Coaster Kingdom

Silver Star (Europa Park)

It may seem strange to compare a feat of civil engineering (Silver Star) to the chemical concoctions of washing powder, but for this occasion it seems strangely apt.

Washing powder doesn’t mess around with stains – Silver Star doesn’t mess about with thrill seekers:

Washing powder, using powerful chemicals is tough on stains like blackcurrant, biro and grass. Silver Star uses unyielding amounts of steel work and high speeds to make sure thrill seekers are effectively taken care of, leaving your knuckles far whiter than any choice chlorine-ridden detergent.

Washing powder is kind and caring towards delicates – as is Silver Star:

Washing powder uses biological technology to make sure that whilst tough on stains is gentle on your fabrics and forgiving on your delicate colours. And using the technology available to them, Bolliger and Mabillard have made sure that Silver Star is as gentile and reassuringly mellow as an over-priced washing powder would be to a hand-knitted jumper.

So, as I conclude this rather crass analogy, it goes to show that a good coaster should entertain as many people as possible, and Silver Star manages to give a great ride to a surprisingly broad measure of people.

Looking up at the sleek black track supported high above by slender and majestic silver supports, your stomach may start to churn like the water inside a washing machine on a spin cycle, but while you go weak at the knees, remember, Europa Park is a family park and that Silver Star is only as scary as you allow it to be – it is all psychological.

Europa Park does theming on a scale that can sometimes show Disney up, so the lack of articulate theme on Silver Star may be a moderate disappointment – Silver Star celebrates the speed and adrenaline of Formula 1 racing, so like many rides of late, it is more stylised than themed.

Often this reeks of cheap, but be assured; Silver Star is no blue-stripe washing powder, and every effort has been made to ensure that Silver Star does the name of its sponsors (Mercedes) proud.

You can run to Silver Star much like Michael Schumacher would race towards a chequered flag, cutting the corners of the pathway over the red-and-white striped curb towards the sweeping glass front of the station.

On the matt grey walls, words sum up the emotions of Formula 1 racing – words like ‘chicane’, ‘hairpins’ and ‘adrenaline’. The sound of the shrill racing car engines roar over the muted mumbles of people queuing before you climb some stairs and wrap around the walls of what is essentially an exhibition hall with an F1 car surrounded by pit stop mechanics as if ants around a discarded sweet.

Every so often, the rolling yellow strobe effect of the lights on the top of a Mercedes pace car draw your attention away from the black race car before you are soon in the elevated station.

Grey walls are once again festooned in writing, and although not worlds apart from the fun of F1 racing have subtly changed, celebrating what makes coasters so fun. Words like ‘airtime’, camelback’ and ‘first drop’ brighten up what is an otherwise dull wall.

The ride operator is in the far corner in a booth that looks like an animated person should be hanging out swirling a chequered flag. In reality, a ride operator sits in a seat like something off of Star Trek – Silver Star operators aren’t bewildered by a desk of flashing lights and buttons, and instead have real controls inset into the arms of a swivelling chair.

For too long now, we have tolerated cumbersome and overbuilt cars from the likes of Arrow and Vekoma, but thanks to more pioneering manufacturers and advances in technology, a new sensation of vulnerability has heralded spectacular advances in car design from the likes of Intamin and Bolliger and Mabillard.

The cars on Silver Star make simplicity an art form, using technology to ensure you’re safely restrained and comfortably seated, but really going back to the roots and ditching every bit of unnecessary bit of clutter from the cars.

Each car has four seats in a row, all of which are elevated to the point that your feet hang above the floor. A simple T-shaped lap-bar pulls snugly down onto your lap. The grey padded restraint is more of a large, tough cushion with inset handles on a stalk. Your whole thighs are restrained by this simple but effective restraint. In typical B&M style, larger riders may be left to hold the coats, as they’re not too well catered for. A test seat is available before you queue, however.

Loading is as swift as any pit-stop, and like a real F1 race, the staff stand back as a bank of red lights count up one-by-one before a line of green lights mark your departure onto the track.

A tight turn takes you onto the lift, and without hesitation, you steeply curl into an upward stance, climbing at an alarming rate. The lift is really steep, and it is nice to lay right back into your seat, almost on your back and enjoy the tranquillity whilst it lasts.

Soon, row-by-row, the front of the train disappears from view, before tugging the remainder of the train down a straight drop. This is where the coaster’s true charisma identifies itself – you’re not wrenched towards the ground, sending you cavorting into the lap bar – you gracefully rise from your seat as the train follows you down, not letting your weight fall back into the seat until the very bottom.

Before you get close to the ground, you are gracefully scooped up and pitch to the left into a camelback – two consecutive and equally graceful drops.

Following a theme, each is flowing, smooth and gentle. You gracefully rise from your seat, before the train delicately scoops you up.

You soon climb into a textbook over-banked turn, tipping your feet over your head for just a brief moment as the train handles this turn with F1 elegance, soon sending you back towards the ground, climbing steeply into another hill, skimming through some trim brakes, dropping back towards the ground and plunging into the mid-course brake run.

As if a pace car had pulled out in front of you, a lot of speed here is lost, and the subsequent bite of the rather attractive straight drop from the brakes is somewhat lost.

The train soon finds its footing again, coiling into a nicely banked but rather uneventful helix, quickly diving underneath the track you entered it by and into a sharp, forceful but elegant right-hand turn, quickly flicking you back to the left in a sublime S-bend, climbing back up and hitting the magnetic brakes.

If Silver Star were a person, it could do no wrong. It would be everybody’s friend.

Everything about the ride assures you it will be okay. Nice, snug seats support you well whilst the substantial (yet non-hindering) restraint is a great reassurance.

The lift-hill is quiet, swift and not intimidating and doesn’t dwindle or slow at the top so not allowing you a chance to reach for the eject button.

The first drop is fast, but at the same time controlled, smooth and perfectly calculated. You will head skywards, but instead of tearing the train from under you, it teases you, following you down as you softly float through the air as if riding on a cloud.

Each hill following adopts the same mentality, gracefully swooping, not fiercely pulling you down in sustained moments of airtime.

The helix and turns towards the end of the ride are reassuringly agile whilst being careful not to be forceless. Your car gymnastically slaloms from right to left, sharply but smoothly.

Of course, whilst the coaster embraces a very refined approach to scraping the stratosphere, it doesn’t leave thrill seekers kicking their heels. The coaster is high, and makes great use of changes in elevation.

The ride is fast – this is best felt, however, towards the beginning of the ride due to the better profiled drops and the over-banked turn, where passing supports greatly enhance the feeling of speed.

This doesn’t go to say that the ride loses the plot from then on, although the mid-course brakes do their best to make sure this happens. The drop off the brakes is somewhat redundant, and the helix bit of a non-event, but the drop from the helix and a dramatic slalom onto the brakes ensure that the ride recovers on a high note.

Silver Star is a powerful and fundamentally unrelenting coaster, embracing the attention of a broad array of people, thrilling the more delicate generations, and entertaining those who like a coarser thrill.

4/5 Marcus Sheen