Thirteen (officially stylised as TH13TEEN) is a steel roller coaster at Alton Towers in England. The ride was constructed by Intamin and opened on 20 March 2010. It is the world's first vertical freefall drop roller coaster - on which the track and train freefall approximately five metres in darkness. The ride replaced and is built on the former site of the Corkscrew, which resided at Alton Towers for 28 years between 1980 and 2008.
EARLY DEVELOPMENT Alton Towers first revealed their plans for the ride in October 2008 when it was announced that Corkscrew would be removed. Planning permission was initially delayed due to concerns about an Iron Age hill fort in its vicinity. However, in March 2009, Staffordshire Moorlands District Council accepted planning permission for the ride (with conditions) and groundwork construction commenced about three months later. During the planning stages and construction, the ride was codenamed as Secret Weapon 6. In an interview shortly after the ride's opening, John Wardley, Ride Consultant for Merlin Entertainments, spoke about the development of Thirteen. The initial idea for the secret element originated from a previous rollercoaster plan that he designed for Alton Towers, in which a piece of track tilted back and forth during the ride. The ride, if it had been built, would have been similar to Winjas Fear and Force at Phantasialand, Germany, and therefore not a world's first ride. The plan never came to fruition, but the idea of moving track was kept and later developed into the world's first freefall dropping track element for Thirteen. After the aging Corkscrew roller coaster was removed, a large site lay empty in what was then the Ug Land section of the park. John Wardley and others worked to create the idea for a new roller coaster that would fill this area. It would travel around the perimeter of the site and enter a dark, indoor show building for the secret element to take place. The type of coaster trains and track used for the ride was decided to be a type of Intamin family coaster for their lightweight trains, as this would reduce strain on the hydraulics that work the freefall drop. The 'bad luck' concept and Dark Forest theme was designed by Candy Holland, Art Director for Merlin Entertainments. The Alton Towers marketing team, led by Morwenna Angove, made an effort to keep the project secret so that the surprise feature would not be revealed until the ride was opened. In 2008, concept art showing possible themes for the new ride were leaked online, but only appeared briefly after they were deleted at Alton Towers' command. In a press statement that was released several months after construction started, the ride was named a 'psychoaster' and was said to create a level of psychological fear.
Various phrases and slogans were used to promote the ride. In August, a banner was erected next to the construction site on 8 October reading: "Ride into the Unknown". Alton Towers released a new marketing campaign later inviting readers to "Ride the Demon of the Dark Forest" and "Surrender in March 2010". However, neither of these campaigns expressly revealed the name of the new ride. The attraction's name was officially announced as Thirteen on 11 December 2009 through a press release. The ride's main slogan was used after: "If you go down to the woods today, you'd better not go alone." During the park's 2009 Scarefest, hooded wraiths were seen roaming around the Ug Land area in the build-up to the new ride. Warning signs were put up explaining their appearance was linked to "next year's new ride". The resort has also used viral marketing through social-networking websites to promote the ride. Alton Towers released many online and television teaser videos in the run up to the opening of the ride. These included a video of a truck supposedly delivering the "secret weapon", and three promotional blipverts which featured a possessed girl walking in a forest. The full adverts were released before opening day, with a pre-watershed and post-watershed version. The advertisement to be shown after 9 pm included the same girl seen in previous videos being entangled by moving branches as she whispered: "If you go down to the woods today, you'd better not go alone... 13". The advert also uses a short but 'darker' version of the Alton Towers theme music.
An early press release on the ride stated that the park was considering limiting passengers to one ride per day and requiring them to sign a waiver of liability. They also said there would be an age restriction of 16–55 years old allowed on. This however was only a marketing ploy and there were no age limits or other restrictions put in place, aside from the height restrictions: riders must be over 1.2 metres and under 1.96 metres to ride. On 22 July 2010, Alton Towers announced on their Facebook page that Thirteen would be closed on Friday 13 August 2010, because of superstitious reasons. Morwenna Angove, Head of Marketing at the Resort, stated: "Our research has revealed that Britons are a seriously superstitious bunch, and as our latest ride is named after the unluckiest of numbers, we've taken the decision to close that ride on Friday 13 to reassure our visitors." It was later revealed that the ride was to be renamed 'Fourteen' throughout Friday 13 of August 2010 instead of closing. New limited merchandise was available during the day featuring the 'Fourteen' name. Most signage to the ride was temporarily changed to feature the new name. In 2010's Scarefest event, in addition to the wraiths, the girl from the adverts promoting the ride would also appear. In 2011's Scarefest event, a fictional warning was played at the station of Thirteen which told that they had caused disappearances and deaths and told that if "you don't touch them, they will not touch you".
The ride starts with a sharp turn out of the station into a 60-foot (18 m) lift hill up to the main drop, which sends the train speeding into woodland at up to 41 mph.Thirteen's track layout performs many airtime hills and banked turns, before entering a second lift hill which leads into a dark crypt where the surprise element takes place. Sections of the outdoor track have been fitted with speed-reducing devices due to early problems with the ride entering its second lift hill too quickly. The entry door is closed behind the train as it comes to a sudden but smooth halt. The crypt room is illuminated with dim lighting and effects such as air blasters and creaking wood sounds. Then the room blacks out completely. The section of track on which the train comes to a stop suddenly drops around 30 cm. After a pause of around two seconds, the track and train freefall five metres.A wraith figure is illuminated in front of the train, an air blaster fires towards its front as the carriage is propelled backwards out of the crypt. The train falls down a moderately sharp drop and enters a disorienting backwards helix. It then emerges from the darkness and comes to a halt in front of a section of track which changes to allow the train to be propelled forward several dozen feet back into the station, at which point the ride ends.
Since the project was announced in late 2008, the ride was confirmed to join the growing line of world first rides at Alton Towers. It was confirmed that the heavily secretised element would take place in the showroom section, a building next to the station. It was revealed on 17 March 2010, that the ride is the "world's first freefall drop roller coaster". This was shown on GMTV, on a special feature about Thirteen and also had an on-ride video of some of the first riders. A view of the ride was also shown on Central Tonight, and shows the freefall section in brighter lighting than GMTV had shown earlier on in the day.This surprise sequence consists of a horizontal section of track, on which the train stops, which freefalls downwards, making Thirteen the world's first vertical free fall roller coaster.This surprise sequence consists of a horizontal section of track, on which the train stops, which freefalls downwards, making Thirteen the world's first vertical free fall roller coaster.