After 200-foot climb, Hersheypark's new coaster, the Skyrush, hits speeds of 75 mph


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HERSHEY, Pa. -- Hersheypark's new Skyrush "super roller coaster" doesn't take long to give its 32 riders stomach-churning thrills.

Right out of the gate, it goes straight up at 26 feet per second along its bright yellow track. It needs just a few seconds to reach a dizzying height of 200 feet above the ground.

Then it drops straight down -- which takes just a couple of seconds, since it's speeding at 75 miles an hour -- banks sharply to the right, then takes a few more not-quite-so-drastic twists, turns and bumps before coming to a stop.

The ride lasts only 63 seconds. But excited passengers exiting the coaster on its first day loved the thrill, short as it was.

"Awesome -- that's about all I can say. It feels like you're flying," said Andy Zemba of suburban Harrisburg, a native of Mount Pleasant, Westmoreland County. Like everyone else who rode the coaster when it opened on Memorial Day weekend, Mr. Zemba and his son Matthew, 13, had a long wait in a line of several hundred riders.

"It was worth the wait in line," Matthew said. "It's really fun when you go through that giant dip. I want to come back and ride it again."

For the past several months, Hersheypark has been publicizing Skyrush, the first new coaster here in four years. It cost $25 million and took 14 months to build. Park officials say it's the "longest, highest and fastest" of the park's 12 roller coasters, which they say are the most of any amusement park in Pennsylvania.

The new coaster has a 3,600-foot-long track and eight rows of seating, each with four seats. Seats on the far left and far right don't have a floor -- a rider's feet just dangle in air -- but the seats in the middle two rows do.

"I couldn't breathe when we were going down that [200-foot] drop," said Lucas Row of suburban Harrisburg. "My eyes were totally open the whole time, and I couldn't stop screaming."

On opening day, some riders showed up at 7 a.m., three hours before the park's 10 a.m. opening, just to be near the head of the line.

"We waited three hours, but it was worth it," said Yasline Caraballo, a young woman from the nearby town of Etters, York County.

"I've never seen lines of people like this, waiting to get into the park, even when we opened previous new coasters," said Hersheypark publicist Kathy Burrows.

On Skyrush's first day, the lines at most of the other 11 coasters were short, which "we attribute to Skyrush," she said.

"There's no way to describe it -- it's very smooth," said Chad Miller of Lebanon. He said he was lifted off his seat seven times during the ride.

"I liked how fast it was," said his friend, Lyn Lam of East Petersburg, Lancaster County. "It's like you are up and down [the dips] in no time."

Skyrush is one of three American coasters that opened this year as "a whole new breed, a mega-coaster with winged seating,'' Hersheypark officials said.

The other two are at Dollywood in Tennessee, a park created by country singer Dolly Parton, and at Six Flags Great America near Chicago.

"Winged seating" refers to the seats without floors, which let riders feel as if they are flying in air.

Those outside seats are "designed for the bravest of riders and offer a staggering 270-degree panoramic viewing perspective," park officials said in a statement.

Skyrush differs from the Dollywood and Chicago coasters in one major way: It has only lap restraints, not lap and shoulder restraints, because Skyrush doesn't make a 360-degree inversion -- a complete upside-down turn -- as the other two coasters do. So Hersheypark officials say a shoulder restraint isn't necessary.

Riders do undergo several 270-degree turns, however. Mr. Row said the ride is exciting as it is and "doesn't need [360-degree] loops. The speed makes up for it."

The lap restraint system "maximizes both safety and rider experience," park officials said.

Ms. Burrows has led the way on publicizing the new coaster, but her job has become much easier because of the huge growth in the use of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and emails. Many people who have ridden Skyrush have told friends about it already through social media, she said.

"Everything has just gone viral" as people spread the word about the coasters online, she said. That's much different than it was just four years ago, when the last new coaster, the Fahrenheit, opened and social media weren't nearly as prevalent.

See full details about park hours and admission at www.hersheypark.com.

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Tom Barnes: hickeybarnes@yahoo.com or 717-623-1238 First Published June 10, 2012 4:00 AM


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