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HEARD ON THE BEAT / TOURISM

Year of New Heights for Roller Coaster Fans

March 29, 1996|Marla Dickerson

Looks like 1996 is shaping up to be a twisted year indeed. That's because more than 50 new roller coasters are set to open in amusement parks worldwide, leading white-knuckle enthusiasts to declare 1996 the International Year of the Roller Coaster.

One of the most terrifying new offerings--Superman The Escape--is scheduled for a late May launch at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia. Reaching 41 stories at its peak, the super-coaster will accelerate riders to speeds topping 100 mph before plunging backward in a 415-foot vertical drop. Thrill-seekers too wired to wait can sneak an early peek at Superman on the park's new home page at http://www.sixflagsmagicmtn.com.

It's a far cry from 15th century Russia, where the modern roller coaster traces its roots, according to the history buffs at the International Assn. of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA). In need of diversion during the long winters, Russians built giant ice slides as high as 70 feet in which they chiseled elaborate, looping tracks to hurtle themselves down on sleds. Russians also invented the first wheeled roller coaster in St. Petersburg in 1784.

California is home to a few roller coaster firsts as well, notes the International Assn. of Amusement Parks and Attractions. California already has more operating roller coasters, 28, than any other state. That total will increase to 30 this year with the addition of Superman The Escape and the WestCoaster at Pacific Park on the Santa Monica Pier. Disneyland's Matterhorn Bobsleds ride, built in 1959, was the first roller coaster to use tubular steel track, an advance that led designers to create high-speed loops, corkscrews and boomerangs.

For more information about coasters and activities surrounding the International Year of the Roller Coaster, call the IAAPA at (703) 836-4800.

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Marla Dickerson covers tourism for The Times. She can be reached at (714) 966-5670 and at marla.dickerson@latimes.com.

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