You look up. Way up.
Soon the wind is in your hair, your stomach is in your throat, and your mind is miles away from your problems.
You're on a roller coaster, and judging from the sound of the screams all around, it's a pretty good one.
Maybe it's Fury 325, a "giga-coaster" taller than the Statue of Liberty.
Or Boulder Dash, a wooden coaster cut into the side of a mountain.
Maybe the rise to the top was slow and scary, the click-clack of the lift hill causing your heart to pound. (Or maybe you were launched so fast you can't even remember going up a hill at all?)
Whatever the thrill, excellent roller coasters abound in America. In fact, nearly three-quarters of the top 100 coasters in the world are here in the U.S.
That's according to the 2016 "Golden Ticket" awards, which list the top 50 steel and wooden coasters according to a survey of hundreds of roller coaster enthusiasts from around the globe. Organized by trade publication Amusement Today, the awards are considered the Emmys of the theme park industry.
There are lots of factors that contribute to a coaster's rank. Little details like the type of restraints and the smoothness of the ride can make a huge difference in a rider's experience and the coaster's ranking, explained Tim Baldwin, Golden Ticket awards communications coordinator.
Breaking down the top-ranked coasters by state shows two clear winners: Neighboring Ohio and Pennsylvania.
These two states showcase the best of the old and the new, Baldwin said.
Ohio is home to the Cedar Point amusement park, which calls itself the "roller coaster capital of the world." Among its coasters: Top Thrill Dragster, which launches riders at a speed of 120 mph to a height of 420 feet.
Fury 325 at Carowinds in Charlotte, North Carolina was ranked the best steel roller coaster in the world by Amusement Today’s 2016 Golden Ticket awards. “Fury 325 is North America's longest steel coaster, and is over 1.25 miles long. The average ride time is 3.25 minutes, and the ride crosses both North and South Carolina state lines,” says the park’s website of the 325-foot-tall roller coaster. Carowinds
And Pennsylvania is home to a large number of parks specializing in classic wooden coasters rich in nostalgia (and also "air-time" -- the experience of negative G-forces lifting you out of your seat).
There are some things lost when comparing states, notes Baldwin. For example, New England has a large number of great rides spread over several smaller states. No one state rises to the top of the list, but as a region, Baldwin says it's a great place for roller coasters.
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Not such great places for coasters: the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming, which Baldwin lamented were virtual dead zones for the rides. There are simply not the people in that area of the country to support amusement parks, he surmises.
While a vacation to Ohio/Pennsylvania, the Northeast, California or the greater Carolinas will give you a great chance to hop aboard a number of thrilling rides, Baldwin encourages thrill seekers to first check out their local park.
Baldwin says many smaller parks have folded as land values have motivated even profitable parks to close up shop: "You never know when one might go away," he said.
When two states contain the same number of top 100 roller coasters, preference is given to the state with coasters ranked higher in the Golden Ticket awards.
1.) Pennsylvania: 11 top coasters
2.) Ohio: 10 top coasters
3.) Florida: 6 top coasters
4.) California: 5 top coasters
5.) Missouri: 5 top coasters
6.) Indiana: 4 top coasters
7.) Virginia: 3 top coasters
8.) Tennessee: 3 top coasters
9.) New Jersey: 3 top coasters
10.) Texas: 3 top coasters
11.) Illinois: 3 top coasters
12.) Kentucky: 3 top coasters
13.) North Carolina: 2 top coasters
14.) Massachusetts: 2 top coasters
15.) (tie): Connecticut: 2 top coasters
15.) (tie): Georgia: 2 top coasters
17.) New York: 2 top coasters
18.) Michigan: 1 top coaster
19.) Wisconsin: 1 top coaster
20.) Alabama: 1 top coaster
21.) Idaho: 1 top coaster
22.) Utah: 1 top coaster
Data taken from the 2016 Golden Ticket awards for steel and wooden roller coasters.
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