How it Works: A Computerized, Looping Waterslide

This waterslide does a gut-flipping--yet safe--loop-de-loop

Graham Murdoch

This summer, Noah’s Ark Water Park in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, opens the country’s only looping waterslide. The Scorpion’s Tail gives you the thrills of a roller coaster without having to strap to a track (or wear a shirt)—and it uses sophisticated engineering to keep you secure as you slip any which way.

Riders stick to the walls because the loop travels a tilted angle, not a straight-up-and-down line that could drop people on their heads. Then there’s the computerized control system, exit hatch and host of sensors to make sure riders splash out intact.

The timid can take extra comfort in knowing that the engineering firm behind the Tail, WhiteWater West, based it on a design that’s been up and running danger-free for two summers in Europe. And the ride allows for vicarious kicks, too: As daredevils zoom by at close to 3 Gs, bystanders can watch through the semitransparent fiberglass walls.

How It Works

1. A trapdoor drops you down. An operator can open it only when sensors report sufficient water flow and that the previous rider has finished.

2. A 55-foot chute descends a steep 70-degree slope to help you build up enough speed—about 30 mph—to ascend the loop.

3. If you don’t have enough momen-tum to reach the top of the loop, and slip back to its start instead, an opening lets you exit (one in 100 riders might do this).

4. Optical sensors track a rider as he enters the slide and, nine to 14 seconds later, as he splashes out into a slow-down lane of deeper water.

5. The 27-foot-high loop is angled 60 degrees, not a totally vertical 90, so you’ll never drop off the ceiling and crash into the floor. Fast riders travel high on the outside wall, nearly (but not completely) facing downward. Slower (lighter) riders naturally drift down the wall to glide face-up on the tube’s floor.

6. Sprayers mist the walls with water to create a slicker, faster surface than is possible by simply pouring water down the slide.