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2010 Best Theme Park Attraction nominee: Dollywood's Thunderhead

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Published: February 22, 2010 at 8:31 AM

For the past two months, we've been featuring the nominees for Theme Park Insider's 2010 Best Theme Park Attraction Tournament, in part to help keep our readers in northern parts of the country fired up for the start of the 2010 season. Starting today, we'l be shining the daily spotlight on each of the top four seeds in the tournament's brackets, leading up to the start of the tournament next month.

For the fourth seed in the Best Roller Coaster bracket, Theme Park Insider readers have selected Dollywood's Thunderhead.

Dollywood's Thunderhead

This Great Coasters International wooden coaster burst onto the scene in 2004. Featuring's GCI's Millennium Flyer trains, Thunderhead grabbed folks' attention not only for its Smoky Mountain woodland setting, but also for it's first-ever high-speed station fly-through. The trains roar through the station in mid-ride, just feet over waiting riders' heads.

It's not just the sound, it's the physical feeling of the wooden track vibrating the station all around you that jump-starts the adrenaline in your body, hyping it up for the ride ahead.

On track, Thunderhead delivers, with a wicked set of sweeping drops and s-curves that create an illusion of speed exceeding its actual 54 miles per hour. Since Thunderhead's debut, GCI's duplicated much of the ride's layout, including the station fly-through with Terminator Salvation at Six Flags Magic Mountain. (Click that link for a reverse POV video of me on that coaster with Magic Mountain's park president.) You'll also find similarly lauded GCI coasters Evel Knievel at Six Flags St. Louis and Prowler at World of Fun.

Let's hear your thoughts about Dollywood's Thunderhead, relative to the other coasters in the tournament so far.

Readers' Opinions

From M. Ryan Traylor on February 22, 2010 at 8:50 AM
This has got to stop, Robert. My road trip next year is getting longer and longer as I am reminded of rides that I have never been on. Or parks that I haven't been to in a while.

And like I said in the post about The Voyage, it will be interesting to see how my votes change for 2012.

From Rod Whitenack on February 22, 2010 at 9:02 AM
I rode this back in August, and it did give me a headache, but didn't rock my world. I think after experiencing the Voyage, it would take more than Thunderhead to impress me in the wooden arena. I did like Mystery Mine quite a bit more, but that's apples and oranges, I suppose.
From 70.118.44.204 on February 22, 2010 at 10:34 AM
Thunderhead is just a great ride. Non-stop action, and the first flyby experience. I havent been on it since 05 or so, but I dont rememeber it being rough (like another GCI - Gwazi).
From Anthony Murphy on February 22, 2010 at 11:38 AM
Maybe I missed something or they are "Saving the best for last", but how were these roller coasters picked again?

I mean, I know its a thankless job Robert, but what about Raging Bull at Great America? Its a number 9 as well with more people rating on it than Thunderhead? It might come up, but I only say this because I am guessing the top three now. I guess I need to be patient. Its all in fun and gives us something to be excited about since its like slush outside my window.

Anyway, this roller coaster looks fun! Wouldn't mind going to Dollywood to ride it!

From Robert Niles on February 22, 2010 at 5:41 PM
Remember, there's only one installation of any coaster make/model in the tournament. Trust me, the B&M Mega slot was, uh, competitive.

And that entrant remains to be announced. Patience....

From Beth Olliges on February 22, 2010 at 8:40 PM
love, Love, LOVE this coaster!!! The most amazing airtime I've ever experienced!!
From James Rao on February 22, 2010 at 9:09 PM
I probably would have given Prowler the nod in this bracket, but maybe that is just my home town bias. Still, Prowler is a super-charged, terrain-hugging, out-and-back screamer, and quite a bit different than the other three examples provided. However, we can all agree that GCI makes a mean wooden coaster, and as a company they are certainly very deserving of a spot in this tournament.

On a side note, as most of you know I tend to give Six Flags Saint Louis a lot of grief ("no, really? You do??"). However, I will boldly state that Evel Knievel is by far the best coaster at SFStL, and alone is worth my three and a half hour drive to Eureka, MO.

There, I did it! I said something nice about SFStL. My therapist will be so proud of me!

From Anthony Murphy on February 22, 2010 at 9:53 PM
Oh right, well I should have remembered. I guess it makes it alot easier though I think the Raging Bull design is the best anyhow. The only thing I wonder, and perhaps a suggestion from next year, is how to differentiate between woodies.

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