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State of the Arts: A New Kind of Wooden Coaster Twists and Turns at Cedar Point

Steel Vengeance is the world's tallest hybrid roller coaster.
Courtesy of Cedar Point
Steel Vengeance is the world's tallest hybrid roller coaster.

Roller coasters have long been separated into two types: wooden and steel. Wooden coasters often have rougher rides and aren’t typically racecar-fast. Steel coasters offer the twists, flips and sheer speed many thrill seekers live for. On this week’s State of the Arts we head to Cedar Point in Sandusky to ride Steel Vengeance, a new coaster that offers the best of both worlds.


What is a Hyper-Hybrid?
Steel Vengeance is what’s called a hybrid roller coaster. It combines a classic wooden structure, with a metal bed beneath the tracks for added rigidity.

"That technology has allowed them to make it go upside down, to do those inversions and to flip sideways and backwards and all different ways a wooden coaster can’t," Cedar Point's Director of Communication Tony Clark said. 

According to Clark, it's the metal support that made Steel Vengeance possible. It's what's called a hypercoaster, meaning it stands at least 200 feet tall. 

"This one is a hyper-hybrid. We had to create a whole new category (of roller coaster) because this one is just so big."

Steel Vengeance actually checks in at 205 feet, making it the tallest hybrid coaster in the world.

Building the Beast 
According to Cedar Point, Steel Vengeance can stand toe-to-toe with the biggest and baddest all-steel coasters around the world. But up until a few years ago, parks weren’t building hybrid coasters in such extreme ways.

Fred Grubb's Rocky Mountain Construction specializes in building hybrid roller coasters.
Credit Mark Arehart / WKSU
Fred Grubb's Rocky Mountain Construction specializes in building hybrid roller coasters.

That’s where Rocky Mountain Construction comes in. They built this coaster and specialize in hybrid technology.

"And it’s set several records. The fastest speed for this hybrid coaster, the steepest drop. Several records all kinds," RMC Owner Fred Grubb said. 

His company uses steel beams similar to those found in skyscrapers to create the base underneath the track in hybrid roller coasters. 

Before, designers used tubular steel that couldn't handle corkscrews and extreme drops, lagging far behind the thrills offered on all-steel roller coasters. 

But if you want speed, flips and extreme g-forces, why not just build an all-steel coaster to begin with? 

Breathing New Life Into Wood Coasters
"Well for the most part this (hybrid) process is done on an existing roller coaster that a park has," Tim Baldwin, communications director for American Coaster Enthusiasts said.

He’s part of a group of more than 5,000 members who travel the world riding roller coasters. 

Steel Vengeance checks in at 205 feet tall.
Credit Courtesy of Cedar Point
Steel Vengeance checks in at 205 feet tall.

"You know particularly when you have these huge, gigantic, large wooden coasters they seem very marketable and very fun. And they were great when they opened, but in time they were starting to really be maintenance demanding."

Much of the wooden base of Steel Vengeance actually was part of a coaster called Mean Streak, once the world’s tallest wooden roller coaster back in the early 90s.

Cedar Point isn’t revealing how much it cost to build Steel Vengeance, but does say it was cheaper to repurpose the aging Mean Streak, rather than tear it down and start from scratch.

And Baldwin thinks this has become a trend within the industry.

"I mean we’ve seen Six Flags do it for five or six times it started with (New) Texas Giant, then the Rattler down in San Antonio became Iron Rattler. Colossus at Six Flags Magic Mountain became Twisted Colossus."

In an industry built on one-upmanship, he doesn’t see Steel Vengeance’s title of being the tallest, fastest hybrid coaster being challenged anytime soon.

Mark Arehart joined the award-winning WKSU news team as its arts/culture reporter in 2017. Before coming to Northeast Ohio, Arehart hosted Morning Edition and covered the arts scene for Delaware Public Media. He previously worked for KNKX in Seattle, Kansas Public Radio, and KYUK in Bethel, Alaska.