Outlaw Run

by Jim Winslett

Silver Dollar City is a beautiful park nestled in the Ozark Mountains of southern Missouri. The theme is part Old West, part Old Mountain Homestead, much like sister park Dollywood. SDC is set along the side of a rather steep hill with the entrance/exit at the top of the hill and most of the good rides near the bottom. Bring comfortable walking shoes with non-slip soles!


An actual cabin from the 1800s serves as a concert stage.

The park has beautiful landscaping, craft shops, delicious food, and a good selection of rides.

Yell, "Hey, Bubba!" and about a third of the people within earshot will say, "Wut?"

The park, in spite of its small size and rustic charm, is home to a nice collection of coasters: a very good B&M looper, an S&S launched coaster, a wicked mine train featuring a triple helix into a tunnel, a combination dark ride/coaster with a splashdown finale, a decent kiddie coaster, and this: 

Nice logo!

And even if you'd never heard of Silver Dollar City before 2013, I'm betting you'd heard of it as soon as the plans for this coaster leaked out. This was easily the most talked-about coaster of 2013 and it was also one of the most controversial - is it wood or is it steel?  Well, a steel coaster consists of an all-steel rail or pipe for the coaster wheels to travel on. A wood coaster rail consists of a stack of wood topped with a steel plate for the wheels to roll on. This coaster clearly falls into the latter category, as the track is plainly stacked wood topped by a steel rail. The only difference is that the steel rail is as thick as one of the boards in the stack, rather than a 1/4 inch plate on top of the top board.  

Photo by Paul Drabek

But does it feel like a woodie? Yes, yes, YES it feels just like a brand new wood coaster. In fact, it feels a lot more like a wood coaster than the Intamin Plug-n-play coasters do. It tracks like a wood coaster, it rides like a wood coaster, and it's smooth like a brand new woodie should be. The difference in the topper track is that it should still feel like a brand new wood coaster many years from now, rather than becoming unrideable and rough. Because of this, Rocky Mountain Construction can dare to put in wild elements that would've been far too maintenance-heavy with regular, old-school track. Elements like a double barrel-roll going uphill at the end of the ride, a floater camelback banked at 90 degrees, a ridiculously-steep drop into a ravine, and this:

Photo by Paul Drabek

I believe that RMC refers to this as a reverse-banked left turn. I'm just going to call it the OMFG turn, because that's what it is... and that's what you're likely to have spew out of your mouth when you get to it. More on that later.

Let's start with the theming: the idea is that you're on a stagecoach trying to get to your destination without getting robbed along the way by outlaws. The station is whimsical, set up to resemble a stage company's depot. Western music plays with the occasional interruption of some stereotypical Old West Dude talking about the ride. It's cute, but it gets tiring after several listens in a long queue. When you finally get to the station, you see the trains. They're beautiful:

Photo by Paul Drabek

Yes, it's true that people with large tummies or folks built like Sumo wrestlers might not be able to ride due to the need to pull the bar down far enough to trigger the all-clear indicator. The main issue for most people, though, is those shin bars. I'm 6ft tall and I was able to fit into them with minimal discomfort, but taller folks or folks with long legs may have some issues. You can get the bar down, but it's going to be in contact with your shins for the entire ride. For some, this provides substantial discomfort.

When the train is dispatched, you hear a recording of a cowboy yelling, "HYAAAH!!", the crack of a whip, thunderous hoof sounds from several horses, and epic music in the style of Western movies. It's a nice touch.

What is it, maybe 100ft tall? No problem.

THE RIDE: The first thing you notice is that the lift hill isn't all that tall. It's about 100ft or so, nothing major. You're up to the top in no time, where you're greeted with a shallow, turning dip and a spectacular view of the Ozark Mountains. Then all hell breaks loose.

The first drop is unspeakably steep at 81 degrees. It's also perched on the edge of a ravine, so that unimposing little lift hill actually leads to a 162ft drop. You can't see the bottom of the drop until you're halfway down - unless you're near the back of the train, where you've been able to see the bottom almost from the start, since you got launched out of your seat at the breakover and can see over the heads of all the all the riders in front of you. It's a delicious, terrifying moment of wood coaster bliss. 

You bottom out of the drop rather smoothly, thanks to the topper track's solid base and head up into a banked left turn. It's a hard bank, rolled over to the left side of the train, and then it isn't. I can't really describe it better than that: it's banked left, then it isn't. It's banked RIGHT. Waaaaay right. Like all the way right, over into a zero-G floating right that comes out of nowhere. It's nearly impossible to see it before you're doing it, even if you are in the front car and you know it's coming. After rolling all the way over to the right, it rolls back to the left and finishes out the OMFG turn with a sharply banked left.

Photo by Paul Drabek

I should also point out that those trains have NOTHING TO HOLD ONTO. If you're the type who likes to grip the handrail for security, you're just totally out of luck. There is nothing to grab, at all, period. There's a small leather strap on one side of the U-bar for the ride ops to tug on to test the bars in the station, but that's not going to help your sense of security at this point. You might as well put those hands up and let it all just happen.

After screaming down the rest of the left-hand turn, the train launches into a bunny hop with incredible airtime and a twist in the middle. Now you're headed down into a right hand turn which levels out into another bunny hop, still going nearly 60mph. There's a seriously-banked turn through the lift structure here and in the middle of the pullout of this turn, there's another twist to the right (more airtime) and a drop into another valley. At the bottom of this valley is one of the most mind-bogglingly perfectly engineered moments of any wood coaster ever designed. It's a perfectly-shaped camelback hill tilted at 90 degrees, much like the infamous "high-five" maneuver on that Gravity Group coaster in China. This one, however, has the tiniest bend in the hill that produces floating airtime. Parallel to the ground. While enjoying strong laterals. At nearly 60mph. Yeah. 
I can tell you that I didn't really appreciate that particular part of the layout until maybe my tenth ride or so, because everything on this ride is so incredibly intense that it takes at least five or six rides to be able to tell WTF you just did, then another five or so to pick out your favorite bits from the blur. 

Anyway, after this savory bit of woodie goodie, you're presented with another ejector-airtime bunny hop before the pièce de résistance: a 720 degree barrel roll going uphill that gets you back to the station. The park really pushes this bit as the crowning glory of the ride, but in all honesty it's my least favorite bit. That's not to say that it isn't good. It's very good. On any other coaster, especially any other WOOD coaster, it would be the standout moment. But on this ride, which is nothing but standout moments, it's almost anti-climactic. That last roll is also pretty slow and can be a tad uncomfortable for riders on the right side of the train, as they'll spend a few seconds hugging the side of the car with their ribs.

The ride op uniforms for the "citizens" of SDC are way more fun than the day-glo shirts at other parks.

Upon arriving at the brake run, one of several prerecorded themes will play, involving horses slowing down, someone yelling "WOOOAAAHHH", and a short spiel from the stage master about how we'd managed to avoid the outlaws on this trip. Most of the time, it goes unnoticed due to the loud cheers and applause from everyone on the train. Seriously, that's the thing you notice first from the queue: EVERY TRAIN that comes in is filled with people cheering and applauding. Every. Single. Train. If that's not a sign of a bonafide hit, I don't know what is.
If it were just a few seconds longer (it's a very short 40 seconds from the top of the lift to the brakes), it would easily be my #1 coaster and probably would be for quite some time. There's just so much to love: the speed, the intensity, the crazy acrobatics, the wooded setting, the fun theming, and the re-rideablility that you get from the smooth topper track.

THE BOTTOM LINE (for those TL;DR folks):

Outlaw Run was hyped like crazy and it absolutely lives up to every bit of the hype. No anticipointment here!