It’s what Europe has been waiting for since 2013, when the incredible RMC topper-track coaster “Outlaw Run” opened at Silver Dollar City in the US – finally, an RMC on this side of the Atlantic! Last week we visited Kolmården Wildlife Park in southern Sweden to try out this latest wooden monstrosity; Wildfire.
Of all the places in Europe you would put a bet on investing first in THE LATEST and arguably greatest coaster model – one that has proved itself time and time again in its numerous installations in US parks; the one that did eventually take the plunge would perhaps have not even appeared in that list whatsoever. Was it Alton Towers? Europa Park? Liseberg? PortAventura even?
No. The park that made the almost no-brainer decision couldn’t have even called itself a theme park prior to 2009 – mainly due to the fact that it contained no rides whatsoever before then. Kolmården Wildlife Park was, as suggested by the name, simply a large zoo – very popular amongst families, but in no way attributed to rides, and certainly not roller coasters. In 2009, it invested in a small children’s roller coaster called Dolphin Express (Delfinexpressen), which resided in its “Marine World” area which contained a large dolphin aquarium. Aside from this tiny Vekoma coaster though, the park was otherwise a serene and very beautiful place to view a wide variety of animals, from giraffes to wolves, from elephants to seals.
That was soon to change though, following the frankly bizarre but incredible announcement in early 2014 that the park was to invest in an 187ft RMC topper-track coaster, which would become both the second tallest wooden coaster in the world, as well as the third fastest (and by some distance the fastest in Europe). And in addition to this, it would also feature 3 inversions – matching the record for most inversions on a wooden coaster in the world (Outlaw Run, the first RMC topper track coaster also contains 3 inversions).
Following an extended construction period, made difficult by the stunning terrain that it sat on, as well as strikes by Swedish crane operators – the coaster finally opened on June 28th 2016. Only a few weeks later and we arrived to the rather understated entrance to Kolmården in anticipation of riding this beast!
Despite the out-of-the-blue nature of Kolmården’s announcement, it’s important to note that they didn’t hold back with marketing. Here is an advert by the side of the road on the way to the park – proclaiming Wildfire as “The Greatest Roller Coaster in the World”
The first thing that strikes any visitor as they enter Kolmården is the sheer scale and size of the park. It is simply huge. Perhaps the largest park that contains coasters in the world – signs at the entrance warn of a 30 minute walk (not a slow walk either, at an average pace) to reach the “Marine World” area where Wildfire resides, and an even longer 40 minute walk to reach the Safari skyride attraction! And this walk consists of numerous steep hills. It is difficult to determine whether Wildfire’s relatively small queue (less than 20 minutes throughout the entire day, which was a seemingly busy summer Saturday) is down to the demographic of the park not being correct, or merely because of its lack of proximity to the entrance.
The map of Kolmården at the entrance. Note the phrase “Gångavstånd Från Entren” (Walking distance from entrance) at the bottom middle – it lists a 30 minute walk to Marine World!
Once you have traversed the tricky terrain though, you stumble across an immense sight. Wildfire isn’t visible at all until you almost are upon it, due to the elevation of the park and the thick tree landscaping – so as you approach the crest of a hill, it simply appears – stunningly huge, its wood/metal lift hill structure atop a rocky outcrop. Pictures don’t quite put its reality into perspective, it really is visually as striking (if not more than) any coaster anywhere else in the world.
Wildfire absolutely dominates the Marine World area of the park
The overwhelming appearance of the ride is perhaps aided by the fact that at least half of its height is provided by the natural terrain, whilst the balance between the wooden struts and metal structure is just right, and seems natural given its location and surroundings. It’s almost as if it’s part of the landscape.
Kolmården obviously expects that the ride will attract far larger queues than were apparent on the day we were there, as Wildfire’s extended queueline was ridiculously long – at an estimation it could quite easily hold 3 or 4 hours worth of queue. As it was, this aspect of the line wasn’t even in use – the queue was never more than 4 or 5 trains worth of people. The theming to the ride, whilst somewhat sparse, is quite befitting – very wooden and rustic in nature, bringing to mind the image of an old American lumberjack sawing huge logs in his barn amongst thousands of acres of land in the Midwest.
Note the fairly impressive old looking fire truck. Just to the left is the exit and shop for Wildfire
The short space in which we did queue was simply a switchback wooden staircase that served the purpose of bridging the gap from the ground to station level, rather than for filling any space. It did provide a great view up the lift hill of Wildfire – building the tension prior to the first ride!
A view of the lift hill from the queueline staircase. A long way to the top!
The station itself was nicely decorated, with many old and rustic looking saws around on the walls and ceiling. But really what we were there for was to board the rather comfortable RMC trains (it ran two trains all day despite the fairly short queue, one red and one green), and ride the thing!
