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

Jacob Sundstrom

By Jacob Sundstrom
Published: July 22, 2014 at 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.

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