Why Wooden Roller Coasters Are Better

El Toro at Six Flags Great Adventure Credit: John Greim / Getty Images

Wood or steel? For Tim Baldwin Communication Director with American Coaster Enthusiasts, the answer is clear. Here's why he's bullish on wood.

It may be nostalgia, but a wooden coaster captures the essence of a true coaster ride. They’re pure, affecting all of your senses. You can smell the wood, hear the sounds of the chain lift, the rumble of the timer, and feel the roar as the trains race around the tracks. You don’t get that on a steel coaster. They are over-engineered and often seem too caught up in loops and gimmicks. There is something extra about a wooden coaster — it seems to carry the soul of the thrill ride.

Part of their beauty is that wooden coasters are living, breathing things. The wood expands and contracts during the day, continually changing the ride. You could get on the same coaster throughout the day sitting in a different seat each time, and have a unique ride each time.

Then there's the “air time.” This is that wonderful feeling when riders are lifted off their seats, whether it being in the back seat going down the plunge, or in the front seat as riders are rushed up the next hill. Steel coasters can do this, but often the restraints have you so confined in your seats, particularly with loops, that some of that negative G sensation is lost. A great wooden coaster feels barely in control. It can be terror on rails. That’s the adrenaline rush that fans crave.

Wooden coasters are things of beauty. They are a connection back to the late 19th century, when America’s first amusement parks were being built. These are the types of rides that your parents and grandparents enjoyed as kids, and now want to ride with their own kids. There are outstanding steel coasters, too, but wooden coasters are the kings of the midway.

–As told to Hudson Lindenberger

Baldwin's Top 5 Wooden Coasters

1. The Phoenix: Knoebels Amusement Resort: It’s the perfect coaster. It does everything a great coaster should, and it is packed with air time.

2. Boulder Dash: Lake Compounce: Built into the side of a mountain, it continuously rushes through the landscape, dodging trees and boulders.

3. Shivering Timbers: Michigan’s Adventure: It’s just one drop after another — it’s the sixth longest woodie in the world.

4. El Toro: Six Flags Great Adventure: One of the biggest and baddest — intense airtime and extremely steep drops.

5. Outlaw Run: Silver Dollar City: This ride delivers some really wild maneuvers, including an amazingly steep 68 mph first drop and a double-barrel roll finale.