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New in Town: How I didn’t die (but felt like I would) while riding new record-breaking roller-coaster

‘This is not an experience you’re going to get on any other roller-coaster. Your legs are dangling over open air. When you’re hanging there for those three seconds, there’s nothing between you and that drop but open air,’ says Canada’s Wonderland director of communications

I was going to die on Wednesday.

Well, if you believed my work colleagues, April 24 would have been the day of my untimely demise because I was planning to do the unthinkable: ride the Yukon Striker, a new roller-coaster at Canada’s Wonderland — the longest, tallest, and fastest dive coaster in the world.

“Don’t die,” warned Dave Dawson, editor of our sister site OrilliaMatters.

Very useful advice.

While he probably started writing my obituary just in case, I was headed to Vaughan with BradfordToday freelance writer Natasha Philpott to ride a roller-coaster on Media Day at the amusement park.

Media from all around Ontario, and even Buffalo, were there to ride the coaster and capture it all on GoPro video.

When Natasha and I arrived, Canada’s Wonderland looked like a ghost town — likely the only time we will ever park steps from the front gate (for free) and enter (for free), and make our way through a very uncrowded park.

Screams of terror or enjoyment — it’s hard to tell the difference — welcomed us to the Yukon Striker, where dozens of people milled about, sampling concession food, taking photos, getting in line to ride the roller-coaster, or watching their friends do it from the safety of the ground.

It did not take long for Natasha and I to get into place, buckled into the roller-coaster, with a GoPro strapped to the back of the seats in front of us — ready to capture every terrified scream and hysterical laugh.

Knowing I would be sharing the video with Bradford West Gwillimbury readers, I hoped I wouldn’t lose my lunch for all the world to see.

The floors under our feet sunk down to let our feet dangle as the ride began to move along the track. It sped around a curve and up the first hill before coming to almost a complete stop at the summit — 75 metres above ground.

Then, to my horror, the roller-coaster car inched forward over the edge, lurching all of us forward in our seats, and then it paused there for three hours — I mean, three seconds, but it felt a lot longer.

Every single one of us on the ride started squirming and half-screaming in protest. I yelled out, “Abort!”

Why had we done this? Are we really going to die?

“The sound of screaming is like music to my ears,” Grace Peacock, Canada’s Wonderland director of communications, told me afterward on the ground.

“Yukon Striker is unique. This is not an experience you’re going to get on any other roller-coaster. Your legs are dangling over open air. When you’re hanging there for those three seconds, there’s nothing between you and that drop but open air.”

The Yukon Striker is 1,105 metres long, can reach speeds up to 130 km/h, has an underwater tunnel, and it is the only dive coaster with a 360-degree loop.

And Natasha and I were about to experience all of it.

Back in our seats, those three seconds were just long enough to feel like we were all dangling there forever — and then we dropped.

Everyone on the ride screamed at the top of their lungs.

As long as the wait had felt, the ride went by even faster.

We flew down the metal track, zoomed underneath the underwater tunnel that felt so close I ducked, and we spiralled immediately into the 360-degree loop.

By the time I was upside-down, mid-way through the ride, I had started laughing hysterically, and I even threw my arms in the air, feeling secure enough in my nylon harness.

We raced through the rest of the ride, twisting and turning, cork-screwing upside-down, before we came to a stop — or so we thought.

The ride slowed suddenly, so much so Natasha’s and my hair flew into our faces.

Laughing and trying to get our hair out of our faces with our arms strapped back, giving us all the reach of a Tyrannosaurus Rex trying to do the same thing, the ride suddenly came to life again and went over another hill, sending us into a chorus of surprised screams as we careened around more corners until we finally came to a stop, for real.

We had survived the roller-coaster.

And, in fact, we were just crazy enough to ride it a second time without a GoPro camera — that time in the very front row. Even more terrifying, but equally fun, if you can believe it.

“We’re always bringing something new to the park every year,” Peacock told me. “We want to give them something fresh.”

Along those lines, the park is also introducing its first-ever WinterFest this year, starting in November, complete with skating on a frozen fountain, holiday lights everywhere, appearances by Santa, Jack Frost, and the Sugar Plum Fairy, and much more.

“The park is going to be completely transformed into a winter wonderland,” Peacock said.

But for now, Canada’s Wonderland is gearing up for its opening day May 3, and Peacock is hoping people will come to enjoy the park and go for a wild ride on the Yukon Striker.

“Thrill-seekers are going to love it,” she said.

In case you're curious, here's the view looking outward: 

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Jenni Dunning

About the Author: Jenni Dunning

Jenni Dunning is a community editor and reporter who covers news in the Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury.
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