Cedar Point’s newest coaster wows guests as they enter parkWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | email@example.com
SANDUSKY — Cedar Point’s newest record-breaking roller coaster is the tallest and longest of its kind in the world, but company leaders and ride enthusiasts alike say perhaps the biggest wow factor GateKeeper brings is the way it transforms the park’s main entrance.
GateKeeper’s first hill climbs 170 feet before making a sharp turn and diving 164 feet at speeds of up to 67 mph. Its 4,164-foot-long track also features a record six inversions, including a “near-miss” element where riders thread through two keyhole towers above the park’s main entrance.
“I’ve always thought we should have a roller coaster right at the front gate,” said Rob Decker, corporate vice president of planning and design for Cedar Fair Entertainment Company, which operates Cedar Point. “People screaming over the front gate while people are arriving — that’s going to be a really special thing for us.”
The $30 million GateKeeper is the fifth wing coaster in the world and the third in the U.S. The term refers to a design in which riders are suspended on either side of the track.
“There’s nothing above, nothing below you. It’s just amazing,” said Kim Jent, head of the structural design department at Bolliger & Mabillard (B&M), the Swiss company that designed GateKeeper.
The first wing coaster opened in Italy in 2011, followed by three in 2012: one in the United Kingdom, one at Dollywood in Tennessee and one at Six Flags Great America in Illinois. A sixth is under construction in China. All were designed by B&M, which also designed Cedar Point’s Raptor and Mantis.
Decker said B&M CEO Walter Bolliger told him several years ago about a new prototype coaster being developed for a theme park in Italy.
“From that moment on I knew we could get it, I knew we could get it at the front gate, and we could make something spectacular,” Decker said.
GateKeeper’s keyhole feature sets it apart from other wing coasters, Jent said.
“That’s unique,” he said. “I don’t know anywhere in the world that would have a coaster, any type of coaster, that would have such an impact on the main entrance to the park.”
The inspiration for the keyholes was the near-miss feeling riders get from the low beam on Gemini, Decker said.
“It’s that innate fear in everyone that says, ‘Logic says I’m going to make it, but all of sudden I’m right there and I’m going to duck my head just in case’,” Decker said.
“It’s a very acrobatic ride. It’s very dynamic because you’re out further away from the track and I think this experience is just so different than everything else we have.”
GateKeeper is special, agreed Matt Ouimet, president and CEO of Cedar Fair Entertainment Company.
“There are some coasters you want to ride once a day, some once a summer,” Ouimet said. “GateKeeper you want to get right back on.”
During Cedar Point’s media day on May 9, media and coaster club members from around the world got a chance to preview GateKeeper before the park’s May 11 season opener.
Rob Burtz of Indianapolis, a member of the Great Ohio Coaster Club, said he has ridden coasters in 22 states, but GateKeeper was his first wing coaster.
“It’s different,” Burtz said. “It’s the first time I’ve been on a coaster where you’re sitting outside the track like that. It’s really interesting.”
Western New York Coaster Club members Geff Ford of Auburn, N.Y., and Bob Wheeler of Rochester, N.Y., said they liked how each seat on GateKeeper offered a different experience.
“It’s remarkable how different a ride it is from one side to the other and from the front to the back,” Ford said.
Both agreed the biggest hill was most exciting from the front left seat, but the keyhole effect is best from the right side.
Jerry Fleming of Convoy, Ohio, said he loved “the feeling of flying out in the open.”
“That is something unique,” Fleming said. “I like that they went with the diving loop drop instead of a traditional over. That’s a completely different sensation. Especially sitting in the back, it’s kind of cool seeing the train tilting one at a time going over.”
The Great Ohio Coaster Club member proposed to his wife Leslie on the Magnum XL-200 and married her on The Voyage, a wooden coaster at Holiday World in Santa Claus, Ind.
The couple said they both enjoyed the front right side of GateKeeper best.
“It felt so much faster going through the keyholes,” Leslie said. “It was like, ‘Wow, this is like a different ride all around.’”
Fellow Great Ohio Coaster Club member Jesse Rose of Cleveland said his first wing coaster experience was Wild Eagle at Dollywood, Tenn., but he liked GateKeeper better.
“This one is more intense with a better layout,” Rose said. “The only thing I like more about Wild Eagle is you’re in the woods. But with the keyholes, there’s nothing like this. And that one is standard drop. This one right off the bat is already, ‘Uh oh!’”
Bob Urmanic of Elyria said GateKeeper was a great ride, but can’t compare to his favorite coaster, Millennium Force, which he rode 105 times in one day last May. Urmanic said GateKeeper would be his fourth favorite at the park and he hopes it will draw visitors away from his top three, Millennium Force, Top Thrill Dragster and Raptor, cutting down on wait times there.
Richie Anderson of Akron, a member of the American Coaster Enthusiasts and former Cedar Point seasonal employee, said he still likes Magnum XL-200 more than GateKeeper, but he loves what the new coaster adds to the front of the park.
“It’s a fantastic first impression for the park,” Anderson said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
In his 40 seasons at Cedar Point, Vice President and General Manager John Hildebrandt has witnessed the unveilings of many new roller coasters, starting with Corkscrew in 1976.
“It’s a great list and one we’re very proud of at Cedar Point, but the excitement surrounding GateKeeper exceeds any of these roller coasters,” Hildebrandt said. “This one is very special.”
GateKeeper is Cedar Point’s 16th coaster and its first new one since Maverick in 2007.
“It’s an incredible experience,” Hildebrandt said. “You really are flying. It does feel weird, I think, to look down and not see a track. It’s over there to your left or your right depending on where you’re sitting.”
The track rails are filled with sand to keep noise down, Jent said. Several seats are designed with “comfort fit” seats for riders of wider girths, Decker said.
Many coaster enthusiasts said they liked GateKeeper’s unique harness, which fits like a vest, holding riders snug and keeping their heads away from the shoulder harness.
Workers broke ground for GateKeeper in October and placed the final piece of track Feb. 28.
The $30 million project involved more than 100 workers, primarily from Ohio companies, including A.A. Boos & Sons of Oregon, Firelands Electric Cooperative of Sandusky and S.A. Comunale in Fremont. Clermont Steel Fabricators of Batavia in southern Ohio built the steel pieces and Cincinnati firm Tony Ravagnani Architects designed the platform station.
Disaster Transport and Space Spiral were demolished last summer to make room for the new coaster.
“We take a look at ridership and people vote with their feet,” Decker said. “I liked Disaster Transport. I think it played a really strong role for younger people before they get onto the bigger coasters, so we have plans to backfill and do a better experience for that height range and just make it a better experience overall.”
During his remarks on May 9, Ouimet hinted about more upcoming changes at Cedar Point, saying cryptically that Decker had been given another challenge.
“More to follow” was all he would say, despite groans and pleas from the gathered coaster enthusiasts. When asked if a new kids’ ride was what Ouimet had been hinting about, Decker just smiled.
“I will say nothing about that,” he said.
Returning for a second season, interactive walk-through exhibit Dinosaurs Alive! features 50 life-size animatronic dinosaurs. Cost is $5 with park admission.
Cedar Point is open daily through Sept. 2, and weekends through Oct. 27. Single day adult tickets are $44.99 online or $54.99 at the gate.
For more information, visit cedarpoint.com.