Hey there, Boys and Girls! With all apologies to the Children's Television Workshop, today's Ride Review is brought to us by the numbers 255, 61, and 85, and the letter G!

Can you think of words that begin with the letter G? That's right, there's Giovanola... And Goliath... And, our favorite, G-force. Let's begin with Giovanola.

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Founded by Joseph Giovanola in 1888, this Monthey, Switzerland-based enterprise started out as a small metal forging shop. Over a century later, Giovanola Frères SA is now a tremendous industrial concern, employing over 300 designers, engineers and factory workers at its 115,000-square-meter plant. As you might guess, the company is engaged in far more than the fabrication of thrill rides. With gargantuan welding and fabrication equipment, Giovanola has helped construct electrical power stations, water storage tanks and pipelines, highway bridges, dryers and filtration systems for the chemical, pharmaceutical and food industries, and much, much more.

But in recent decades they've also worked behind the scenes to fashion steel into a variety of major rollercoasters, freefall towers and assorted rides for other companies, including Bolliger & Mabillard and Intamin (As a matter of fact, both Messrs. Bolliger and Mabillard were once engineers at Giovanola). And in 1998, Giovanola began to directly market themselves as suppliers of thrill rides; as Giovanola's recent trade ad states, "Someone told us it was time to let the world know where many of the world's greatest rides originate. After all these years, we think they are right." Darn tootin'.

So what did Giovanola create to introduce themselves to those of us here in America? They coulda started with something reasonable. They coulda built something moderate.

But that's not what they were hired to do.

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On the morning of February 10th, 2000, I drove north on Interstate 5 towards Six Flags Magic Mountain, a route I've traveled many times before. Usually, the Southern California sun is shining, the radio is blaring and my toes are tapping. But on this particular day, things were different. Heavy fog and a steady rainfall had traffic moving at a crawl. It wasn't the kind of weather one would hope for on a day like that day. Didn't feel that steadily rising burble of excitement as I approached the Magic Mountain Parkway off-ramp.

Then I got close enough to see this:

The puny little woody in the foreground? That's Colossus. At 115 feet tall, Colossus was once a record-holder in its own right. How the mighty have fallen.

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The rain let up a bit as if on cue, and the inauguration festivities began at 11:00 AM sharp with a few words from Del Holland, SFMM's vice president and general manager, and Gary Story, Premier Parks' CEO. Speaking from a podium in front of Goliath's stony gateway, with the coaster's freakish superstructure just beyond, both men touted Six Flags' move into the international arena, with Six Flags Mexico and Six Flags Holland debuting this year. More pertinent to the event at hand, they also stated what we already know so well: Six Flags is committed to building thrill rides that take no prisoners.

As Story stepped aside to let the star of the show take center stage, a trainload of whooping "Davids" curled over the top (part of the "Davids vs. Goliath" promo). Fireworks ignited, confetti exploded, and Goliath officially began its reign of terror.

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Which brings me to the subject of G-forces.

When rail jockeys rave about coaster G-forces, they're usually extolling the negative kind, the anti-gravitational voodoo that lifts us out of our seats. It's all about "air-time," "float," and upstop wheel spin. Goliath is a hypercoaster, the biggest to date, and it would be a crime against nature if it didn't offer at least some air-time (it does, beautifully). But what makes Goliath really big news is that it accentuates the positive. More on that to come.

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After sidling past those rocky GOLIATH letters, we enter a switchback trail through what looks to be the remains of a culturally ambiguous "lost tropical civilization." Scattered around are fragments of a crumbled statue, perhaps what was once a representation of the "Goliath" the locals worshiped. Or something. Whatever. Point is, it's just mysterious enough to add a little drama to the ambience. (Hey, we're Thrillseekers, not anthropologists, right?)

Swinging around the far end of the boarding station, we climb a tall flight of stairs to where the rubber hits the road. Up on the dock, there are no more hidden "queue-turns," just independent aisles for each row, always a pleasant surprise. And once your aisle has advanced sufficiently, a good look at the train is available.

Does that nifty airfoil on the brow of each vehicle perform an aerodynamic function? I'm guessing no, but who cares? It looks rad. And the contoured seats with their raised backrests are mighty fine, too. Last among the new details these Giovanola coaches sport: a single yellow lap bar with a funky, indented grab-handle.

More and more, I'm partial to the front seat on most really tall coasters; I love soak up that hypercoaster view. As overall ride experience goes, any seat on a Goliath train delivers the goods because... well, again, more on that to come. But if ya wanna really know just how high up ya go, grit yer teeth and spend the extra minutes to grab the pole position.

"Clear." And we're on our way.

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Directly out of the station, the train sweeps around a turn and begins climbing. Off to the right, the Mountain's thrill ride-packed splendor: Superman: The Escape's vertical tower; the black and gray loopitude of Batman: The Ride, the chaotic green trackwork of the Riddler's Revenge; further off, the Daredevil Dive Skycoaster, Ninja, Viper, etc., etc. On the left, the now ironically-monikered Colossus, looking less and less colossal by the second.

