How does one go about building the greatest rollercoaster in the world?
Look no further than this hillside in Gothenburg for inspiration.
When talking about my hobby to anyone I am probably most frequently asked the question – ‘so what’s your favourite then?’ The reply of course is ‘Helix, it’s in Sweden’, but when it comes to explaining why that is, I find it rather difficult to do in a sentence or two. The simplest answer is that ‘it has everything’, but what does that mean to someone with no real context?
Let’s start with the ingredients.
Having an inspirational layout is probably the most important thing I look for in a ride. It’s the core of rollercoaster design and, for me, every experience can only really be judged as a sum of its parts, rather than defined by singular moments. Simply put, the layout of Helix is a sheer masterpiece in my eyes. It does everything I love and I cannot fault it.
I already mentioned the hillside and that will be coming up a lot because it contributes to several of the factors that make this ride special. In this case, it makes the layout of the track completely unique as it is entirely built around the physical landscape found here.
The station for the ride is situated at the top of the hill, meaning that unlike most other rides, gravity is already at your disposal. There’s no need to build up that potential energy and you can start as you mean to go on – which Helix does all too well. As early as the point of dispatch, the train surges out of the station into the first drop which then immediately throws you out of your seat. Airtime already?
A wonderfully floaty inversion follows, flopping you down into the restraint and giving your first of many surreal upside down views out over the park.
From here it heads round a sweeping corner, through the trees at the northern most point of the ride, above Liseberg’s quaint garden area.
That section was just a taster and now the first launch accelerates you into a larger and more spectacular inversion above the height of the starting point. We’ve got even more to play with now.
With another sweeping turn into a twisted airtime moment, the train begins to build momentum and work its way further down the hillside. The height differential of the landscape comes into play more and jutting out over the edge is a Norwegian loop.
This is a rare element, currently only found on three coasters in the world and it’s essentially a sitdown version of the Pretzel loop on flying coasters – often considered to be the most intense inversions in the world. Another way of considering it would be a standard vertical loop stood on it’s head – the heart of the element is the lowest point and therefore the fastest part.
It flips you onto your head before diving down into the base of the loop with a ton of force and then pulling out the other side with a second flip, pointing you back in the original direction of travel.
Following this element the ride just wants get as far away from the station as quickly as possible. After diving under the lift hill of neighbouring coaster Lisebergbanan, the first traditional airtime hill follows, taking you over the station of that same ride.
Contrary to the name, the snappiest and most out of control inversion on the ride is the subsequent Zero-G roll and this part really is Helix at its wildest. Another surprisingly snappy transition takes you into the closest thing the ride has to having an actual helix, a tight 360° banked corner at the lowest and fastest point of the layout. You’re almost at the ground now.
Rather than thinking about losing any speed at this point, the track quickly twists the other way and turns you into the second launch. A rolling launch is often one of my favourite elements purely from the utterly joyous sensation it provides just in knowing that the ride is far from done – instead of running out of steam, it’s giving you the opportunity to do it all again.
This launch sets you up for what I’d consider to be the two most signature moments of the ride. The largest of the inversions and the highest point in the ride, this inside top hat towers over the surrounding pathway.
The unusual shaping of this element provides a strange mix of sensations, along with the most sustained sensation of hangtime and an inverted view back out towards the ride station and city beyond.
The train plunges out of there and into what I consider to be the greatest airtime hill in the world – no mean feat.
All this new found momentum is more than enough to carry you all the way back up to the height of the station with significant speed and this is done through what I like to call ‘the slither’ – a fun series of twisted transitions in alternating directions up the hillside.
Just when you think you’re safe, a brutal final roll pitches you onto your head one last time before the brake run.
Not a single moment is wasted in this layout and that can’t be emphasised enough.
We saw a lot of different elements in the layout there and when earlier I said that Helix has everything, this also holds true for the forces it provides.
A contender for strongest airtime on the planet, the execution of the negative Gs on this ride are truly spectacular – from leaving the station out of your seat to the more subtle twisted pops there’s a huge variety.
The two major hills toe the line perfectly between brutally ejecting you out of your seat and sustaining you there for a significant period of time, often a hard balance to encounter. Normally this sort of force is over before they can catch up, but it literally drags your limbs up into the air, taking total control of your body.
I find the the best way to experience positive forces is not so much the common crushing head sensation but the tingling and numbing in your feet, something the B&M invert perfected first with the dangling legs of the seating position.
Although Mack mega trains do have a floor, the seats are raised above it so your legs are still hanging in a similar fashion. Helix is the only sitdown coaster in the world that puts pins and needles in my feet and it’s mostly found here in the Norwegian loop due to the speed and sustained force at bottom of the dip.
Somewhere between the extremes of negative and positive force, each of the other inversions on Helix provides an interesting sensation of floating or snapping, all being taken at different angles, height and speeds. There was a time in ride design when going upside down was purely for the scare, the spectacle or a more basal thrill. The earliest inversions like vertical loops and corkscrews are generally quite boring these days.
Helix is part of a new generation of rides where the inversion has been revolutionised, all seven in this layout are enjoyable in their own way and contribute to the ride experience. None of them feel like they are just there for the sake of it – they all have purpose.
