Theme Park Insider

Looking back at a colossal history for Magic Mountain's Colossus

July 22, 2014, 10:24 AM · At 125 tall, no one has used the word “colossal” to describe Six Flags Magic Mountain’s Colossus for quite some time. The “racing” wooden roller coaster hasn’t (regularly) raced in God-only-knows how long and its popularity has waned in recent years. In truth, I can’t remember a time when Colossus was anything more than an afterthought on a visit to the Valencia theme park; that’s about eight years ago now.

Colossus. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

It’s hard to imagine a time when Colossus was the tallest and fastest roller coaster; just a sign of how much the roller coaster business has changed in the 36 years since it was unveiled in 1978. According to the excellent RCDb, Colossus is now just the twelfth-tallest wooden roller coaster in the world. It’s the 163rd-tallest coaster if you include both steel and wooden coasters. All of this makes Six Flags’ announcement that the ride is to be closed on August 16, well, less than surprising.

Over the years Colossus has been re-profiled at least twice over the last 40 years — once to remove the double-down segment and another time to flatten out a valley. There’s reason to believe that someone who rode this coaster for the first time in 1980 would have a very different perception than someone who first rode it in 2006. (Hi!)

The closure of Colossus means something, probably. It stood as a mark for an era of rapid theme park growth and popularity; it’s one of the coasters that thrust Magic Mountain into the national spotlight. You caught Colossus in National Lampoon’s Vacation, in the intro of Step By Step and even in an episode of the A-Team! This was a big deal! With those memories comes a seeping sense of nostalgia — the feeling that we as theme park fans are losing something by the closure of Colossus and those like it.

Don’t get me wrong: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with nostalgia. Theme parks are, by and large, valued for the memories created while we’re there. Colossus is a special roller coaster for many people, even if it never meant anything particularly valuable to me. But there are a couple of problems with advocating for the survival of rides like Colossus on the basis of nostalgia alone.

One problem is that the ride has been pretty awful the past few years. It only pulls a "Good" 7 on Theme Park Insider's reader ratings, leaving it outside the top 100 roller coasters in the world, as rated by our readers. I’ve mentioned previously that Mitch Hawker also runs a great annual roller coaster poll. You can see here that the popularity of Colossus amongst roller coaster enthusiasts (for whatever that’s worth) has plummeted in the 20 years that Hawker has run the poll. I embedded a graphic below to give a better idea of the way Colossus’ approval rating has trended. (Down is good, up is bad in this chart)

Poll results

Colossus finished 116th out of 175 tabulated roller coasters in 2013, which for a nearly 40-year-old roller coaster isn’t anything to sneeze at, really. But a couple of factors roll into why this decision is sort of a no-brainer for Six Flags. First of all, the park clearly gave up on the ride years ago. In the eight years I have visited Magic Mountain I have seen it race a single time — at a special event hosted by a theme park site. The most attention Colossus got came during Fright Fest when the park ran the coaster backwards using the thankfully-defunct Psyclone’s trains.

More importantly, the ground Colossus is sitting on is worth more to the park’s future expansion plans than the attraction itself. That scenic, flat parking lot real estate can easily host the park’s newest attraction (and based on the press release from the park, this seems likely). The chain’s recent infatuation with hybrid roller coasters combined with Apocalypse being the only other wooden roller coaster in the park is telling; but who knows, maybe they have something else in mind.

If indeed the park does replace Colossus with a Texas Giant-esque coaster, this should be celebrated, not dismissed. This time period we’re entering in the theme park industry is a strange one: The giants of the 70s, the first truly modern roller coaster boom, are decaying. Soon old favorites will be old memories, replaced by new-fangled contraptions and branded thrill rides.

Since I believe this will become a fairly regular occurrence, I’ve chosen to adopt the following approach: Cherish the memories that the closing roller coaster gave while eagerly anticipating its replacement. In 20 years when X2 and Tatsu are old and worn down, maybe I’ll feel differently. For now, I look forward to saying goodbye to Colossus and greeting its replacement as the sun sets on the wooden titan.

