Remember that roller coaster that everyone talked about when you were young? That one ride that was considered a kind of local legend of sorts. These rides were sometimes the focus of juvenile horror stories, myths, and just plain made up stories. The folklore often stemmed from respect and fear of that one wild roller coaster that you just had to conquer.
Kings Dominion’s Grizzly was that roller coaster for me. There were all kinds of silly stories about people losing limbs and even their heads as the coaster dropped into an underground tunnel. I can confidently report that there’s no underground tunnel on the Grizzly. And I’m not aware of it being responsible for dismembering anyone. The non-outrageous stories about the ride were accurate. It was in the woods (even more so before Hurler) and it was scary.
So after about 15 or 16 years of avoiding larger roller coasters, I was coaxed to ride Kings Dominion’s entire arsenal by a high school girlfriend. Looking back at it 15 years later it’s safe to say that things turned out okay for me. But again I don’t recommend forcing, cajoling, or coaxing friends to ride a roller coaster. That day there was no warm up lap before the adventurous Grizzly. It was the first stop.
Grizzly’s tough to see from Kings Dominion’s walkways and I’m sure many guests have missed it entirely. It’s located in a wooded section in the Old Virginia part of the park. The entrance is very easy to miss. Sure there’s a sign and a bear statue, but it’s crammed into a little dead end next to an arcade. As you move down the long queue you enter the cool shady woods and climb up into the station. Grizzly’s layout sends the trains charging right by the station. It’s impossible to miss the ride’s support structure rattling like it was hit by a brief earthquake. The occasional seismic disturbances and resounding cacophony of screams and a racing train only heighten the anticipation. It was unnerving as I had never seen wood sway and give so much.
As the train leaves the station it takes a left u-turn and begins to climb the lift hill. To your left another train of riders, most with all of their limbs, returns to the station. While on your right, there’s nothing but trees and more trees. The clickety-clack of the lift chain echoes in the woods. As you reach the top, some of the ride’s hidden course is revealed. Before you can analyze it, you drop down the eight story drop that angles to the left a bit. As you’re catching your breath, the train climbs another hill.
At the top, Grizzly stalks around a left turn where you can see more of the vast wilderness that surrounds the park. As you finish the turn you’re reminded that you’re in a modern theme park and you see the Eiffel Tower and a few of the park’s other rides before a second drop. This is followed by another short drop that’s probably the ride’s best for airtime. Immediately after, the train drops into that legedary tunnel responsible for so much folklore. It’s still pretty wild and one of the loudest tunnels I’ve experienced. The covered section (close to the ground, but not underground) is dark and throws you around a good bit.
After the tunnel has had its way with you, the train is spit out the other end and around a wide turn. Here, Grizzly really shows its age as it shakes and rumbles its way around the turn causing some strong lateral g-forces for riders and making the guests in the queue wonder why the supports next to the station are moving so much. The next few hills are short and rough. They lead you to a flat left turn inside the ride’s layout. At this point, Grizzly feels like it might be struggling a bit to make it home. The ride finishes with a succession of small hills that might have been fun long ago, but now are pretty rough. Finally, the station brakes slow the train as another train is headed up the lift hill to your left.
Just as the Joker created Batman, the Grizzly probably created the Coaster Critic. At the time, conquering Grizzly felt like quite an accomplishment. That first drop felt like it would never end in my early coaster riding years. I started to look at roller coasters as fun and challenging as I got over my fear. And, Grizzly was probably my top woodie before I started traveling more. As you can imagine, it’s not easy for me to rate a ride that I look at with so much nostalgia.
But, because I’ve been around the block a bit and really notice how rough and out of gas it seems towards the end, it’s plain to see Grizzly’s not a top woodie by any means. I’ve definitely ridden rougher woodies. I’d say the ride is worth a spin especially for it’s mostly wooded atmosphere. Unlike Six Flags New England’s Cyclone and Darien Lake’s Predator, I would recommend Grizzly with the caution that it’s a bit rough. I think that a 6 is fair, because there’s some fun left in its layout even though the fun is limited by the roughness. Final Rating 6.0 (Above Average)
What’s Your Take?
Have your ridden Grizzly at Kings Dominion? What did you think? Leave a comment below. Images courtesy of Coaster Image.