Long before getting to Hersheypark for a ride on Skyrush, I had seen YouTube videos of it. Frankly, it didn't look very impressive. A big drop, then not much else: a figure-8, a few turns, a bunny hop or two. I figured that it would be fun, but nothing to get too excited about. I had also heard that the lap bar restraints were terribly uncomfortable, to the point that the coaster had gotten the nickname, "Thighcrush." My expectations were decidedly meh.
When I finally laid eyes on it in person, I must admit that the setting over the water was a nice visual touch.
Still, even watching it from the ground, I expected to like it a bit, maybe ride once or twice, then move on to other things. Firstly, I'm really not a fan of four-across seating and these trains have that. The edge seats stick out beyond the track, leaving your legs free, which looks cool, but usually doesn't change the ride experience much. After all, how often do you look down at your feet on a ride?
Secondly, the layout didn't look any better in person than it did on the videos. The first drop was tall, but didn't stay steep for very long and the bunny hops were so elongated that I figured they'd provide floater airtime at best, if that. Simply put, I was completely unprepared for what was about to happen.
Dat drop. It's engineered insanity taken to eleven. It's 200 feet tall, the lift is super-fast, you get thrown over the crest of it, and then it goes down nearly halfway before it finally reaches the steepest angle of descent.
The reason that's significant is that you're going crazy-fast, you think the drop is basically done with everything it's going to do, and then you hit that midpoint and you get catapulted out of your seat while looking right at the ground. The front seat is fine, but trust me on this: skip that extra half hour of queue for the front row and head right for the back of the train. That moment of ejector airtime on this drop is one of the best OMFG moments I've ever had on any coaster. Period.
So you're tossed over the hill and it's just damn near straight down and you've been catapulted out of your seat and you're going crazy fast and there's a turn at the bottom. A turn. Are you freaking kidding me? I'm not sure what the designers were thinking, but if I'm going nearly straight down at 75mph in a vehicle without a floor, a TURN is not the next thing on my agenda. Too bad. Surprisingly, that turn is taken with grace and ease, the last time I'll use either of those two words to describe any part of this ride.
Click the picture above to embiggen, then have a good look at the people on that train. Here's the thing: when coaster cars don't have floors to put your feet on, the general reaction is to stick your feet straight out or kick them freely. People do this on inverted coasters, floorless coasters, and they were likely doing it all the way up the lift hill of this coaster just a few seconds ago. Look carefully at the picture, though. No legs out. Every single rider has their legs tucked under their seat. Why? Because the ride is trying really hard to throw them to the moon, or at least to the next county, and human nature is to curl your legs under your chair to try to stay in the car. Of course, it wouldn't do any good, but you try. The negative-Gs here are amazingly strong and if not for the lap bar, you'd be doing your best Superman impression right now, sans cape. If you're a coaster addict and live for moments like this, you are going to be in a euphoric adrenaline high unrivalled by anything you've ever done before. If you're a coaster novice and the feeling of your butt leaving the seat makes you uneasy, then you might seriously want to bring a change of pants. This is probably the strongest, most sustained, most intense negative-gravity hill anywhere. Tuck your legs under the chair all you want, it won't matter. You are not going to be in your seat here.
From extreme negative-Gs to extreme positive Gs. Coming off that airtime hill lands you in the first of several long, sweeping turns. These are the things that made the videos I'd seen so dull, but that's because you don't get the sensation of G-forces trying to crush you into your seat from a video like you do when you're actually on the ride. Legs begin to go numb and by the time you pull out of the turn, a bit of tunnel vision ("graying out") can happen, especially on repeat rides. It's very intense. (Protip: tightening your abs and bearing down while grunting will lessen the effects of the G forces and help keep you from graying out.)
Remember the insane airtime hill a few seconds ago? Here's another one, this one is just as strong, and when you come over the top, butt above the seat, there's a huge piece of steel track right in front of your head. Yeah. Somebody has a sense of humor. If you're sitting in the back row (and you should be), it's kinda comical to watch people simultaneously get airtime and try to duck down. You've got plenty of room, but it sure doesn't look like it. You don't even slow down over this hill and now it's down and to the right into another mind-numbing turn full of positive-Gs.
This curve leads to another hill, but rather than more insane negative-Gs, it rolls over on its side and does a little flying camel thing. As much as I love negative-Gs and airtime, it's a bit of relief for your legs that they don't have to work to hold you into the car here... or at least that's what you think. Coming out of it, the train twists left and then right again along the centerline of the track... meaning that the train gets flung side to side with you in it. That sounds horrible, but it's very smooth and quite fun, even though you aren't entirely sure the train really wants you to stay in it. Every maneuver seems to be calculated to throw you out. As you can see in the picture above, this element doesn't look that great from the ground, but it's a madhouse of forces when you're on it.
Another swooping turn full of positive-Gs brings you to a specialty of Intamin brand coasters: the bunny hop with a twist. A bunny hop is a short hill taken at high speed. It usually involves coming up out of your seat for some nice airtime. These, however, are a bit different in that the track is angled to one side coming up the hill, then angled the other direction on the way down. The crest of the hill has the transition. This happens on a lot of Intamin coasters, but those are all narrow, two-across seating trains. These are wide trains - and the edge seats are about to get batshit crazy.
This is the moment that separates those who like the edge seats from those who like the center. It also creates a division of those who like the left side and those who like the right. The experience is different for all those folks. Center-seat riders get much the same experience as they would on the other Intamin coasters with this maneuver, lean right on the way up, pop up out of your seat, lean left on the way down. Right-edge riders, though, get catapulted over the top like a circus acrobat on a teeter-totter as the wide train flings that side of the train up on the twist. Left-edge riders get the opposite effect, riding the high side on the way up, then having their seat yanked from under them on the twist. It's all great and very intense, but you don't have time to savor it long, as another riotous airtime hill is dead ahead.
That last moment of insanely strong negative-Gs leads to a slight left turn and the brakes. Riders are breathless and giddy, some in various states of disorientation with an unmistakeable look of "dafuq did I just do?" on their faces. The other thing you notice is that the lap bars have tightened during the ride on those turns, but thankfully they ratchet back up a couple of inches on the brake run, so there's not much discomfort - even on repeat rides. I'd heard that in Skyrush's inaugural season, the lap bars were a different type and that they were quite uncomfortable, even to the point of ruining the ride experience. It seems that Hersheypark addressed those issues, as I rode nearly 20 times in half a day without any problems. You know what? The 20th ride was just as good as the first. That's how you know you've got a winning coaster.
Skyrush is nestled down in a valley at Hersheypark along with the old Comet wood coaster and two other steel coasters. Skyrush has a commanding presence there - as well it should. It is one of the most crazy, intense rides in the world, with extreme G-forces, challenging turns, and one of the best first drops anywhere. It's pretty much everything I want in a steel coaster, and more.