The new "Insane Coaster Wars" coming to the Travel Channel this summer lets viewers take a virtual ride on many of the best roller coasters in the United States right from the comfort of their living room couch.
Premiering at 9 p.m. on July 8, each themed half-hour episode will let viewers vote online for their favorite coasters in six categories: speed, height, G-forces, inversions, wooden coasters and suspended coasters. A one-hour finale on Aug. 12 will count down the top 10 overall vote getters.
Though most of the coasters in the series debuted in the last decade, several hail from the 1990s, with a few from the 1970s and '80s. More than half the featured rides rank among the top coasters in the world.
The documentary-style TV show will feature physics, engineering and coaster experts commenting on the rides while footage from point-of-view camera mounts and remote-control helicopter shots play on screen. Riders will wear vests that monitor heart rate and G-forces.
Theme Park Review's Robb Alvey will serve as the coaster expert for the show with commentary filmed at Cedar Point in Ohio.
"The list of coasters they ended up with certainly covers a lot of ground," Alvey said. "I don't think anybody would be disappointed walking away from this collection of rides."
Alvey has traveled to more than 400 theme parks around the world and ridden 1,486 coasters during tours set up through his Theme Park Review fan website.
Every "Coaster Wars" show will pit four rides against one another in a battle for supremacy in a particular category. The results of already-concluded online voting will be shown at the end of each episode.
Let's take a closer look at each of the six themed episodes:
"G-Force Giants" (July 8)
All the coasters in the first show come from Swiss-manufacturer Bolliger & Mabillard, representing four distinct ride styles that each pull more than 4 Gs.
The showdown should be between a pair of Busch Gardens rides: SheiKra in Florida and Apollo's Chariot in Virginia, both favorites among coaster enthusiasts.
The show's other two coasters hail from smaller parks: Afterburn at Carowinds and Medusa at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom.
Alvey's pick to win: SheiKra.
"Hang 'em High" (July 8, immediately following the premiere episode)
This episode combines suspended, inverted and flying coasters -- all of which hang below the track. Three more B&M coasters from the SeaWorld chain of parks (which also owns Busch Gardens) represent the main contenders in this category: Manta at SeaWorld Orlando, Montu at Busch Gardens Tampa and Alpengeist at Busch Gardens Williamsburg.
The also-ran in this race: Aftershock from Idaho's Silverwood, a Vekoma Boomerang-style coaster that has fallen out of favor with most enthusiasts but is still beloved by everyday park visitors.
Alvey's pick: Montu edges out Manta.
"Splintering Speedsters" (July 15)
The wooden coaster category looks like the class of the "Coaster Wars" series, with all four rides ranking in the top 10 of the annual Amusement Business Golden Ticket coaster poll.
The Voyage at Holiday World in Indiana, a Gravity Group-designed hybrid ride with a steel frame, is the reigning No. 1 wooden coaster in the Golden Ticket awards. Former No. 1 Thunderhead at Dollywood in Tennessee is a twister-style ride built by Great Coasters International.
The other two coasters in the category are no slouches either: the air time-heavy El Toro at New Jersey's Six Flags Great Adventure and The Beast at Ohio's Kings Island, the longest wooden coaster in the world.
"This is the one category people will be fighting over on the Internet," Alvey said. "It's a very interesting mix with lots of different coaster styles and manufacturers."
Alvey's pick: El Toro.
"Wrong Way Up" (July 22)
The coasters with the most upside-down inversions all reside overseas, leaving the U.S.-centric "Coaster Wars" with a strange cast of contenders in this category.
Dorney Park's Hydra the Revenge has an unusual slow-motion inversion right out of the station and Kings Island's Vortex was the first coaster with six inversions way back into 1987, but neither coaster is on any enthusiast's must-ride list.
And Wild Eagle feels like the producers wedged the Dollywood ride into this episode when they couldn't find any other place for the brand new wing coaster in the series. In fact, Medusa, Montu, Afterburn and Alpengeist would have been better contenders in this category.
That leaves Kraken at SeaWorld Orlando. The B&M floorless coaster with a trio of subterranean dives and seven inversions looks like the best of the bunch by default.
Alvey's pick: Kraken.
"Extreme Heights" (July 29)
The tallest coaster category probably includes the most impressive collection of steel coasters of any "Coaster Wars" episode.
The episode features a pair of B&M Mega coasters (Carowinds' 232-foot-tall Intimidator and Kings Island's 230-foot-tall Diamondback) as well as an Intamin Giga (Cedar Point's 310-foot-tall Millennium Force) that are all known for extreme heights and speeds.
But when it comes to pure numbers, nothing compares to the 456-foot-tall Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure, the world's tallest roller coaster.
Since all the coasters soar to the relatively rare air of 200-plus feet, Alvey decided to go with his favorite of the world-class group: Millennium Force.
"Millennium Force was built to break height and speed records," Alvey said. "When Millennium Force opened in 2000, it blew people away. Here we are 12 or 13 years later and it's still doing the things it set out to do."
"Speed" (Aug. 5)
Much like the height category, the speed episode comes down to a choice between raw statistics and personal preferences.
The final themed show includes a pair of Intamin Accelerator coasters (Knott's Berry Farm's 82 mph Xcelerator and Cedar Point's 120 mph Top Thrill Dragster) featuring nearly identical straight-up-and-down "top hat" elements.
Once again, it appears the producers wedged the 77-mph Bizarro into this category to ensure the renowned coaster found a place somewhere in the series. The Six Flags New England ride has been ranked first or second in the Golden Ticket award for the past decade, an impressive accomplishment.
The oddest choice of the entire "Coaster Wars" series goes to Desperado at Buffalo Bill's Resort and Casino on the California-Nevada border. The 80-mph Arrow Hyper coaster is certainly the most terrifying coaster I've ever ridden (due in large part to lax oversight by the ride's employees), but I'd be hard pressed to put it on any of my "best of" lists.
That leaves us with three coasters in the 75 to 85 mph range and Top Thrill Dragster, which blows away the competition by at least 35 mph.
"It's hard to do a ride category with extreme height or extreme speed and not include Kingda Ka (128 mph) or Millennium Force (93 mph)," Alvey said.
Alvey's pick: A tie between Top Thrill Dragster and Xcelerator.
In each instance I agreed with Alvey's picks, although I would have broken the speed tie in Top Thrill's favor.
Overall, "Coaster Wars" does a good job of pulling together some of the top coasters in the nation into an engaging, interactive format.
I was disappointed to see Six Flags Magic Mountain shut out of the series, especially since the California amusement park holds the coveted Roller Coaster Capital of the World title with 17 coasters (and another on the way).
Alvey would have wanted to see Magic Mountain's X2 fourth dimension coaster and Kings Dominion's Intimidator 305 make the cut, blaming park availability and production schedules for the omissions.
Travel Channel promises more coaster-themed shows should "Coaster Wars" draw an enthusiastic audience.