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EAS 2011 – Interview with Korey Kiepert, Engineer &

Partner at The Gravity Group

Update : 17/10/11 - 11h10 Published by François Mayné the 9 October 2011, Corporate.
The Euro Attractions Show is mainly the home for the numerous European companies active in the attractions industry, but more and more foreign companies are now exhibiting on the show floor as well. In fact, the European market of amusement parks is growing year after year, and in 2011, these parks invested more than 400 million Euro as stated by IAAPA Europe. EAS is therefore a good opportunity for new comers to present their products and services to the European parks owners and operators.

Among them, we have noticed The Gravity Group, LLC, the Cincinatti based company specialized in designing wooden rollercoasters. The Gravity Group was founded in 2002 by a group of 4 engineers - Larry Bill, Chad Miller, Mike Graham and Korey Kiepert - with backgrounds in civil, structural and mechanical engineering, and an experience on over 40 different wooden roller coasters around the world. They have revolutionized the US market with rides such as Voyage at Holiday World (best wooden in the world several times according to the Golden Tickets Awards), Hades at Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park or Ravine Flyer II at Waldameer before starting their first project abroad in China with Fireball at Happy Valley Shanghai.

Chad Miller and Korey Kiepert at the Euro Attractions Show 2011 in London, first European trade show for The Gravity GroupOn the Martin & Vleminckx booth was displayed this model of Fireball.

This year, they have worked on four different projects including Twister at Gröna Lund (Sweden), Wooden Warrior at Quassy Amusement Park (USA), Zippin Pippin at Bay Beach Amusement Park (USA) and another ride under construction at Happy Valley Wuhan in China. All of these projects have been challenges for the company that proves that we can now rely on them to design the next generation of wooden coasters in a perfect way.

During our visit of the trade show, we met Chad Miller and Korey Kiepert, who answered our questions about The Gravity Group highlights of the year and ambitions for the future.

NewsParcs : In United States, there is a true tradition of building wooden rollercoasters for amusement parks. That’s not really the case in Europe, so this market is very interesting for The Gravity Group isn’t it ?

Korey Kiepert : Yes, certainly ! In the US it seems that wooden rollercoaster is a ride that you see in every amusement parks, and we call it a staple attraction ! In Europe, it seems like not all amusement park do have a wooden rollercoaster but we are hoping that the american tradition does catch on here ! Certainly, we think that the wooden rollercoaster gives a different ride experience from a steel rollercoaster and it complements it nicely. No matter what the demographic is, no matter you are a child or a grandparent, everyone in America seems like their first rollercoaster experience is often a wooden coaster. They always look back and remember such and such parks used to have such and such a ride… and that could carry on here in Europe. Our first ride in Europe being the Twister at Gröna Lund, hopefully that will be the start of many more projects for us!

NP : This year has been very busy for your company ?

KK : It was a very busy year for us in our office ! We worked on the Zipping Pippin project with the Martin & Vleminckx Group, a re-creation of the John Miller wooden classic of the Memphis Park for Bay Beach Amusement Park in Wisconsin. We also designed the Wooden Warrior at Quassy Amusement Park, 10 meters tall, about 365 meters long. There was the Twister at Gronä Lund in Sweden, which is 16 meters tall and 480 meters long and then we have the Wuhan ride which have the High Five element! And last year was also the year we first officially putted riders our Timberliner cars, which was a very exciting time for us as well !

Timberliner trains has been introduced on Wooden Warrior at Quassy Amusement ParkConcept of Wooden Warrior, a junior wooden rollercoaster designed for Quassy Amusement ParkWooden Warrior Timberliner trains allow both children and adults to seat comfortably.

NP : Timberliner cars seem to be a new revolution in the wooden rollercoaster industry, right ?

KK : The Timberliner car is the premiere wooden rollercoaster car that we feature on The Gravity Group designs. They are revolutionnary cars in many senses, they put substantially less force into the track, they are lightweight vehicules but they also distribute the load to the track differently than the others wooden coasters cars. They have a unique restraints system that allows us to substantially increase the hourly capacity.

You are not seating on a seatbelt, when you are getting on the ride we have a good redondant restraints system and then from a maintainability stand point, the fact that these cars are able to manoeuvre the track as smoothly as they do, they even are able to perfectly steer around the track, that greatly reduces the impact forces, so you make a more confortable ride experience but you also cut down on the maintenance that’s required on that ride. I think that when you look at a wooden rollercoaster, historically, there are people that associate these rides with high maintenance, but if the car you have on the track is gliding smoothly than you can greatly reduce that maintenance and a wooden rollercoaster becomes a very viable, economical and long-terms option for a park.

NP : Timberliners have been designed for recents Gravity Group designs, but you also plan to introduce them on Voyage at Holiday World for example ?

