Kennywood’s Steel Curtain roller coaster thrills 1st riders | TribLIVE.com
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Kennywood’s Steel Curtain roller coaster thrills 1st riders

Madasyn Czebiniak

Gavin Virag of Harrison could barely contain his excitement just before he became one of the first riders of Kennywood’s highly anticipated Steelers-themed roller coaster on Friday.

“Words can’t describe how excited I am,” Virag, 28, said as he buckled himself into a front-row, football-shaped seat, right next to his dad. “My heart’s pounding right now.”

A handful of passengers got a sneak peek at Kennywood’s Steel Curtain, the West Mifflin park’s newest roller coaster. The park held a preview event Friday, inviting VIPs, members of the Steelers organization and lucky fans who won a chance to be among the first to ride.

The coaster opens to the public Saturday. The wait could be two hours or longer to ride, said Kennywood spokesman Nick Paradise.

“There was an awful lot of time and effort put into the design, engineering and construction of this coaster,” said Tim Timco, president and CEO of S&S Worldwide, the company that designed the ride. “I can tell you that the ride experience will be certainly worth the wait.”

As the ride started and the cars climbed up into the early-morning clouds, Virag’s eyes widened. His dad, Jack Thompson, 67, held up his arms. The crowd standing nearby cheered, waiting with bated breath as they continued to climb.

Anticipation built as the ride climbed. At the top, the height and steep drop made riders feel small.

The coaster then plummeted. Wind whipped across riders’ faces as they coasted through nine inversions in two minutes and hit speeds around 75 mph. At times, it felt like the cars were floating.

“This is the best ride here!” Thompson said. “It’s just so good. Such a great ride. It’s going to really be a plus for Kennywood.”

Thompson was one of 12 winners of Project 412, which granted people who correctly guessed the statistics of the coaster first access to the ride. He was able to bring along his son as a plus one. Winners came from Western Pennsylvania and around the country, Paradise said.

Eric Befumo, 18, came from Plano, Texas, and braved the coaster twice in a row. The first time he sat in the second row of seats. The second time he sat in the first row.

“The front seat was the place to go. I thought that it offered the best views. We were literally in the clouds,” he said. “There’s some great forces, and the wind is awesome, too.

“I thought the ride was spectacular — there’s nothing like it around.”

Thompson and Virag said they had never been on a ride that steep. They consider themselves roller-coaster enthusiasts and travel the country in search of thrill rides. Virag said from the top, he could see the Monongahela River and surrounding towns.

Kennywood claims the Steel Curtain is the tallest roller coaster in the state at 220 feet. The ride’s nine inversions are a North American record, the park said.

Virag said the first inversion, the big one, starts after a small hill once the ride crests the top of its climb. The ride spins riders with tons of downhill speed, Virag said.

“But it’s really smooth,” he added. “It’s very graceful. You get a lot of airtime.”

One inversion takes riders over the lagoon at the park. Riders glide over the water looking right down into it.

“That’s very cool,” Thompson said.

The Steel Curtain packs several inversions into the end of the ride.

“You’re out of your seat more than you’re in it,” Virag said.

Virag said people might look at the ride and feel intimidated or scared.

“But once they get on it, they’re going to want to keep riding and riding and riding,” he said. “It’s intense, but it’s not so intense that you don’t want to get back on it.”

Past and present members of the Steelers also got a chance for an early ride. The park plans to open Steelers Country at Kennywood, a themed section within the park, later this year. Kennywood partnered with the Steelers on the ride and section of the park.

Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward looked a bit concerned about the ride at the beginning but gushed about the view from the top.

“Just to see the Monongahela River all the way down, just all of Pittsburgh, really, it’s a cool sight, and from a roller coaster it’s even better,” he said. “Most of the time you get it from a bungee or having to travel up these buildings, but to do it on a roller coaster in the middle of our city, it’s something special.”

John Banaszak and Mike Wagner, Steelers stars of the 1970s, also rode the new coaster.

Also riding Friday were the Yellin family from Zelienople.

Parents Jennifer and Michael both won the contest and were able to bring their children, Kat and AJ. The family credits their win to AJ, who loves roller coasters and uses KNEX and LEGOs to build his own roller coasters at home.

“He was the brains of the operation,” Jennifer said. “He put together the right words with the right numbers.”

Thursday night was like Christmas Eve at their house, Michael joked.

“He had a tough time getting to sleep,” Michael said of his son.

The family came to the West Mifflin park decked out in Steelers garb. Kat said the partnership between the park and the Steelers just makes sense.

“The Steelers have been so ingrained in Pittsburgh anyway — it’s not just a sports team. It’s Pittsburgh culture,” she said.

Madasyn Czebiniak is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Madasyn at 724-226-4702, [email protected] or via Twitter .


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Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
Members of the Pittsburgh Steelers organization ride the Steel Curtain during a media event for the new coaster at Kennywood Park on Friday, July 12, 2019.
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Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward looks up at the Steel Curtain’s lift hill as the ride begins during a media event for the new coaster at Kennywood Park on Friday, July 12, 2019.
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Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh Steelers stars of the 1970s, John Banaszak (left) and Mike Wagner, cheer as they ride the Steel Curtain during a media event for the new coaster at Kennywood Park on Friday, July 12, 2019.
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Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
People take a first ride on Kennywood’s Steel Curtain roller coaster Friday, July 12, 2019. The park gave a handful of fans a sneak peek at the new ride during a preview event. The roller coaster opens to the public Saturday, July 13, 2019.
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Madasyn Czebiniak | Tribune-Review
Gavin Virag, 28, and his dad, Jack Thompson, 67, both from Harrison, react as they finish their first ride on Kennywood’s Steel Curtain roller coaster. The pair won the chance to sit in the front row on the coasters inaugural ride during a preview event Friday, July 12, 2019. The ride opens to the public Saturday, July 13.
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Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
Gavin Virag of Harrison kisses wife Gina as they sit in the front car of the Steel Curtain during a media event for the new coaster at Kennywood Park on Friday, July 12, 2019.
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Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
People ride the brand new Steel Curtain during a media event for the new coaster at Kennywood Park on Friday, July 12, 2019.
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Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
The Steel Curtain ascends its lift hill during a media event for the new coaster at Kennywood Park on Friday, July 12, 2019.
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Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Matt Feiler (71) and defensive end Cam Heyward (97) and former Steelers defensive lineman Chris Hoke (76) get a first look at the Steel Curtain during a media event for the new coaster at Kennywood Park on Friday, July 12, 2019.
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Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
The Steel Curtain zooms along its track during a media event for the new coaster at Kennywood Park on Friday, July 12, 2019.
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Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
The Steel Curtain zooms along its track during a media event for the new coaster at Kennywood Park on Friday, July 12, 2019.
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Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
Ron Mazur of Bethel Park claps as he and other ride one of the first rides of the Steel Curtain during a media event for the new coaster at Kennywood Park on Friday, July 12, 2019. “It’s an absolutely amazing ride,” said Mazur, a roller coaster enthusiast.
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