As the most difficult to obtain rollercoaster under my belt so far (potentially ever), the pay off for finally riding this monster from GCI was huge. Something to consider about most Chinese parks is that they’ll seemingly find any excuse not to open and run certain major attractions. The reasoning for this remains a mystery, it could be anything from financial pressure to overbearing regulations but it can be very frustrating to experience first hand, particularly when you’ve also seen elsewhere in the world how it simply doesn’t have to be this way.
I had visited the city of Shenzhen twice before with the intention of riding Wood Coaster and on both occasions it just wasn’t meant to be. On the very first, which also happened to be my inaugural visit to China, we made it all the way to the park to be told by the ticket office that their one and only rollercoaster was ‘closed for maintenance’. It was a painful experience.
A couple of years later, the second time around, I had learnt a lot more about when not to waste time by happening on such disappointments in person and we phoned ahead to be told yet again their one and only rollercoaster was ‘closed for maintenance’.
A further 18 months later I was out in Asia again and increasingly desperate to finally ride this thing. Research had finally become easier and the park actually had a relatively informative website by this point. On it they actually listed these ‘maintenance’ schedules (I keep putting that word in quotation marks because it is usually just a word they use to cover any other reason for closure) and I now knew to avoid Mondays, every third Thursday of the month and April (plus unofficially January, the month of my previous two spites). None of that mattered of course if there was going to be any rain and as the trip approached the weather forecast looked bad, very bad.
Thankfully the stars aligned and it was third time lucky. After the most stressful build up to a ride ever, I was finally able to experience it for myself. So beyond all that exclusivity, what makes this coaster so special?
Location, location, location. Just look at that ridiculousness. But it comes at a price. The lift hill terrified me, as the train slowly drags you up, just above the tree line of the forest. With the subtropical climate, this particular area is home to a variety of giant, flapping creepy crawlies and they were swarming this section of the ride, landing on the cars and guests in front of me. I’m so far out of my comfort zone now and this really isn’t selling it, is it?
Mercifully as we reached the summit, the threat seemed to die down, we’re clearly too far up now. At the crest of the lift hill, the train takes a flat 270° turn, a manoeuvre that allows riders to fully appreciate the jaw-droppingly stunning and incomprehensible views this coaster has to offer. This feature endears the ride to me for a secondary reason, in some sort of hipster fashion that I simply cannot avoid. Wood Coaster did this trick before it was cool, before rides like Wildfire made it popular. I like that.
After that moment of serenity, things take a sudden turn. The momentum starts to build throughout something GCI pull off very well on their terrain coasters – a surging, multi-stage drop that just keeps on giving, more than a single straight top to bottom first drop ever could. Desperately trying to keep my mouth shut in case of stray bugs, while simultaneously squealing with excitement as the ride attempts to throw me out of my seat multiple times, we hit the unprecedented large airtime hill over the lift. Something GCI never do. I have no idea why that is, but it’s amazing.
Full momentum still hasn’t been reached by this point and we now dive into an area completely hidden from regular view, a valley with a great headchopper moment from some future track crossing over. This part of the ride is where I noticed that this thing is rough. Not a bad rough though. Highly aggressive, very impactful and all the better for it as far as my own personal tastes go. Right on the limit of making a wooden coaster that extra bit special without detracting from the experience.
That sensation is important for another reason, because it stops what could otherwise be seen as uneventful elements, such as the following extended banked curve from being uninteresting. If I’m getting my ass kicked by the ride then I’m not going to pause and have time to complain about that. Just how it works for me.
Not that I would dream of doing that anyway, because even these corners are packed with GCI’s signature weird transitions, lumps and bumps that give surprise airtime in all the wrong places. Other rides they’ve made don’t have these at all. Why? With some further diving, turning and a wicked little twisted moment, the train heads back towards the station, with far too much momentum to stop of course.
Another GCI signature in the form of a station flythrough. Sadly due to questionable Chinese operations, this one never gets appreciated by guests waiting to board, as unlike the rest of the world (and contradicting the very reason they created this element in the first place) they choose keep the station area entirely vacant while the ride is in motion. It’s fantastic on-ride though, with a wonderfully unnatural lurch upon entry and exit to this flat piece of sheltered track.
The twists and turns just keep on coming and this ride doesn’t know how to slow down at all. After another banked curve that points us back towards the station we enter my favourite part of the entire layout. There’s another legendary element out there that was popularised by RMC on Lightning Rod – the quad down. Well once again, Wood Coaster did it first. I hadn’t dreamed that it was going to be this wild and I just can’t describe how much joy I take from both innovative and out of control moments like this. The train hurtles down airtime moment after airtime moment, both straight and banked, and passes directly through the station yet again, right in between the platform and the brake run in one of the most triumphant pieces of layout design I can think of.
This weird forest tunnel is next as we finally turn towards that piece of track that created our headchopper so long ago – I was wondering when that was coming back. There’s still room for an airtime hill perpendicular to the station this time before a final dive and turn into the brakes. Wow. Head in hands, what just happened, top ten ride? Yes. Twister layouts simply don’t get better than this. I still can’t believe how much this ride throws at you, or how they managed to make it all work in such a seemingly unforgiving landscape.
And that’s the core of what makes this attraction so spectacular to me. Putting a huge wooden rollercoaster on the side of a mountain is the stuff of enthusiast dreams and just not something we would expect to actually exist in real life. The fact that GCI pulled this one off and also held absolutely nothing back in terms of layout and sheer thrill is nothing short of masterful. When it comes to pushing the limits of coaster engineering, there’s almost always something that has to work against the riders’ experience and yet the only thing holding this ride back is the way the park choose to run it, i.e. not well.
Everything about Wood Coaster exhausts me, from the journey to get to it, through being thrown around like a rag doll while on it and then even to sitting down and writing about it, and yet after all my misgivings in the introduction, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s a fairytale experience for a fairytale attraction.