Coming to Carowinds: This Cobra will bite again

Carowinds is adding a new roller coaster for 2009 that promises to loop riders three times, then speed them back along the same track in the opposite direction.

The Carolina Cobra, announced Wednesday, is a so-called boomerang coaster, and Carowinds' first new coaster since Ohio-based Cedar Fair bought it in 2006. The park on the N.C.-S.C. line is hoping the ride will have a boomerang effect on visitors, too, encouraging the repeat trips that form the foundation of amusement parks' business.

Located near the entrance to the Boomerang Bay water park, the Cobra will be 125 feet tall, making it the second-highest at the park, behind the Afterburn coaster. Riders will hurtle forward through three inversions, including a 360-degree loop, get towed to the top, and then head backward, all in about two minutes. Then, after being towed back to the top, they'll zoom along the same path in reverse.

The ride is coming to Carowinds from Geauga Lake, a longtime Cleveland-area amusement park that Cedar Fair bought in 2004 and closed after the 2007 season. Afterward, Cedar Fair, which is known for roller coasters, began moving some of Geauga Lake's rides to its other 11 theme parks.

The 12-year-old boomerang coaster will be “totally revamped” for Carowinds, at a cost of $4 million, park spokeswoman Dani Swords said. The ride will receive fresh paint – coral track, teal supports. And its new, spacious 28-passenger train will be the only one of its kind in the United States, with a narrowed nose and widened harnesses, according to the park. Those improvements will make it feel like a different ride, Swords said.

Carolina Cobra will be Carowinds' 12th coaster, and the first since Nighthawk – previously the Borg – in 2004. As such, it should help generate interest in the park.

“The public likes to go upside down, and the parks just love (boomerang coasters) because they don't take up a whole lot of space, yet they can say it turns people upside down six times,” said John Gerard, a spokesman for the American Coaster Enthusiasts, a 7,000-member group that promotes the enjoyment and preservation of roller coasters. “So that's always a big bonus for the park.”

There are about 60 boomerang coasters worldwide, including at three other Cedar Fair parks, which means the Cobra likely won't lure far-flung coaster fans. But it should pique interest locally, especially since the closest similar ride is about six hours away, said Jonathan Hawkins, a Belmont native and coaster aficionado who runs the CarowindsConnection.com message board.

Even so, it's not the kind of long-term big splash the park could use, he said.

“They're still kind of in a holding pattern, almost,” he said. “I think most people are still going to be waiting on the next big investment.”

In the meantime, those who want to encounter the Cobra will have plenty of chances: The ride's marketing campaign began with a noisy, mysterious crate outside the park's front gate this season and has since spread online, where the ride has a Web cam, a Web site, and MySpace and Facebook pages. In case you're wondering, it had 12 Facebook fans by press time.