Timeless rides

Great Coasters International (GCI) specializes in designing, building, and refurbishing wooden rollercoasters. Having just opened its first UK ride, the company is eager to take on different challenges in 2019

The mastery and craftsmanship of our carpenters is the true art of the company,” exclaims Clair Hain, President and co-founder of Great Coasters International (GCI), setting the stage for a conversation that brings to the fore the passion the wooden coasters manufacturer has for preserving and enhancing the wooden ride experience through the years. The company was established in 1994 by Clair and his business partner Michael Boodley, both of whom share the same conviction that wooden coasters were going to remain a staple attraction in every self-respecting amusement park.

“The result of our coming together was that we set out to create the new generation of wooden coasters,” Clair remembers. “The business’ first coaster was called Wildcat and was installed at the famous Hersheypark in Pennsylvania in 1996. It was designed with the intention to bring the once very popular twisted coaster elements into new life, as they had not been seen at amusement parks for a long time.” With a twisting first drop, breakneck speed, and 18 crossovers, the product became an instant success, laying the foundations of a solid platform that would see GCI introduce a number of new rides, mainly in America, in the years that followed. Today, the organization serves a wide array of customers – ranging from large national to smaller regional amusement parks, having built and installed rides all over North America, Europe, and Asia.

Approaching every new project with vigour and unrelenting ambition to turn it into its best ride to date has distinguished the company throughout its existence. This attitude also explains the continued success experienced by GCI. “Every new coaster we launch automatically becomes our current favourite,” Clair laughs. “If I were to single out some of our most famous creations, however, then I should definitely mention our Millennium Flyer coaster trains, which provide a safe and comfortable journey through our highly-twisted track configurations.”

True classics
Earlier in 2018, GCI installed the UK’s first new wooden coaster in over 20 years, which also marked the business’ first appearance in the country. Inspired by the 1973 cult British horror movie of the same name, The Wicker Man was built for Alton Towers in Staffordshire, making clever use of the location’s topography. Clair details: “Most of our designs are custom to the parks we deliver rides to. We love the challenge of building coasters in a specific topography, because this allows us to create elements that only that unique terrain can provide. With The Wicker Man, we had the challenge of building below the tree line. We were able to do some excavation that enabled us to form a more exciting first drop sequence, but the ride’s low sweeping curves use the hillside to nurture a thrilling experience for the whole family.”

Aspiring to ensure the longevity of its rides, GCI has included in its latest design the construction of a steel structure with the wooden coaster sitting atop of it. “To do that, we have recently invested in CNC machining, as the process facilitates the manufacturing of the steel parts significantly. What is more, tolerances can be held tighter on CNC machines than in manual production,” Clair reveals.

More than just building new coasters, GCI also keenly repairs old rides, led by its respect for the origins of the industry and its willingness to restore the nostalgic looks and feel of what the company considers ‘a timeless classic attraction’. “As much as we enjoy building new rides, we also take pride into rebuilding older coasters to the state they were meant to be ridden. Our carpenters’ dexterity is what enables us to release products of the highest quality, as they are capable of hand-sculpting the track into the twisted and dynamic layouts of wood, thus contributing to the experience we are trying to create for the parks’ visitors,” Clair lauds his employees’ technical aptitude.

The company employs approximately 30 full-time staff members, who are backed by additional 30 contractors mobilized during the construction phase of a project. “The duration and the size of the team deployed is greatly determined by the size of the scheme,” Clair comments. “Sometimes, we can design and build a ride in less than a year, as the design stage can occasionally overlap with the manufacturing and construction phases. Larger projects, on the other hand, generally take us between one and two years. We are very skilled at constructing the track to the customer’s exact specifications, thus ensuring a smooth ride for the guest and minimal maintenance for the operator.”

New challenges
As the global amusement industry is growing at an enviable pace, so is GCI, with the manufacturer being more than ready to take on the challenge of building the most thrilling rides in every geographical area it operates. “We are planning to share some exciting news towards the end of the year, so watch this space for new designs and developments in the coming months,” Clair teases us. “Undoubtedly, we will continue to build the amazing classic wooden rollercoasters that have made our company famous, as well as carry on repairing older rides. Starting from next year, however, we will also look to expand further and take on a few new, different and interesting challenges. What remains certain, though, is that we will stay true to ourselves and preserve our drive for innovation, using our proven design concepts as a solid basis for our coming products. This has been a successful strategy for us over the years and we believe it will continue to be such in the future,” he concludes.

Defined by a construction team, 23which possesses the unique skills required to perfectly shape a ride and create a structure that will need less maintenance than any other wooden coaster, GCI has the distinct advantage of combining advanced manufacturing and construction capabilities with staggering imagination, which allows the company to develop visionary design ideas. With a buoyant amusement industry offering a host of opportunities at present times, and GCI confident enough to embrace these and evolve its proposition, there are no reasons to doubt that we will hear a lot about the continued success of the Pennsylvanian manufacturer in the years to come.

Great Coasters International
Products: Wooden rollercoaster