Playland’s Coaster makes a thunderous return after a $1 million restoration

Playland’s iconic 64-year-old ride was beefed up with 1,200 new timbers, taking nothing away from its Old West runaway train vibe, just in time for the PNE.

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The seat belts are the most notable new addition to Playland’s old wooden roller coaster at the PNE following a $1 million, 18-month restoration.

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The addition might disappoint wooden roller coaster purists, but it helped quell the upset stomach that you might be tossed onto the ride’s foam-padded steel lap bar on your first steep drop.

Driving is the only way to test the results of the most extensive single facelift the PNE has given the Coaster, so I’ve agreed to try it out in its first official week back in action, just in time to be in service for the Coaster show. park signature.

And it hasn’t lost any of the bone-shaking, heart-stopping Old West runaway train vibe for which it’s been famous throughout its 64-year history.

“I thought, the only thing holding me back on that ride was my seatbelt,” said first-time cyclist Manish Choudhari, who lined up to take the newly reopened ride at the same time. “I was falling from the top, and then you’re jumping from one (hill) to another. So yeah, it was scary.”

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Well, terrifying with an adrenaline-induced smile on your face, a little terrifying, as Choudhari’s wobbly-kneed friend Thaminda Karunanayake attested.

“From the outside, it doesn’t look that scary,” Karunanayake said, “but I think the roughness of the ride… added to the excitement.”

Real. The ride begins with a slow, almost smooth ride up the first incline, the chain rattling as you are pushed up the first peak to look out over the North Shore mountains and downtown skyscrapers as the view opens up.

Even the first drop doesn’t feel quite as threatening, but gravity takes over to throw you down the first steep pass, then back up at the first hairpin turn, with the G-forces alternately trying to pull you out of the car and then hit you. the side.

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It chugs through three spiraling loops of inclines, followed by steep inclines and hairpin turns as it turns around the ride path, generating plenty of “air time.”

The earth-shattering roar of Coaster’s wheels against the rails echoes through the wood, making it hard to hear more than the screams of the bikers behind you, especially the double hill on the final loop where you’re pulling on your seat belt. that keeps you in your place.

“I was hoping for a bit of a smoother ride, because I’ve (ridden) the bigger ones,” Karunanayake said. “But this one, even the sound adds up.”

“Scarier than I thought, but it’s fun,” he added after he finished.

The friends, relatively new to Vancouver, were drawn to the roller coaster during their first visit to the park by its reputation as Playland’s most authentically vintage and iconic attraction, which is why there was no doubt they’d get this middle-aged restoration. . according to PNE spokeswoman Laura Ballance.

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“For us, we recognize that the Coaster is a gem,” said Ballance. “It’s the last of its kind in the world, as it’s the last Walker LeRoy, Carl Phare ride left in the world,” referring to the ride’s legendary head builder and designer.

“It consistently rises as one of the best roller coasters of its kind in the world,” added Ballance.

The extensive renovation is something the PNE had been planning for a while, Ballance said, but the COVID pandemic that shut down the fair for two years presented an opportunity to get the job done.

PNE officials hired Quebec-based Martin and Vleminckx Rides as lead engineers for the restoration. It involved the replacement of 1,200 structural-grade Douglas fir lumber, which stands out in a pressure-treated pale green on the otherwise weathered structure.

Ballance said maintenance crews regularly replace the boards to help keep the “living ride” in top shape year after year. First opened in 1958, it has seen several “major projects”, totaling perhaps $200,000 at one time.

“It’s just part of the fabric of our province, and I think our goal has always been to keep it,” Ballance said.

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