They say first impressions are the ones that last. Here'.s what I remember most about my initial exposure to Ravine Flyer II. While standing in the queue waiting for the coaster to open, I watched three different ride ops polish the bright red PTC cars for about 15 minutes straight. Then, during the test runs, I noticed the empty train come screaming into the brake run, the wheels of the middle cars seeming to lift off the track as the vehicle came to a halt. What sort of roller coaster, I wondered, could engender that level of devotion from underpaid temporary employees? What sort or roller coaster, I mused, wants to go airborne at the brake run? I would soon discover the answer for myself. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Ravine Flyer II.
With four projects in the last three years, the Gravity Group has already proven itself to be the most gusty, ambitious, and virtuosic roller coaster designer of the modern age. Some have criticized its installations for being too baroque, too ravenous. Yet the company'.s genius seems to be in its ability to build rides that appeal equally to the mainstream and the fringe. The experience of a Gravity Group roller coaster isn'.t just fun or exhilerating, it'.s tranformative. For the minute or two of the ride, you'.re not just amused or entertained, you'.re living squarely in the moment, fully alive, fully engaged. In a world in which so time is spent waiting for what happens next or regretting what'.s already past, this is a rare and precious gift.
Whether time will be kind to the creations of the Gravity Group is another question. Many, after all, lauded the work of Charles Dinn and Curtis Summers in each of their rides'. early seasons. Now most of those same coasters are but gauzy memories or all too real monuments to excess: gorgeous and virtually unrideable objets d'.art. With Ravine Flyer II, however, Gravity Group may have hit on a formula built to last and not just for speed. The coaster'.s dimensions are quite modest but the ride they deliver feels outsized and complete.
The course begins with a curving first drop reminiscent of the Legend before soaring some 165 feet over Penninsula Drive. Other Gravity Group rides have similar quirky features that in lesser hands would merely be gimmicks. As with Hades'. underground tunnels, however, the bridge portions of Ravine Flyer II make the coaster not just unique but significantly more thrilling. This element reminded me of the snowmobile chase in a certain James Bond movie during which stuntmen who are launched skyward over moguls come flying at the camera. Each of the ride'.s transitions is also a thing of beauty. The turnaround between bridge sections is similar to the turnaround between the tunnel portions of Hades, although taken at what seems like a much higher speed. The 90 degree banking on the opposite end perfectly positions the train for the mayhem that follows in the excellent twister finale. GCII should take a page from Gravity Group'.s book and learn to intersperse slalom action and quick directional changes with that greatest of roller coaster elments, the quick, sharp, air-time-producing drop.
This may seem like a lot of praise for a review that actually brings down the overall rating of the ride. I admit I couldn'.t help but compare Ravine Flyer II to its big brother, the Battlestar Voyage, which redefined for me what a roller coaster can accomplish. Voyage is at its most possessed in its final act, whereas I felt Ravine Flyer II lost maybe half a step just before the brake run. I also thought the covering over the bridge, while undoubtedly a necessary concession to PennDOT and Waldameer'.s underwriters, was a bit of shame, although I understand you can'.t have ball caps and sunglasses flying off amusement park rides into vehicular traffic. I fully expect, however, that my current rating will be temporary. The coaster becam