I can’t even describe what this one does, but it feels like at least 5 different things are going on at once with the sharp upwards entry, sudden twist and more drawn out exit. It’s very unique.
Among my most favourite experiences on attractions are those moments when there is an interaction with another nearby, especially when there’s another train or car involved, full of other riders. It’s a bit of a weird human trait, like waving to people on a gentle train ride at a level crossing – a moment of shared joy. In better cases of this you aren’t an innocent bystander, you’re all sharing high thrill experiences together – duelling and racing coasters are particularly good at this. In the best version, they’re different thrill rides altogether.
You can see the majority of the Helix layout in the image above. The coaster it shares a lot of moments with is Lisebergbanan in white. A log flume crosses twice at the bottom right of the layout, near the second launch. AtmosFear the drop tower sits within the upper left corner at the top of the hill.
There’s also Uppswinget towards the centre of the picture, an S&S Screamin’ Swing which sits both above the spiralling turns of Lisebergbanan and below the highest inversion of Helix, perilously swinging back and forth between the two.
I commonly refer to this location as my favourite place on earth. I could stand there all day watching it all go by and with the operational efficiency of a park like Liseberg, it’s particularly satisfying how frequently something special happens.
The highlights of this ride interaction include chasing or being chased by a Lisebergbanan train across the hillside.
And in the moment between what I described as the two most significant parts of Helix, an Uppswinget swing is likely to come hurtling towards you from the right. These both always cause me to simply shout in amazement.
Besides being situated amongst these other attractions, even just the scenery is particularly attractive for this city park. The view from the station while sitting in the train, looking out across the valley past the first inversion is always a magical moment.
There’s always something different to look at with a unique perspective during each of the slower inversions, enhanced by such a high vantage point.
The defining moment of the final airtime hill that coins the phrase ‘being ejected into Gothenburg’ is truly spectacular. It feels like you can just leave the train and fly over the Gothia Towers into the heart of the city and a ride at night with everything lit up never fails to take my breath away.
Other than pure physical location, the ride happens to be in my favourite park in the world – Liseberg, and I can admit that the two actually influence each other in the definition of this. Though there may be other technically better parks out there, I can’t deny the appeal of one containing both the best ride ever and my happy place. In 3 visits over 6 days I have never found a single fault with the place from the atmosphere, attraction lineup, operational efficiency (5 trains on Lisebergbanan), food (now MAX), staff, opening hours (regular 11pm nights). You simply cannot fail to have a good time here and, like Helix, it has it all.
Though this ride has likely played a part in defining this as well, The Mack mega trains are my favourite rolling stock on a coaster. I often declare that I want one of the bucket seats as my office chair and they really are that comfy.
Comfort is one part of the story, but freedom of movement is also extremely important to me on a rollercoaster as it ensures there are no restrictions on the forces the ride has to offer you. With minimum points of contact, nothing gets in the way of your body moving where physics wants it to and there’s no threat of being punched in the head by a lumpy restraint. The way the bucket seats have such wide (and airy) backs, the lap bar coming in from above rather than between your legs and the raised position from the train floor that I mentioned earlier all play a significant part in making sure you get the best of Helix.
There were concerns amongst enthusiasts (myself included) when seatbelts were added to the ride after a few years but from personal experience and with careful use these have made no impact whatsoever.
The trains also have headlights and strip lights down the side that looks great at night, particularly if you take a late ride on the ferris wheel – you can see them zipping about all over the hillside in a wondrous fashion.
Mack themselves are an extremely competent ride manufacturer. Everything about their recent creations exudes professionalism but there’s also that slightly twisted darker side to them – the willingness to push boundaries and do things out of the ordinary. It’s a perfect combination of what the industry has to offer right now and I think it sets them apart nicely. The track is smooth, the launches are intelligent, the ride is extremely forceful and none of it feels clinical. I will likely touch on the subject in other reviews but it has what I would call character.
When I first rode Helix in 2015 I had been on less than 100 rollercoasters. Both the amount that it did and the way in which it did it completely redefined what I thought I knew about rides. I sat on the brakerun with my mind spinning. I loved rollercoasters but I had never considered the possibility that they could be THAT good.
I returned the following year with double the count to my name and it quickly reaffirmed everything I thought the first time around. Nothing comes close to touching this brilliance.
Over what felt like a long 2 years I was constantly looking for an excuse to return. It’s truthfully the only ride and park in the world that I am constantly, constantly thinking I would like to pop back to for no other reason than sheer enjoyment. When what I get the most out of this hobby relies so heavily on finding new experiences and travellings to new places, given the choice I will always go somewhere I haven’t been yet. Or here.
The moment finally came towards the end of the 2018 season. I was well over 600 creds now, having seen and done a hell of a lot more and a little nagging doubt had crept in as it often does when you look back on ride experiences – will it stil hold up?
We arrived at the park in the evening and it was already dark. We headed straight to the ride and it me took as far as the zero-G (head over heels, can’t see, mind racing) on our first lap for the single loudest thought to pop into my head. ‘Yes, this is still by far the best thing I’ve ever done.’
I stand by that to this day.
They knew it before I did and the poster says it all. Helix is the next level of rollercoasters. I can’t wait for one to join it.