Alpine coasters have become surprisingly popular in recent years, with the original developer, Wiegand, picking up the majority of the business. These rides are not unlike roller coasters, although there is one substantial difference, namely that the rider controls his or her maximum speed at all times. To that end, they're not credits in my book, though as I'm fond of saying, it's your list; count what you like.
The longest alpine coaster in the world (currently) is Alpine Coaster Imst, with a total track length of 3535 metres. Rather than subject riders to a lift hill for the duration of the ride, which would quickly become uncomfortable, oncoming passengers travel to the start of the ride in a ski lift. This journey takes a full fifteen minutes, which should give the reader an idea of how long the descent actually is. A sign at the outset gives the ride specifications, including a time of nine minutes to travel to the bottom. This time, however, was estimated based on what the general public might do. It is quite far removed from what a group of coaster enthusiasts are capable of!
I decided to film the entire descent on my first ride, and the requirement to use one hand to steady the camera restricted my maximum speed somewhat. Nevertheless, I still managed a time of just under six minutes, and that was achieved without any real effort. On my second go, I concentrated on speed, and managed a time of five minutes ten seconds. The limiting factor for me was weight, as the centrifugal braking system on the sled which limits the maximum speed peeled off a little more speed than necessary in places, which I did not have the momentum to maintain.
On my third and final ride, I took advantage of the obvious solution and asked Luke to occupy the front seat of my sled rather than take his own. The two of us going at full pelt managed to hit the five minute mark exactly. As things worked out, it was fortunate Luke was on board. This genius of an author was concentrating on his stopwatch as we approached the end of the course, and it was only the screamed "Brake!!" that prevented a high speed impact. A lucky escape, and one I am not overly proud of, but something I feel important to document lest other people pushing the limits do something similar in future!
19th July 2005
Serlesbahnen Mieders was an unannounced stop on the trip, and in all honesty it was such an obscure location that I doubt anyone other than the organisers saw it coming. Regular coaster trip participants are of course well used to surprise stops, but most (myself included) don't look beyond RCDB for possible targets. It is fair to say that I wasn't overly enthusiastic about another alpine coaster; while fun, the rides don't do a whole lot for me. However, this thought quickly dissipated when the slide came into view; the track looked to be phenomenally steep!
Like the Imst slide earlier in the day, riders were transported to the top of the ride in a ski lift. This was, however, the only real similarity between the two attractions. Sommerrodelbahn was a Brandauer model, showing somewhat less refinement than the Wiegand design and operating on a single rail. The sleds, however, were similar. I eagerly sat on board, fastened my seatbelt, and released the brake lever.
The experience I found unfolding in front of me could best be described as absolutely insane. There were several substantial drops, of ten to twenty feet, which would not have been out of place on a Roller Coaster, and experiencing these on an open sled was quite something. I was lucky enough to have a clear run all the way down and managed not to apply the brake although I must admit I was sorely tempted in a few places. Though less than half the length of the ride we had experienced earlier in the day the layout was far more exciting, and bordering on frightening in places, especially at full throttle.
We were all ready to go when Justin announced that any of those who wanted to ride a second time should go do so right now. Not needing to be told twice, I made straight for the cashier and handed over the nine euro admission fee. Unfortunately, my second ride was spoilt completely by several guests who chose to drive their sleds far more slowly than the ride allowed. The first of these was a twelve year old child in the car in front of me. I let him get a head start of ninety seconds much to the consternation of the ride operator at the top, who insisted I should go. It wasn't enough; I caught up with him about a quarter of the way through the course. When this happened, I applied the brake fully and stopped completely, and stayed there, parked, for two full minutes by my stopwatch. That turned out not to be enough either; I caught him up a second time. I parked again, but had to move when I heard a convoy approaching behind me. It wasn't long before we had ten or so cars moving down the track in procession behind one slow driver. He wasn't the worst, though. Moments later, we caught up with another convoy, this time consisting mostly of club members but with one really slow child at the front. Something approaching thirty cars arrived at the end of the track separated by about five metres apiece.
This is the major problem with alpine slides that as yet the designers have not worked out how to solve. One person driving slowly can spoil things for everyone else, and at nine euro a pop such an experience is deeply frustrating. There are a number of possible solutions to the problem. Several I thought of quickly include:
Removing the controls from the braking system, so that all cars run at the same speed.
A minimum age restriction, although this probably wouldn't work as older people can drive slowly too.
Sensors on the track so that the ride operator at the top can see the positions of the cars and prevent another dispatch until the track is clear in the event of a hold up down below.
Either way, I would love to come back here, preferably for an ERS with enthusiasts only so there are no holdups mid-course!