After being dispatched from the station, you make an instant right hand turn into the enormous lift hill. If you look to your left as you ascend, you will be afforded a beautiful panoramic view of Bråviken bay – a large lake that the park overlooks – and to your right is the rolling landscape of the park itself. You reach the top, and make a 270 degree turn which passes under the lift hill structure and leads into a small crest before reaching the huge 161ft drop (which is only 4ft off the 165ft drop of Lightning Rod at Dollywood). The drop heads straight towards the lake, which is a superb piece of landscaping and design by the park and the coaster designer Alan Schilke.
Let me tell you that the drop on this coaster is surely one of the best of any coaster. It reaches an 83° angle according to the statistics, but in reality it isn’t far off vertical – and on the back row you are literally dragged over the crest and are completely out of your seat for the entire thing as the train reaches its maximum speed of 70mph (very maginally faster than the esteemed El Toro at Six Flags Great Adventure). The train then makes a very slight right hand turn, before approaching the highlight of the ride – the gigantic zero-G stall.
The first drop and zero-G stall, as they appear from the Safari skyride attraction
This element is truly insane. From off-ride, the zero-G stall towers over its surrounding trees, indeed it isn’t far off the height from which the train drops in the first place. The train enters, and is upside down for approximately 3 seconds – in which you experience first zero-G floater followed by complete hang-time – a strange but intoxicating mixture of sensations that are rarely found on any other coaster. It’s the sheer scale of this element though – the mass of wooden beams intertwining across the picturesque lakeside view, at least 150ft in the air; although of course you have very little time to appreciate this before the train is pulled out of the inversion, and into a banked left turn.
The next element is a crazy right hand outside banked airtime hill, which the train twists into very sharply, producing very strong lateral forces combined with ejector airtime – before it twists just as sharply left and drops down into a small tunnel. Another two airtime hills follow this, the second of which producing very pleasing floater airtime on both the front and back rows. By this point however, the ride has surpassed its high point.
Another couple of turns later, and the train traverses its second inversion – a perfectly fabricated and designed right hand heartline roll; one of the most smooth yet thrilling inversions possible. Another few airtime hills and turns later and it reaches its third inversion – a mirror image almost of the second and just as perfect – a left hand heartline roll which although taken slightly slower than the first, is no less impressive upon the rider.
One of the airtime hills and turns of Wildfire. Unfortunately the majority of the coaster, aside from the first drop and lift hill, is hidden from view and not accessible to visitors. This is a disappointment really given the potential that the ride structure gives visually
The final section of the coaster following the third inversion is, it has to be said, somewhat of a disappointment. The coaster reaches a small crest as it reapproaches the first drop – and at this point it slows just a little too much, rendering the fairly significant drop following it and slalom style finale a little underwhelming.
A point should be made here that perhaps has not been touched upon by the majority of coverage of this ride. Wildfire, despite its crazy appearance, 3 inversions and huge height; has a 1.2m height restriction. To put this into perspective, the small swinging ship attraction in Marine World opposite the first drop is also 1.2m. The park is clearly trying to make Wildfire as accessible as possible to all – that extra 20cm is a huge amount in height for younger riders; indeed it means that children of 6 or 7 can ride it as opposed to the usual 1.3 or 1.4m restriction which is for children of a couple of years older. This MAY be one explanation as to why the coaster itself is slightly less “on the edge” thrilling after riding than it looks on POV’s and from pictures.
Wildfire’s station, featuring the red train. Note the saw theming on the top left. Also note the lack of queues!
Nonetheless, Wildfire overall is a truly fantastic investment for a park such as Kolmården – it is big enough to attract riders from overseas without a problem, yet its wooden nature and lower height restriction means that it also caters for braver children – the likes of whom already visit the park with families. What it isn’t, unfortunately, is a top 5 coaster – the elements on Twisted Colossus for example are a little more intense and less drawn out than those on Wildfire. RMC have really pulled it out of the bag with this coaster though – it is faultlessly smooth, not at all fatiguing to reride – and with queues such as are apparent at the moment, there would be no good reason not to reride! It’s also, most importantly of all, fun, without being too extreme. The first half of the coaster is undoubtedly the highlight, particularly the drop, zero-G stall and outside banked turn – although the rest of the ride does have its good moments, most notably the second inversion which is far smoother than inversions found on the majority of steel coasters let alone wooden!
Another example of how Wildfire towers over its surrounding area. This picture was taken from the exit to the Safari Skyride attraction
All in all, I would highly recommend a visit to Kolmården. The park is only around an hour and a half from Stockholm – and is fairly accessible by train/bus. It is, beyond Wildfire, a very beautiful and scenic place to visit – the range of animals that reside there is fantastic, and it is more than big enough to fill an entire day – especially when you’ve counted in a minimum of 10 rides on the big coaster! The park is definitely one to watch though – now under the stewardship of the same company that operates Gröna Lund, more big rides could be on the way in the near future.
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