May 29, 2013 • 04:26:08 p.m.

Great America switches things up by turning ‘BATMAN’ backward (VIDEO)

By JAMI KUNZER – jkunzer@shawmedia.com

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Guests at Six Flags Great America this season can now ride Batman the ride backward. (Photo provided)

One minute, 40 seconds.

“It’ll be over before you know it,” said the Six Flags Great America employee, casually sealing the fates of riders as he locked them in their seats.

Eyes closed. Hands clinched on bar. Repeat to self: “One minute, 40 seconds. One minute, 40 seconds.”

Up, up, up goes “BATMAN: The Ride,” 10.5 stories to the top of its loop. And then, “Bam!” “Pow!” “Aaaaaaah!” You’re swept up in 2,700 feet of loops, drops and twists at 50 mph. 

If that’s not enough to scare the unsure, sort of trying-to-be-a-roller-coaster-enthusiast, but not really cutting it, the ride now runs backward. As in, you can’t see where you’re going, only where you’ve been. And where you’ve been – safely on the ground – seems quite appealing as you’re slowly ascending, feet dangling above trees.

“Intense,” pretty much sums up how most riders described the new experience during a recent grand opening at the Gurnee amusement park.

“Over” is how others ... a few ... at least one rider, liked to describe it.

“No one’s been sick so far, not yet,” park President Hank Salemi said. 

With plans to keep the ride backward at least through July, those statistics could change. 

Already the world’s first suspended looping coaster, “BATMAN: The Ride Backwards” brings even more uniqueness to the park. The coaster continues to head in the same direction it has since its opening in 1992, but the seats have been reversed in celebration’s of the ride’s 21st birthday.

“The idea really came from our guests,” Salemi said. “They tell us all the time they want stuff that’s more and more thrilling and more and more fun. ...

“They think it’s fantastic.”

Yes, Salemi has experienced it firsthand.

“It’s a thrilling ride, very intense,” he said.

Along with “BATMAN Backwards,” the park’s other new additions this season include JB’s BBQ and Sports Bar and other new restaurants as well as igNIGHT, Salemi said.

Premiering this summer, “igNIGHT – Grand Finale” features a high-tech show of music, singing, dancing, laser lighting and pyrotechnics, taking place nightly just before the park closes.

To unleash “BATMAN Backwards,” the park invited special guests, including members of the American Coaster Enthusiasts, to be among the first to try the ride on an oddly quiet, sort of serene day at the park.

The park, and Gotham City, was shut down to only media, contest winners and select coaster riders.

Batman mingled among them, stoically representing the ride’s new twist. And a grand-opening ceremony followed, complete with Batman’s official switch of an oversized lever from forward to backward.

Yellow, hard-hatted public works employees of Gotham City were on hand to handle any high-voltage mishaps.

But the main sounds were the screams of riders as their feet swept by overhead.

“We love it,” said Scott Heck, the area’s regional rep for American Coaster Enthusiasts, who had ridden the ride at least eight times. “It’s definitely an experience. I’ve ridden this coaster for 20 years forward. To go backwards, you don’t see what’s coming.”

Others described it as kind of like putting your car in reverse and driving fast.

A clever move on the park’s part, said David Lipnicky, public relations director for American Coaster Enthusiasts, a nonprofit group of about 5,000 people worldwide. Along with riding and rating countless roller coasters, the group works to preserve and save historic coasters.

“While it’s not a brand-new ride, doing something such as turning the trains around backward can give a ride a whole new lease on life and can give coaster enthusiasts and the public a whole new ride experience,” he said. “In a way, especially if it’s done well, it can be almost like a whole new ride.”

It’s a lot less investment and risk than putting $10 million to $20 million into an entirely new coaster, Lipnicky said. And if someone’s not game for trying the ride backward, he said, they can simply wait until later in the season.

There was no waiting for John Byrnes and his 10-year-old son, Draven, of Lisle, who’d already gone on the ride 15 times by mid-morning opening day and had no plans to stop any time soon.

“It’s a really fun ride,” Draven said. “You can’t even tell where you’re going. It’s like you’re exploding when you’re going into the loops. It’s like you’re reversing gravity or something, I don’t know. It’s like you’re floating.”

As members of American Coasters Enthusiasts, Draven and his father have gone on at least 100 coasters throughout the world. It’s their thing, they say.

And they’d rate “BATMAN Backwards” fairly high on their list, even for those less-experienced riders.

“I think you can probably ride it at least once, just to be able to experience it,” John Byrnes said.


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