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Nonactuarial Pursuits of Casualty Actuaries


Airtime Thrills

by Marty Adler

Roller coaster Business travel may be regarded as a necessary inconvenience or an opportunity for entertainment and adventure. Moe Berg, an erudite Princeton graduate, enjoyed being a third-string catcher for a number of major league teams in the 1920s and 1930s because it allowed time for reading, dining, and adventure in various cities. One of our Fellows uses travel opportunities to experience the thrill of as many different roller coasters as he can ride. In May 1999, USA Today mentioned him in a feature article on business travel. A member of American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE), for about ten years he has been counting the number of different roller coasters he has ridden. He is up to 170. He notes, however, that some members of ACE have ridden on 300 to 500 roller coasters. One benefit to ACE members is occasional special events that eliminate the long lines when parks agree to open early or stay open late.

His enchantment with roller coasters began early in life when an aunt sneaked him onto one at age four or five, long before he was big enough or old enough. His aunt was a very fun-loving person, as is he, so she didn't think twice about it. (He doesn't remember how his mother reacted, but doesn't think safety was a big concern then.) The next opportunity to ride roller coasters came at age seven when his family went to Six Flags over Texas.

Naturally this enthusiasm is not limited to business trips. The family often goes to amusement parks.All of his children—ages 19, 18, 17, 12, and 10—like roller coasters. He says that currently the 12- and 10-year olds are the most enthusiastic to ride with him, but that's probably because they aren't teenagers yet! The younger ones like them almost as much as he does and have started their own lists of coasters conquered. The zeal does not extend to his wife, however.She participates to the extent that she holds the coats. She's never had a stomach for roller coasters. She prefers what he calls the "barf rides" that spin riders around in circles. "I can't handle those," says our Fellow. "So I guess you could say when it comes to amusement parks, we are incompatible." However, his wife has pointed out that staying back from riding the coasters can be quite a good thing, as it is a built in break from being a wife and mother of five.

Our Fellow loves both the wooden and the contemporary steel roller coasters.His favorite wooden coaster is Shivering Timbers in Michigan's Adventure, Muskegon. In a little out of the way amusement park, this one is a "hands-down winner" to him for its classic design and mega airtime. "Airtime," or negative Gs, is the sensation roller coaster riders have of floating above their seats. His other favorite wood coasters are The Beast in Kings Island, Cincinnati; Thunderhawk in Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee; and Ghost Rider in Knotts Berry Farm, Buena Park, California. For steel coasters, his number one is Top Thrill Dragster in Cedar Point, Ohio. This was new last year, and it's at the top of his list for the sheer speed and thrill. It goes 0-120 mph in four seconds, then climbs a 420 ft. vertical tower at 90 degrees, gives a jolt of airtime as the train goes over the top, then comes down at a 90 degree angle to the ground in a corkscrew fashion. "Quite a rush," he says. (I don't doubt that.) He also likes Millennium Force at Cedar Point (over 300 feet tall and a more traditional roller coaster circuit); Rock'n Roller Coaster at MGM Studios, Disney World, more for the theming than the ride; Volcano-The Blast Coaster in King's Dominion, Virginia; and Superman at Six Flags America in Maryland. He is not a fan of the upside-down craze that steel coaster makers went through about 10-15 years ago. He prefers sheer speed and airtime.

A few rides are designated as "Coaster Classics" by ACE. The strict requirements include

  1. traditional lap bars that allow riders to experience airtime
  2. absence of any restraint or device that restricts the freedom to slide from side-to-side, and
  3. absence of headrests because they restrict the ability to view the upcoming drops and thrills.
During one of his business trips, our Fellow, who is 6'7", rode the Cyclone at Coney Island, one of ACE's Coaster Classics. Although he usually feels exuberance after riding a coaster, after riding this one he had back pain, bruised knees, and a substantial headache. At least in this case, he is glad they don't make them like they used to!

Jim Rowland notes that safety has never been a concern of his. He claims roller coasters are much safer than driving a car on the road. He wonders if there are any actuarial studies on injury frequencies per million—automobiles vs. airplanes vs. roller coasters?

Jim is a senior actuary and product manager for Allstate Insurance Company in Northbrook, Illinois. He is currently chairperson of the Committee on the Ratemaking Seminar.

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