KK : There was testing that was done about a year ago on the Voyage, and we are in a process of getting our Timberlines trains to get ready to go back on the Voyage for some additionnal Spring testing. We are very excited about that because Voyage is a wonderful ride experience and will be better with Timberliners.

Zippin Pippin is the re-creation of a John Miller classic of the old Memphis Park.Zippin Pippin has driven attendance record at Bay Beach Amusement Park.

NP : Wooden Warrior is a sort of Junior wooden rollercoaster, does it means that smaller parks with limited budget can now afford easily to build a Gravity Group coaster ?

KP : That’s right ! The Wooden Warrior really was designed for guests as small as 1 meter tall ! A lot of junior coaster have smaller cars, so if you want to ride it with your children it's unconfortable. But with our new Timberliner trains, it allows you to have a full-size car that is capable of restraining a small child with an adult of any size next to you ! When it was time to design the Wooden Warrior, I had two daughters of 4 years and 6 years old, and I though what would be the most fun experience for them. The Wooden Warrior is a ride full of weightlessness, full of the airtimes that all the wooden coasters have. It’s a perfect ride, for a child but also for an adult riding it. As a parent, even if I didn’t design the Wooden Warrior, I would be happy if my children wanted to ride it over and over again, because it’s a fun ride all around ! I think that amusement parks are about the family experience, and the Wooden Warrior is about the best family attraction I think that you have in parks.

NP : And at Happy Valley Wuhan, you designed what would be the most insane wooden rollercoaster element : the High Five !

KK : Yes, it’s the first time that anyone has done anything like that on a wooden rollercoaster. It’s a racing coaster, but he has some dueling aspect… and it’s like two separate rides. It's gonna to be very fun !
Concept of the dueling wooden coaster currently under construction at Happy valley Wuhan in China.The Gravity Group has designed the High Five element for the racing wooden rollercoaster of Happy Valley Wuhan in China.

NP : So, if we look at your 2011 projects, you built an amazing layout on a small area at Gröna Lund, an insane element in China, a junior rollercoaster and a re-creation of a John Miller Classic. Do you think The Gravity Group is a “special” wooden rollercoasters manufacturer ?

KK : Everything that we do is diversed and is all very custom. When we look at an amusement park, we like to understand what the feel is for it, what kind of guests this park attracts, what kind of rides they want and so on. Bay Beach, they have a large collection of classic amusement rides, and they wanted a classic wooden coaster so the re-creation of Zippin Pippin, the Elvis’ favorite, was a perfect fit for them. Quassy is an park that attracts guests of 12 years of younger, so the Wooden Warrior was also the perfect fit for them as well because they didn’t need something that was an intense ride !

At Gröna Lund, they had a very limited space, and we took out several existing rides such as a Frog Hopper, a junior tower ride, a small children car ride, food and game stands to put in the Twister. After that, they added more stands underneath one of the airtime hill, and it really recreated an awesome boardwalk atmosphere for the park. And we were able to utilize space on the top of a dark ride for half of the track. I think one thing we try to do as a company is to visit the park, to understand what the park would like and be very creative with how we implement that. Sometimes, if you strive to do the most difficult like take on this challenges, you end up with the most impressive rides and the most unique rides. There will not have another ride like Twister again… they have a treasure ! And the same can be true for any of our rides, like Wuhan and his High Five element, that’s a treasure that they have and that they can market.

For every rides we have done, there is something very special and they all have certainly a place in our heart, ! There’s so many stories with how the ride became what it is... We enjoy what we are doing, we also enjoy riding rides and I hope that’s apparent every time you get on one of our Gravity Group coasters.

Twister at Gröna Lund (Sweden) is the first The Gravity Group rollercoaster build in Europe.Twister's track has been designed in a limited space.

NP : How many persons are working for The Gravity Group ?

KK : There are four of us that are the main engineers on the design team. We have a support staff that helps us with some the draftings and other office work that we have. And then we have another crew that help us for the assembly of our Timberliner cars. We have grown a lot as a company in the last couple of years !

NP : Can you already talk about your next projects ?

KK : We have not a liberty to discuss those projects at that time yet. In the coming weeks, we will update you on the future announcements. As a company, we don’t discuss our projects until the parks have done their media release.

NP : It’s the first Euro Attractions Show for The Gravity Group. Did you have the opportunity to meet some potential customers ?

KK : This trade show has been a great experience for our company so far. It’s the very first time that we have a booth here and it’s giving us a great networking location for us to come to know some more parks here at the european market. We are really grateful that IAAPA puts together the show for us, well... we like to think so !

NP : Thank you Korey Kiepert for your answers!

Interview by François Mayné, September 28, 2011
Written by François Mayné François Mayné Publishing Director » Contact Us
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The Gravity Group (Manufacturer)
United States Site : www.thegravitygroup.com

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