West Edmonton Mall in Canada is the largest shopping mall in North America and home to more than 800 stores, restaurants, a mini-golf course, a better-than-average water park...
an aquarium and marine life show with a trained sea lion, a pirate ship...
an ice skating rink, a wonderfully tacky themed hotel...
and Galaxyland, a small indoor amusement park.
Galaxyland is crammed full of space-themed rides and games with nearly every square inch of space utilized. It's amazing how much stuff is crammed into the space, including four coasters. There's a Dragon Wagon kiddie coaster, a family coaster that travels around the park...
a triple-lift-hill spinning coaster that just barely fits under the ceiling...
and a masterpiece of steel coaster engineering called Mindbender.
In the world of coaster engineering, there are very few names that are as revered as Anton Schwarzkopf. In his 30-odd years of designing coasters, he produced a number of world-class thrillers that are still some of the best-loved rides in the world today. Even though Herr Achterbahn ("Mr. Rollercoaster", as he was affectionately called) retired from the business in 1995 and died in 2001, the designs he crafted are still generating new fans who shudder at the sound of his name like a Disney hyena who just heard you say, "Mufasa."
And rightly so. While there are certainly coaster designers who have since surpassed Schwarzkopf in height, speed, and other measurable dimensions in their designs, very few (if any) have matched his artistry. To watch a Schwarzkopf coaster in action is like watching a stunt plane do ballet. Graceful swooping drops and turns are poetry in motion, mesmerizing in their movements, exhibiting a sense of grace and agility that is lost in many of today's more extreme designs. In a world of bigger, taller, faster coasters, it's the statistics that are creating the buzz - but when art combines with engineering, something special happens.
Mindbender is one of those art-meets-engineering designs. It's one of Schwarzkopf's larger designs, nearly 15 stories tall and more than 4100ft long. It has the graceful balletic moves and aerial acrobatics you'd expect from Anton's designs, along with a bonus feature: it will kick your ass.
Nearly every major coaster on earth has a minimum height requirement. Often, it will be in the neighborhood of 42" or even 48", but Mindbender requires that you be 59" tall to ride. This is mainly due to the restraint system on the trains, which have vertically adjustable pads that need to sit on your shoulders during the ride and if you're under 59" tall, they will sit too high, even at the lowest setting. These have nothing to do with holding you in the car, however.
The shoulder bars curve down over your biceps and prevent you from sticking your hands up. Notice in the previous photo, there is an indicated maximum height of 77", which is there for the same reason, namely because anything, whether it be hand or head, that sticks up too far will be removed by the insanely close support poles as you go through the ride. There are a LOT of close calls in this layout, as this thing runs over, under, through, and around itself, other rides, and a pedestrian bridge.
Yeah. That's kinda close... but that's not even half as tight as this one:
So while I would ordinarily scream and rant over a coaster having shoulder restraints, which I hate with a passion, in this case I'll make an exception. They keep you from losing a limb, so I'll put up with a bit of head-jostling if that's what it takes. So where does the ass-kicking come in?
For starters, the drops are damn-near straight down and twist around to face the opposite direction as you plunge. The sensation is of weightlessness while falling and spinning and the visuals are of the ground (or in this case, the floor) rushing at your face. It's not difficult to imagine yourself as a Cirque du Soleil acrobat amazing your audience with daring yet graceful moves as you plummet toward earth, only to be swept back up at the last second, reversing your course and twisting back upright in complete control.
There isn't much time to think about what just happened before another left-turning plunge takes your breath away again. This one has a bit of track that's straighter than before, giving you time to savor the drop before twisting again.
What follows that is what separates Mindbender from other coasters: two nearly-round loops that pull more than five Gs without a single moment of time for your body to recover between them.
It is ridiculous how fast you hit that first loop. In another nod to the necessity of those shoulder bars, if they weren't holding you upright in your seat, your face would likely be mashed into your knees right about now. The forces going into this loop are intense and the train doesn't slow down at all, so they continue all the way around it and blood begins to drain from your head by the time you reach the bottom. One of these loops would be wicked enough, but there is another one right after this one, and your stamina is about to be tested. No speed is lost going into the second loop and this is where a lot of folks "grey out" - blood is drained from your head due to the G forces to a point where the world gets blurry and colors seem to fade. It's a trippy, hazy, unsettling sensation, a bit like those moments when you stand up too fast and need to grab something to keep from falling over. It can make your world look a bit blurry.
There is a much-welcomed reprieve from the forces as you exit the second loop and a bit of hilly track gives you a few seconds to get your wits back before dropping into another twisting, circular plunge. It's a short break, though, as a swooping 180 leads right to the floor and into the third loop. Whatever stamina you had left at this point is going to be taken from you, making you submit fully and completely to this beast on rails. You belong to it now, but it's not done with you. Not even close.
A couple of mid-level humps get you over a walkway and if there were no shoulder bars, you'd get some airtime here. But (again) you need those bars to keep you from sticking out your hands and smacking them on the "Galaxy Quest" theatre building as you round another corner.
From here, there's a long straight track down in the bowels of the structure right on the floor that gets you from one side of the layout all the way to the other. It's a good time to catch your breath and crunch your abs (a friend of mine who flew fighter jets taught me that if you crunch your abs tightly and bear down, you'll reduce the blood drain during high G forces and won't grey out as often) before you slam into the upward helix. It isn't quite as G-heavy as the loops, but at this point the cumulative effects from the stuff before it make it almost as intense.
And then it's done. Just over a minute of intense, mind-numbing G forces and graceful aerial acrobatics that will leave you breathless and exhausted. Fair warning: the loading procedures are painfully slow, so a visit on a weekday during the school year is your best bet for short queues and multiple rides. Another fair warning: multiple rides are going to make you sore. Neck muscles will ache from trying to hold your head up in those loops, your abs will be screaming at you from all those crunches to keep from greying out, thighs will be sore from pressing against the lap bar in the twisting drops, and shoulders will be raw from rubbing against the restraint pads. Even so, it's well worth it for the incredible experience of riding a true masterpiece from one of the world's greatest designers.