Please keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times — not something you’d hear at your usual conference, but a typical event is not Coaster Con’s speed. It’s the ultimate interactive experience, an annual week-long celebration for roller coaster fans, hosted by the American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE). ACE formed in 1978 and now has 6,500 thrill-seeking members from 16 countries, making it the world’s largest ride enthusiast organization.
For those who aren’t fans, a Scientific American article explains the attraction: “People enjoy roller coasters thanks to a combination of speed, conquering fear, and the positive effects associated with a massive rise in physiological arousal.”
In addition to Coaster Con, ACE holds smaller gatherings throughout the year, including its Spring Conference in early May, which this year brought 462 members to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and SeaWorld Orlando.
“Members come from every walk of life,” Elizabeth Ringas, communications director and mid-Atlantic regional representative for ACE, told Convene. “We have opportunities for individuals who would have never met without the love of coasters. Individuals can come alone and meet an entire group to share a ride with or families come to build friendships. Whoever they come to an event with, they leave with a much larger extended family.”
Thrown for a Loop
This year, Coaster Con treated attendees to white-knuckle flips and descents at two well-known amusement parks, starting at Cedar Point in Ohio and ending at Kennywood in Pennsylvania, two destinations whose origins date back to the 1800s — appropriate, given that a large part of ACE’s mission is to preserve historic rides. According to ACE’s website, 2,000 classic wooden roller coasters existed in the United States in the 1920s, but fewer than 200 exist worldwide today.
In addition to enjoying 18 hours of ERT (exclusive ride time) before and after standard park operating hours, participating in workshops, a photo contest, silent auctions, and behind-the-scenes tours of haunted attractions slated to open in the fall, attendees heard from keynote speaker Jake Kilcup, COO of roller coaster manufacturer Rocky Mountain Construction.
“Within our mission of preservation,” Ringas said, “we enjoy the opportunity to educate and fundraise.” At the same time, attendees enjoy what Scientific American calls “a legal means of experiencing a natural high.”
Casey Gale is managing editor at Convene. Illustration by Carmen Segovia
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