls and second inversion follow in quick succession. The last part of the ride is relatively mild, a series of bunny hops, which allows your heartrate to slow down before you pull back into the station. This is a great addition to the Kennywood coaster family, filling a badly needed niche for those lovers of inversions and high Gs. Kennywood assures us the Turnpike will return soon at another location.
Technically, the launcher shoots you from 0-50 mph in three seconds up a 95 feet high Top Hat, which the riders at left are just rounding. You also scream through an inside top hat (above), a barrel roll and a corkscrew, plus assorted zero gravity drops and pullouts and finish up with bunny hills to slow you down heading back into the station. The LMS launcher is a neat touch, giving the coaster a 21st Century edge, but its real advantage is it allows the park to fit a major coaster into a small area, since the long lift hill is the biggest space consumer of any traditional coaster. Another neat feature of Sky Rocket is its compact two car trains. In addition to being the most comfortable coaster trains in operation, they help give the ride its amazingly smooth feel. However, even though Kennywood operates two trains, their small capacity adds to the long lines. On a typical day, plan on a 45 - 60 minute wait. Back on the bright side, the comfort and smoothness of the ride means you can do consecutives any time the lines are down, like in threatening weather or just as the park opens at 11 a.m.
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