REVIEW – Steel Curtain at Kennywood Is a Touchdown For Everyone

(Review article written by @parkscopejoe on Twitter)

Steel Curtain, Kennywood’s seventh coaster, is now open! The record-breaking ride is located in the brand new Pittsburgh Steelers football team themed land Steelers Country. ThrillGeek was graciously invited by the park to preview the new coaster on July 12th. In this article, we’ll cover our day at the park, the new coaster, and preview the rest of Steelers Country.

I arrived at Kennywood at 6 am for the first rider event check-in. Last year Kennywood ran a Project 412 (412 is the area code for Pittsburgh, FYI) contest where guests could win a chance to be the first to ride the roller coaster. These guests and several winning Steelers fans were the first guests to ride the new coaster. 

After arrival and drinking a gallon of coffee we positioned ourselves for opening. After a week of heavy rains a rolling, deep fog hung over Pittsburgh and West Mifflin providing dramatic morning photographs. Thankfully the weather held out all day, with the fog lifting to reveal sunny blue skies around 9 am. At 9:45 am the ride grand opened with a countdown by Steelers announcer Bill Hargrove to fireworks, confetti, and Terrible Towel twirling. 

The Steel Curtain breaks several records: it stands 220 feet tall making it the tallest coaster in Pennsylvania (we’ll see what Hersheypark has up its sleeve for 2020), features the most inversions in North America at nine, and the tallest inversion in the world at 197 feet. Unlike the park’s Phantom’s Revenge or other so-called “hyper coasters”, Steel Curtain eschews large airtime hills and instead focuses on intense ejector hills and hanging inversions.

The attraction experience starts by entering under the massive Steelers Country archway. On the left are the play area, sports bar, outdoor patio, and gift shop in Steeler Country. Walking forward towards the lift hill is the entrance to The Steel Curtain along with the really cool marquee. The queue for the attraction wraps around the right-hand side of the lift hill, be warned it doesn’t offer much shade and no fans were installed on the preview day.

The attraction’s safety spiels and announcements are performed by Bill Hargrove and Tunch Ilkin, the Steelers’ announcers. Yes, there are many announcer puns and jokes including not keeping your hands, arms, and legs inside the vehicle as a safety violation. As the vehicles pull out of the station and make their way up the lift hill the song that opens Steelers games, Renegade by Styx, plays on the lift hill. The boarding station features Steelers banners and decorations but painting the station like a field, labeling each row as yard markers, and painting endzones would have really brought the theme home.

A quick musing on the theme: both the Steelers and Kennywood hold a unique place in Pittsburgh memories through generations, making this a perfect collaboration. While waiting for the attraction I spitballed with several other guests on other sports/theme park pairings and we couldn’t really come up with any that solid as this in America. I expect within the next few years you will find more sports and sports entertainment brands in parks, such as Cedar Fair’s use of Monster Jam, but they won’t mesh as well as what Kennywood has developed.

Steel Curtain’s ride vehicles are minimalist in design, with the football phone looking seats and bright yellow train chassis. The ride vehicles recall the Intamin lap-bar ride vehicles found on Millennium Force and Top Thrill Dragster which allows the upper body free movement during the ride. If this seems like too much, don’t worry, the lap bars offer grip handles. One thing to note, the lap bars lock into place in the station and do not go down during the ride, so adjust appropriately then.

The lift hill starts off slowly before ramping up in speed after the full train is engaged. Styx plays as guests get an amazing view of Kennywood, the Monongahela River, and the active steel plants across said river. The view surpasses that of Phantom’s Revenge and is a true highlight of the ride. After cresting the hill we’re immediately looking down at the rest of Steelers Country, make sure to look for the red-paint covered support which sports the signatures of Kennywood cast members and construction crews.

The ride immediately hauls, inverting guests nearly 200 feet in the air, creating airtime before diving into the first drop. The following two elements add to the inversion count and draw out the speed but don’t do much in terms of sensations. It’s once guests head out towards Kennwood’s “beer jail” the ride really shines. A quick pop of airtime then sends guests into a rollover which sends the guests back towards Steeler Country, past “beer jail”, before going into a zero-G stall above a walkway. The ride hauls through the last two inversions and hits the breaks with speed to spare. The whole ride is breakneck and totally unique to western Pennsylvania.

There are two complains of the ride, one is the coaster lacks a moment to take in the scale of it all. Outside of the first drop and inversion the rest of the ride is non stop action. This isn’t so much of a fatal flaw than something that could have made this into a transcendent experience. Second, and more worrying, is a low-level vibration experienced in the middle to back of the train. In the morning the sensation felt more like low-level resonance between the train and track but after warming up the vibration started to feel more like a rattling. No, it was not painful or head-ache inducing like sitting on the outside seats of an old school B&M inverter. The track is smooth and well-aligned, I believe it’s a train issue that can be fixed with some dampening and maintenance if treated early. These two issues, at the moment, are not game breakers but if we’re talking about “best ride of the year” it should be taken into context.

Finally, for the coaster heads, the question always is where to sit. For nearly everyone, I talked to the answer was THE FRONT. The front is more forceful, pushes you into inversions, and is, in general, a more intense ride.

In the end, Steel Curtain offers a ride wholly unique to the area and one Kennywood desperately needs. When the rest of the Steelers Country area opens this small section of the park will surely become a hit. Once the indoor sports bar (with beer and TVs!), kids play area, and patio opens this location will become a huge hit. Kennywood lacks one major thing: places to be inside with AC that isn’t a restaurant, and Steelers Country will address this need.

Steel Curtain is a hit with coaster fans and will be a massive hit with the general public. I cannot wait to see the reactions from theme park and Steelers fans alike, Steel Curtain and Steelers Country is unlike anything else offered in North America.

Clint

Clint

Clint Gamache started Thrillgeek back in 2013 to share his love of theme parks, pop culture and other geeky stuff with the world. He can be found on Twitter @iamcgeed

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