Replies (9)

July 22, 2014 at 11:45 AM · But can we have wood from colossus for DIY projects at home? hahah Also- I've always been a fan of Colossus only because I've been about 80 percent sure it was going to derail at any minute and kill me, which obviously added to the thrill factor.
July 22, 2014 at 11:58 AM · It's undoubtedly true that the closing of ageing wooden coasters will become a fairly regular occurrence. But I don't think that this is necessarily a good thing unless there is absolutely no rationale for keeping the coaster open. Six Flags New England decided to close their Cyclone and I can't blame them, as that coaster had virtually nothing going for it; it was so boring that I could easily have slept through the ride. However, I believe that Six Flags Great Adventure's decision to demolish Rolling Thunder was a bad one. That coaster, although in need of rehab, still had some life in it and was salvageable. These intermediate coasters serve a definite purpose. Although I personally prefer aggressive thrill rides, I realize that not everyone does. My last ride on Rolling Thunder was with a 72-year-old woman who had no inclination whatsoever to ride El Toro. RT was also a good family ride. Most theme parks seem to be headed in the direction of building more and more extreme rides. Again, they're not for everyone. Kudos to Dorney Park for maintaining Thunderhawk (formerly The Coaster), operating since 1924.
July 22, 2014 at 12:45 PM · I rode this coaster in 1985 and 1986 and I thought it was one of the best ever. It is also highly photogenic. I hate to see it go, as it was a good one.
July 22, 2014 at 1:56 PM · Huh? You went the opposite direction than the current rumor that Colossus will have the both sides of the racing sections combined to create an attraction that is twice as long. The rumored Iron Colossus makeover.

The land that sits under Colossus won't do much good. At best, you will only get one more roller coaster to replace the existing Colossus. Six Flags does not suffer from a lack of coasters. It has too much without much concern about the quality of its attractions. I stopped visiting Six Flags Magic Mountain years ago.

As for the debate about wooden versus steel roller coasters, a finely maintained wooden coaster is just as good. Unfortunately, amusement parks don't care to keep them up so I stopped caring. I would love for amusement parks to do a decent family coaster that has comfortable seats, good views or theming, long ride time, and gentle hills and thrills. This has long been missing from the race for faster and higher coasters.

July 22, 2014 at 7:24 PM · Wow. Good article. Thanks for making us aware of this. I remember waiting 3 hours in line to ride Colossus in the summer of 78. The fact that it was the world's largest, highest, fastest, etc. was a big deal to me. Unfortunately, my experience with Six Flags parks (especially my local one, SFOG) has been disappointment with maintenance and care of the wooden coasters. They get to a point where they are sometimes un-rideable.

I hope Colossus gets the Texas Giant makeover or Iron Rattler treatment. I saw Iron Rattler on Travel channel the other night. It looked amazing...

July 22, 2014 at 8:15 PM · I never really understood the love for this ride. I agree it is an icon for the park with its glowing white silhouette acting as a beacon for anyone driving along Interstate 5. I also appreciate the slow lift hill that helps increase the anxiety as the chain slowly clinks higher and higher. It is definitely something I miss on cable lift coasters or launched coasters.

However, there is no pacing on this thing. After a great first drop, it's lots of slow time followed by a couple of mediocre drops. I'd much rather ride the classic Giant Dipper up the coast in Santa Cruz. Every time I ride the Colossus, the only thing I can think is bigger is not better.

I do hope they turn it into something great. Fingers crossed it's not just a cut-n-paste job from another Six Flags park.

July 23, 2014 at 10:10 AM · I totally disagree with your article. The wood structure of Colossus is definitely colossal. Its beautiful. I went for my frist time last year and Colossus was definitely memorable and one of the best coasters in the park, especially considering its history and significance. It was also the most popular ride in the park, other than Full Throttle. Im shocked by your article as it seems like it was written by someone who dosen't care about amusement parks or the history of them.
July 23, 2014 at 6:49 PM · when i was a kid in 1979 we drove out to California for a smorgasbord of family theme park fun. i couldn't wait to ride Colossus as it was the largest in the world at the time. i was so excited driving into the entrance of Magic Mountain that morning and we immediately rushed to the front gates, much like the Griswold's did a few years later. and just like them, we were met with the very very bad news...no, the park was not closed but Colossus was. Six Flags had recently purchased the park and had to make repairs after the accident the year before when a woman flew out of the ride. i must have stared at the ride for hours in disbelief that i wasn't going to get to ride it that day. forever hopeful, i asked the crew working on it if it might open later in the day (i kind of overlooked/ignored the fact that there were large portions of track missing from the loading platform to the lift hill)....so alas, i was informed that "no, maybe in October".....i didn't get to return to SFMM until 1986 and finally got my ride on Colossus. it did not disappoint at all and i rode it several times that day, savoring every minute of it. i think it is a very unique ride and should be considered landmark status. i had a long hiatus and didn't return to SFMM again until 2008. that day, i rode all the coasters that were open which was about half of them. next to Goliath and maybe Scream, i would have to rank my rides that day on Colossus as some of the best roller coasting ever so mark me down as a big Colossus fan. i really do hope we get to see it soon as Iron Colossus! then Magic Mountain can boast the biggest and longest coaster in the world again.
July 25, 2014 at 4:50 PM · "[Colossus] was also the most popular ride in the park, other than Full Throttle."

what

was everything else closed, or?

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