Discover more from Arthur's About Theme Parks
You’ll be comin' down the mountain when you come (at high speed)
New Tumwater Twister coaster delivers alpine thrills
4 (out of 5)
Washington is known for its majestic mountains. For some reason, no alpine coasters could be found on any of them–until now. Tumwater Twister, the featured attraction at the new Leavenworth Adventure Park, elicits screams that reverberate throughout Tumwater Canyon. It’s a humdinger of a ride and a great addition to the German-themed town of Leavenworth.
For visitors to the vacation haven, there’s no mistaking the coaster. Nestled in the lovely Cascade Mountains, a massive peak overlooks the downtown tourist corridor. The small park sits at the base of the mountain, with Tumwater Twister’s silver-hued coaster track rising high up its face. When the park is open, a steady steam of cars make the trek up the lift hill and careen down the mountainside.
For those unfamiliar with alpine coasters (which are also known as mountain coasters), they typically use the natural topography of the mountains on which they sit and hug their contours (which is the case for Tumwater Twister). The rides generally feature single cars that resemble sleds and can accommodate one or two passengers. The interactive vehicles include hand brakes that give riders the ability to slow the action if they feel it is getting too intense.
About Theme Parks is a reader-supported, ad-free publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free, or better yet, paid subscriber. Paid subscriptions are my only source of income here.
Passengers climb into the snug, low-slung, orange cars, which have a single seat back, in the loading station. When two guests want to hop aboard, the rider in the back has to straddle the one in the front and serve as his or her seat back. After checking the restraints and giving safety and brake operation instructions to passengers, operators give the cars a little push to engage them onto the cable lift.
The cars make a steep ascent quite high up the mountain, and an operator perched in a booth at the summit of the ride gives a final fare thee well. The train takes a fairly slow turn up at the top which affords positively stunning vistas of the Cascades, the canyon, and the river rapids below. Then the gravity-induced wackiness ensues.
The cars pick up speed, and just as the bustling downtown comes into view from way on high, the cars veer left into the first of three 360-degree helices. There are some moments when the cars, almost Wild Mouse-style, take a bit of an abrupt turn. That, combined with the sheer height at which I was careening, made me think about using the brakes. But the ride has automatic trim brakes built in, and when they kicked in (which they did fairly often), the action cooled down before things got too gnarly.
According to the park, the speed never exceeds 27 mph, although it felt much zippier to me. That’s likely because the vehicles stay low to the mountain terrain and whip past trees and other flora. It also may have something to do with the small cars, which are quite open and leave passengers feeling exposed. In case you are wondering what might happen when a guest chooses to brake to a comfortable crawl (what the park refers to as a “scenic” ride) and a car behind it is going full tilt, the alpine coaster has fail-safe systems to slow the approaching vehicle and prevent collisions. With a total elevation change of 234 feet, passengers get to experience thrilling heights along with spectacular views.
“So many people take nature for granted,” says Jessica Wedel of Wiegand, a German company that specializes in alpine coasters and has built nearly 300 of them, including Tumwater Twister. “The coaster offers a different perspective of the beautiful landscape that surrounds it.”
The ride is quite smooth and enjoyable. Despite the small, sled-like vehicles and hypercoaster heights, I felt secure hurtling down the mountainside. Passengers as young as three with a minimum height of 38 inches can ride when accompanied by an adult.
It’s a bit disconcerting to have to sign a waiver before being allowed to board Tumwater Twister, but that’s standard for alpine coasters. (Although I’m not sure why; they certainly don’t seem to be any more dangerous than a traditional coaster.)
In addition to Tumwater Twister, the adventure park also offers a climbing wall, a bungee trampoline, and a gem mining experience. Apparently there is a lot of pent-up demand for alpine coasters in the state. (And coasters in general, for that matter. There are only a handful in Washington, most of which are located at the state’s only other park, the smallish Wild Waves.) Advance reservations are required for Tumwater Twister, and the ride has been regularly selling out early, especially on weekends. Admission to the park is free. Coaster tickets cost $20 for adults, $17 for youth ages 7 to 12, and $5 for children ages 3 to 6. Ride packages are available.
If you go
Leavenworth is located a little more than two hours east of Seattle. Its German theme is as authentic as Disneyland’s European stylings throughout Fantasyland (read: not very). With no actual heritage upon which to draw, town leaders in the early 1960s nevertheless decided to capitalize on its mountain setting and remake its center as a Bavarian village to attract tourists. The alpine coaster, oddly, fits right in “making it feel even more like an Alps vacation,” says Wedel.
Visitors just have to go with the fun, kitschy vibe. Brauts, beer, and, especially, giant pretzels, are a must here. We found that Rhein Haus nailed the wholly German trinity. To appreciate the area’s natural beauty, hike the Icicle Gorge trail. The easy, 3.5 mile route does not involve a lot of climbing. Consider staying at Spromberg Canyon Meadows, a three-bedroom log cabin with a gorgeous stone fireplace that’s owned and operated by the Schmoker family. Contact: (509) 860-7682 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have you been on an alpine coaster? If so, where was it located and what was your experience like? How do you think mountain coasters compare and contrast with traditional coasters?