As we went up that first time, I enjoyed the thought that I was about to experience the tallest and fastest drop on any continuous-circuit rollercoaster ever built. 255 feet, at an angle of 61 degrees. "Heaven, I'm in heaven..." By the time we hit the pinnacle, we almost are in heaven.

The front car tips forward and levels off... man, that is a hypercoaster view... and it keeps tipping until we can see, more than twenty-four-odd stories down, a black hole in the ground... the entrance to Hell.

It's time to put the Go in Goliath.

Arms up, mouth open, tonsils doin' the wacky wiggle, speed pourin' on. Speed like there's no tomorrow. Speed so sweet, so raw, you never want to stop falling. Bliss ripples over your form, through your hair, into your very being, as we scream towards a terminal velocity of 85 miles per hour.

That wicked little pit comes rushing up and in a skin-peeling tear, we make like a subway train with Satan at the helm, plowing through the darkness. They say that tunnel is 120 feet long, but it might as well be 120 millimeters, 'cuz we're in and outta there two seconds ago.

Our five-car fireball shrieks away from damnation and moves on to humiliate poor Colossus again. We rise up 100 feet above the big C's far turn, and lemme tell you, leaning over on the starboard side to look way down at that forlorn pile of wood is freakin' hysterical.

After that quick turn, we plunge down a second drop that measures up as a hypercoaster descent. And if you're jonesing for some air-time, here it comes, in spades.

Climbing away from the turf, the train soars up over a nice, long gradual hill and we get busy with some serious float. A few long seconds of it, really choice. Enjoy it while it lasts, though, because from here on in, your ham shanks ain't goin' nowhere.

Down off the third hill, we drop, rise and twist up onto a horizontal stretch alongside the lift hill. Yes, there's a trim brake and it does a little killjoy duty. You'll be grateful in a minute.

And now we're at the point that those positive G-forces into play. See, this coaster doesn't burn off its momentum with a bunch of bunny hops, like your average out-and-back hypermodel. Goliath has a completely different game plan; its latter half is nothing but a ton of turns. And that means positive Gs out the yahoo, baby!

Off the brake run, we curl down a sinuous drop to the left and motor right into a tight curve to the right. Feel how your body is pressed a little more firmly into the seat? Those G-forces are building...

Out of that turn, we dart beneath some some supports and it's so easy to imagine an earsplitting CLANGCLANGCLANG! as your raised knuckles bash against the green steel. But don't let your eyes fool ya. There's room to spare and if you bring your arms down now, they're staying down.

The train zips up a little ramp and enters the spiral, a ferocious element that oughta be called The Centrifuge:

Banking, turning, harder and harder."Mind... fading... body... weakening... trying to stay... conscious!" This is the real deal, people, tunnel vision and near gray-outs. Though I didn't feel those G-force effects myself, many in attendance apparently did. But during my second ride, I made the mistake of letting my arms drop during the approach. And once the train began to wail around the top of that vortex, I could not manage to lift them back up.

It is rip-snorting spectacular. Consider yourself warned.

Once we pull out of The Centrifuge, there's another set of sweeping curves, though nothing quite so pummeling - thank goodness. And finally, we thread back through the spiral and swoop back up onto the brake run.

There are a lot of truly enormous steel hypercoasters out there these days; the 200-plus-foot drop is no longer enough make a coaster a worldwide draw. And high-G turns aren't unique either; for instance, the far spiral on Worlds of Fun's Mamba is a "spots before your eyes" delight. But there's nothing out there like Goliath. Yes, the first two falls are as good as they get and that third floater hill is righteous. For my money, though, it's Goliath's grand-slam finale that brings home the bacon.

The Centrifuge is waiting for you.

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When it comes to thrill rides, a handful of U.S. parks are duking it out something fierce for global supremacy. Who has the upper hand, right here, right now? It's anybody's call, but Magic Mountain's collection - with Goliath standing tall above all - is nearly unbeatable. Of course, in the months ahead, the wave of new coaster debuts will break further east and the balance of power will shift. But the Mountain is guaranteed to get even more magical.

As Del Holland teased in his remarks,"There's another monster on the drawing boards."

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  • TRACK LENGTH: 4,500 feet
  • TOP SPEED: 85 miles per hour
  • MAX. DROP: 255 feet
  • MAX. DESCENT ANGLE: 61 degrees
  • RIDE DURATION: Approx. 3 minutes
  • CARS: Three 3-row trains composed of five cars. Each row accommodates two passengers across.
  • CAPACITY: 1,600 guests per hour
  • MANUFACTURER: Giovanola, Monthey, Switzerland

Goliath logo artwork courtesy Six Flags Magic Mountain. All rights reserved.



© Robert Coker.
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