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Before a roller coaster can make you scream it needs to attain some potential energy. Almost every roller coaster in the world will do this immediately after the station departure with a lift hill. The lift hill, usually using a motorized device, raises the train to the maximum height of the ride and then releases riders to the capable hands of gravity and the first drop.

It is quite common for a coasters lift hill to be a chain lift. A chain lift, just as the name suggests, raises the train using a chain and motorized gears. During the lift that all familiar click click click click you hear is not the chain lift but the anti-rollback safety, called a chain dog, that prevents the train from going down the lift hill in case of any emergency.

There are many variations on the initial chain lift. Beast, for example, uses two lift hills, one shortly after the station departure and one mid-course just before the famous, or infamous as your fear may be, helix. Iron Dragon, at Cedar Point (CP), also employs two lift hills. When Millennium Force, also at CP, was built in 2000, it was the first roller coaster to have an “elevator lift” system. This uses a “sled” under the train with a cable that raises the train. The most notable result of this is a much faster lift time. To be honest, a coaster, such as Adventure Express at Paramount's Kings Island with a lift hill at the end of the ride, is really a system shock to a seasoned coaster rider.

Does every coaster even have a lift hill? No sir or madam as the case may be, they sure do not. Roller coasters employing LIM/LSM launch methods (Linear Induction Motor and Linear Synchronous Motors) may or may not have an initial climb to the max height of the ride. Incredible Hulk, at Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure, uses a launch system but also has an immediate ascent, but not a lift hill. With the recent advent of the compressed air launch, and the outdated catapult launch, the riders still are without the slow, building anticipation of the lift hill.

Lift hills have their place in roller coaster history and ambiance. Riders commonly enjoy the lift hills of Magnum XL-200 and Millennium Force at CP due to the amazing views they procure for the riders. You will also notice on most lift hills a set of stairs along side of them and small speakers. These are, of course, in case of emergency as well as for maintenance purposes. Rarely are they used for emergencies but it is imperative to be prepared. It’s the classic signs that most riders remember from their ascent most. “Keep arms and hands inside the ride”, “Hold on”, and “Remain seated” these are all classic signs you may see while you wait for that stomach stealing first drop.

Next time you are on a lift hill, especially a long one like Magnum XL-200, take the time to look around. There is so much there you may not have noticed before. Besides: what else are you going to do?

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