home to #1 coaster in Thunderhead
by Chris Godsey,
Can you tame the Thunder?
nestled in the Great Smoky Mountain has upped the coaster ante
this season by introducing Thunderhead-the wildest ride in
the woods. This Great Coasters International designed woodie
broke the mold by designing a ride that has it all- speed, height,
G's, airtime, and a disorienting layout that even the most knowledgeable
coaster enthusiast would be lost in. ThrillRide was invited to
the opening weekend of this ride and we can say without a doubt
that Thunderhead is the number one wooden coaster on the planet.
How can we say that, you ask? Well, we hope to explain in this
review why we feel it is the best by showing you awesome photos
and videos of the ride. Hopefully, by the time you finish reading
this, you will want to hop on over and see for yourself.
begin with the media day events. The day began wil temps in the
lower 40s along with light rain. But, the weather didn't stop
our host Dolly Parton from opening the ride in only a way Dolly
can. Dolly enters the station on the coaster, but states that
she till not ride due to the fact she would fall apart(hair, nails,
etc.) As you can see by the photo, Dolly had a special outfit
made for the opening of Thunderhead complete with a purse shaped
like an ax and a custom designed jean jacket with the thunderhead
logo in sequin.
jumped out of the train and gave up her seat to a member of Dollywood
management. While the train was on it's inaugural run, Dolly spoke
to the media in the station. The inaugural train was filled with
members of Ace, dollywood personnel, and several GCI employees.
One of the main features of the ride you will notice when you
see it is how twisted the layout is. Just in the first 30 seconds
of the ride, you will cross over and under track 8 times. There
are total of 32 cross-overs and -unders making the Thunderhead
the most twisted ride on the planet. We dare you to come off of
the ride and draw out the layout without looking at the ride.
It's impossible to get it right the first time! Thunderhead is
GCI's tallest coaster to date with a 100 foot lift hill and several
other unique features such as 78 degree banked turns and the first
ever station fly-through element.
Once the train
crests the lift hill, the craziness begins early with an insane
twisted first drop. If you ride the back seat, you will notice
near standing airtime similar to the Legend's first drop here.
insane first drop, you enter the infamous S-Curve. You really
can't appreciate the HEAVILY banked turns in this section until
you ride it for yourself. 78 Degrees doesn't sound so impressive
with several steel coasters with turns over 90 degrees, but once
you ride this coaster, you understand just how insane 78 degrees
is on a wooden coaster. People, that is 2 degrees less than Millennium
Force's first drop.
Click to Enlarge
As you can
see from this close up photo, the side rails basically become
headchoppers for the riders. This portion of the ride is done
very fast, but the sensations are heightened by the dizzying banks
and wood rails flying by your head.
Click to Enlarge
Now, the ride
goes from heavy banks to airtime galore. Next up is the double-up.
After the s-curve, the train begins a series of nice pops of air
leading up to the next signature element, the station fly-through.
During the final portion of the double-up is where you find one
of the greatest pops of air on a coaster. Notice in the photos
how the back part of the train is experiencing heavy negative
We move from
the double up to another airtime portion of the ride and where
the on-ride photo is taken. SMILE PRETTY FOR THE CAMERAS!!! This
portion is right before the turnaround into the fly though element.
Notice the airtime is seen in the front of the train this time.
The next element
might look familiar to you Millennium Force fans. Take a look
at this photo:
is very similar to Millennium Force's final banked turn. This
portion of the ride is as smooth also! After this turn, the fun
REALLY begins. What lies ahead is an element that has never been
done before- The Station Fly-Through . When you get close to the
station, it looks as if you are going to hit the roof. If you
are in the station, you hear silence, then a loud roar and screaming
guests as the zoom overhead at 40 miles per hour just a matter
of feet above you!
for the lack of photos of the last part of the ride. This portion
of the ride is the furthest portion from the queue area and most
of its track is obstructed. The rest of the ride consists of several
high speed turns complete with numerous generous pops of air right
up into the brakes. In short, this rides has it all. It basically
combines the greatest elements in today's best coasters and gives
it all to you in less than 2 minutes. At night, this thing turns
all out insane. With little or no lights along the ride's course,
this coaster thrills even more in the dark. While riding this
at night, I couldn't help but think about past Stark Raven Mad
events at Holiday World and hope that Dollywood can do a similar
event for enthusiasts in the future. ACE is sponsoring an event
in the next couple of weeks at Dollywood complete with night ERT
on Thunderhead. That is the first chance for enthusiasts to truly
realize Thunderhead's awesome potential.
leave you with some closing photos of the day and a recommendation- Do WHATEVER you can to get to Dollywood and ride this amazing
has outdone themselves with this ride and Dollywood is now on
the coaster map for enthusiasts. If you have never ridden a GCI
coaster, this is a great one to start with! Special thanks to
Dollywood and GCI for allowing us to ride the coaster after close
on Saturday night. Dollywood, prepare for greatness!
Tallest Drop -100 feet
Top Speed -55 mph
Length of Track -3,230 feet
Ride Duration - 2 minutes, 30 seconds
Number of Turns -22
Number of Cross Overs/Unders -32
Number of Trains -2 Millennium Flyer Trains
Number of Concrete Piers -1,600
Other Interesting Stats- They used over 700,000 board feet
of Southern yellow pine (enough to fill 30 tractor trailers!),
3,600 yards of concrete, 250,000 bolts, 2 million screws, and
185,000 feet of rebar steel in the construction of Thunderhead.
The overall construction crew was made of up of individuals from
Tennessee, Texas, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, and California which
required the use of 300,000 tons of heavy equipment.