For as many trips as I’ve logged on this roller coaster, I feel like it’s time someone paid kudos to this unassuming, often overlooked ride. It’s 1 of 4 wooden coasters at Chicago’s Six Flags.
Viper debuted in 1995 as part of Great America’s expansion into a new themed land and was later officially added to Southwest Territory in 1996. It’s the only coaster ever built directly by the Six Flags corporation and is a modified mirror image of the original Cyclone in Coney Island.
I was lucky to have experienced the Texas Cyclone at the defunct Astroworld way back in 1997; I’ve also logged credits on SFMM’s Psyclone before it was torn down, as well as SFNE’s (Riverside) Cyclone before it received the RMC treatment. Here’s my thoughts on one of the last coasters in operation that uses the Cyclone-style layout:
The coaster fits very well in its section of the park, tucked away in a corner past the Spanish missions of Raging Bull and the western area saloons. The addition of Hurricane Harbor only detracts slightly from the coaster’s brilliant woodsy isolation. There’s virtually NO lighting by/on Viper, so at night it gets incredibly dark.
The queue is one long, meandering line that stretches from the main guest walkway to the loading platform. Viper’s station is an old, decrepit building that used to be a snake oil factory. Nice touch, clever themeing! At one point, there was a giant rubber snake hanging from the ceiling….
*THE BIG GIMMICK*
Twice now, SFGAm has flipped the trains around on Viper for a limited-time promotion. They did it once in 2013 (which I missed out on) and again last October for Fright Fest 2017. Experiencing this great coaster in reverse was a total trip! More parks should run their woodies backwards for an added thrill.
While there’s nothing else particularly noteworthy about this roller coaster, it would be foolish not to mention what sets this Cyclone model apart from the rest – a double down following the ride’s second turnaround.
*THE REST OF THE COASTER*
Unlike the bigger, out-and-back racer in the back of the park (American Eagle), Viper is a twister configuration with some solid lateral G’s and more airtime than you’d think. An 80ft drop after a 100ft chain lift gets the train up to a modest 50mph. A turnaround and a camelback hill lead to the 2nd turnaround and the ride’s highlight, a double down.
Though it’s not quite as intense as the 2x drop on Kennywood’s Jack Rabbit (my god), those riding in the back row will undoubtedly float out of their seats for a solid 1.5s. There are a few more bunny hills amid some headchopper effects and a final sprint through Viper’s wooden structure before the brake run.
One ride lasts roughly 1min 45sec and takes you through a 3,458ft course, rather lengthy by today’s standards. The front row isn’t always worth the additional wait, so veer to the left of the station instead and hop in the back for a wild(er) ride.
Despite being forced to “exit through the gift shop” which is always awkward, I’ve rarely been disappointed by Viper. Daytime rides are fine, but as with all wooden roller coasters, Viper shines best at night. You can expect a 30-45 minute wait during typical operating days.
Thankfully SFGAm already has a coaster from Rocky Mountain Construction (the brief, but fabulous Goliath) so for the near future I don’t have to worry about this personal favorite of mine being torn down or repurposed.
I genuinely love Viper. Maybe it’s because of terrific rides in the dark (I swear that the train picks up speed as the sun sets). Perhaps it’s due to the unexpected moments of ejector airtime, especially on the midcourse double-down.
I’d give it a 6/10 for uniqueness, 7/10 for thrill factor, and +0.5 for running the trains backwards during a special promotional period.
Final Rating: 7 out of 10.