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Monday, December 4, 2023
Dec. 4, 2023

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Leavenworth’s new alpine coaster draws sold-out crowds


LEAVENWORTH — For roller coaster lovers in the Pacific Northwest, options are fairly scarce with just a few theme parks and seasonal attractions dotting the map.

This summer, a new ride nestled in the Cascade mountains has offered Washington’s thrill seekers a fresh adventure and attracted tourists from far and wide.

Riders who hop aboard the Tumwater Twister in Leavenworth ascend more than 200 feet in the sky and take in views of Icicle Ridge, the Wenatchee River, the Tumwater Canyon and other Cascadian wonders.

Since it opened June 1, the Tumwater Twister has day after day drawn sold-out crowds to Leavenworth Adventure Park, which is about a three-hour drive west of Spokane. The park is a short walk from downtown Leavenworth and visible to pedestrians who look west from the town’s main drag.

More mellow attractions at the park — such as bungee trampolines and a mining sluice — are sure to provide entertainment for the traveler seeking less adrenaline.

Riders on the Tumwater Twister have the ability to slow their car’s roll for a more scenic ride, thanks to built-in brakes.

On a recent Wednesday, this Spokesman-Review reporter ventured to Leavenworth, searching for a thrill and hoping not to vomit. (Spoiler: She managed to ride the roller coaster and live to tell the tale without getting sick.)

The journey

After grabbing my ticket, I made my way to the back of the Tumwater Twister line. I felt thankful I forgot to eat breakfast on this particular day in case things got unsettling. The last time I braved a roller coaster I was on my Moscow High School senior class trip to Silverwood Theme Park.

The first thing I noticed in line was the sheer range in humanity brought together by the coaster, searching for a common purpose: to feel their bodies propelled down steel tracks in a car they can’t control, and to find some type of fleeting emotion while doing so. There were babies and older couples, loners and bustling large groups.

It took about 30 minutes to get through the line from start to finish. The man directly behind me wore a backwards baseball cap with bright orange flames embroidered onto the sides. His name was John Thurlow, and he had traveled 266 miles from his home in Ridgefieldto Leavenworth for a family reunion. He and his wife made a special trip to ride the coaster.

It was Thurlow’s second ride on the coaster that day, he said, thanks to a freebie ticket he was handed because an extra-leisurely rider up ahead slowed him and others down on his first coaster descent.

Thurlow said he enjoyed his first ride on the coaster, despite the unexpected slowdown.

“On the way up, I was looking at all the sights,” he said. “I’m not afraid of heights — never have been.”

Thurlow and I parted ways with a wave and a smile as we buckled into our respective cars.

The journey began with a steep ascent up the tracks and a gentle turn that revealed panoramic views of the river canyon and forests below.

All of a sudden, gravity hit and my car twisted and turned through three 360-degree helices. Abrupt curves made it feel like the car would topple off the tracks, but I leaned into the chaos and resisted the mortal urge to pull on the brake levers.

The backstory

Riders on the coaster can reach speeds as fast as 27 mph if they don’t hit the brakes, the park’s assistant manager Steven Thomas said.

Alpine coasters differ from regular roller coasters because they are built into the natural topography of the land, curving with the slopes and contours of a mountain or hillside. Once a rider gets to the top of the Tumwater Twister, gravity is the only force propelling them down the tracks.

The initial idea for an alpine coaster in Leavenworth was born in 2017. COVID-19 delays pushed the opening back to this year.

In anticipation of opening day, Thomas said Leavenworth locals voiced concern that the new attraction would bring noise and traffic to the area. He said park officials have worked hard to minimize traffic backups, adding that the coaster itself is very quiet.

The Tumwater Twister was designed and engineered by Wiegand, a German company that has built nearly 300 alpine coasters around the world. Tumwater Twister is Washington’s first alpine coaster.

Washington’s limited amount of roller coaster options is surprising for a state of its size, said Derek Perry, a spokesperson for American Coaster Enthusiasts.

Perry — who has ridden 1,216 roller coasters in his life — said he thinks the slim pickings in the state could have something to do with the weather.

“Maybe developers think it might not be as financially beneficial to build a park in Washington due to the shorter season,” he said. “Maybe an indoor park could be more successful.”

Despite the relative shortage compared to other pockets of the country, the Evergreen State is home to a few popular parks and coasters.

Wild Waves Theme & Water Park in Federal Way attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, park officials said. It is one of the state’s biggest amusement parks. At Wild Waves, Perry said he loves the steel coaster, Wild Thing, and the wooden coaster, Timberhawk: Ride of Prey. (Fun fact: This year, the Timberhawk celebrates its 20th birthday.)

Remlinger Farms in Carnation is home to a kid-friendly fun park. For more thrills, some coaster lovers head east of Spokane to Silverwood Theme Park in North Idaho, one of the region’s largest parks that attracts more than 500,000 visitors annually.

At the Washington State Fair in Puyallup, thrill seekers flock to the nearly 100-year-old Classic Coaster.

Since 2020, a national resurgence in amusement parks could bring more parks to the region, Perry said, adding that people seem to be traveling more domestically these days.

“A lot of people I talk to in amusement parks say they want to explore the country more, and take road trips,” he said. “The higher price in airfare might have something to do with that.”

Perry has been a member of American Coaster Enthusiasts since 1991. He joined the organization as a child on the East Coast and has been hooked ever since. He has yet to visit the Tumwater Twister and add it to his list of “coaster credits,” but he said he looks forward to checking it out.

“I just want to live a life of no regrets as much as possible,” he said. “I just want to experience everything I can.”

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