Big Shot

'Scuse Me While I Kiss The Sky.

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Close your eyes and imagine:

You're flying over Las Vegas in a Piper Cub, about 900 feet above the desert sands.

Suddenly, the fuselage rips away, and your seat flies straight up and out of the plane, soaring another 160 feet above terra firma.

Gravity's pull brings you to a breathless halt: you're 1,080 feet above the ground with the wind whipping through your hair.

And then you begin to fall...

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Sounds like fun? Then step right up and help yourself to the BIG SHOT.

Once again, those wacky Vegas casino developers have erected another record-breaking hotel and casino complex, The Stratosphere, a $550 million megaresort that includes America's tallest free-standing observation tower. And right at the tippy-top of their latest toy, they built the LET IT RIDE HIGH ROLLER, a funky little rollercoaster, and the BIG SHOT, the world's highest thrill machines.

The Stratosphere's casino and hotel are at the base of the tower. The tower's 12-story "pod" contains indoor and outdoor observation decks, a cocktail lounge, a revolving restaurant, conference and meeting rooms, and , of course, wedding chapels (to arrange a Stratosphere wedding package, call 800-789-9 I DO).

But the real action's on Level 12A. There, 921 feet up, you board the BIG SHOT, a Space Shot ride created by S&S Sports Power, the largest bungee jumping company in the world. At first glance, the Space Shot looks to be a stripped-down freefall attraction; it is much more than that. Instead of sedately lifting you to the drop height, this sucker rockets you up there, at speeds of up to 45 miles per hour.

Now, when you start at five feet above the ground, the Space Shot is plenty hair-raising enough. There's a lot of screaming involved.

But at 900 feet, this starts to get a little ridiculous. If you're afraid of heights, like myself, you are in for some major terror.

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Four high-speed double-deck elevators carry you to the top of the tower at 1,800 feet per minute, making for a 30-second trip. And there, you won't find a very long line of people waiting to board the BIG SHOT. But before you head for the ride, make sure you take in the view from the observation decks. It's hard to appreciate what 900 feet really means until you're actually gazing down from that gut-wrenching altitude.

As you stand on line, you'll get a chance to witness a launch before it's your turn to board. Watch as everyone fumbles with the seatbelts, scrambling to get buckled in, laughing, shrieking - you'll never see a more nervous group of people, ever. Once things look secure, there's this low roar, the sound of a gargantuan air compressor building pressure. The passenger rig floats up off the loading platform, hovering gently, and everyone goes hysterical. A countdown begins: Three, Two, One...


Then it's your turn.

The BIG SHOT seats 16 gamblers, four in a row, around the square 228-foot mast. The ride operators point you towards a row and let you hop on. You pull the shoulder harness down. A standard-issue seat belt connects the harness to the seat your butt is planted in. You'll be amazed at how hard it is to operate a simple seat belt when your hands are shaking uncontrollably.

The witty folks running the attraction when I was there began a phony countdown just as everyone was trying to get the damn belts locked. Yuk, yuk, just kidding. You can imagine the throat-ripping screams of distress.

The low roar signals the imminent launch. When the rig floats up, pulling your feet away from the platform, you'll wish you never left your mother's womb. Three, Two, One...


As you shoot 160 feet up, you'll experience 4 G's and a rush of adrenaline like none you've ever experienced before. When you hit that 1,081 foot peak, you'll have barely a heartbeat to contemplate the view (if your heart is still functioning). Then, the freefall to end all freefalls... Halfway down, they boost you back up. Another freefall. Once more, they shove you up again. Finally, you float back down onto the loading platform. Alive.

I've never hollered louder or harder, and I did it without an ounce of shame.

For maximum dementia, two riders' tips: 1) Keep your eyes wide open, and 2) Hold your arms and legs straight out in front of you. No white-knuckle grip on the harness allowed.

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After a brief closure, the HIGH ROLLER has reopened. The coaster is now supposedly 20% faster, and the trains run the entire circuit twice. After the BIG SHOT, you may not find the HIGH ROLLER quite as exciting, but as far as I'm concerned, you can't miss it. Just the idea of riding a coaster 900 feet above the ground... I totally dug it.

This act of mad genius is the work of Bob Stupak, Stratosphere's Chairman of the Board. If you've ever been to Vegas, you already know and love him as the owner of the "Vegas World" hotel and casino (forerunner of The Stratosphere), and as the writer of two books on gaming. And it was his inspiration that lead to the BIG SHOT and the HIGH ROLLER.

At first, he was told that it couldn't be done: "You wanna build rides at the top of a 900 foot tower?!" But the visionaries at Structures and Machines Constructions, an Italian engineering firm, said they could deliver the coaster. And the aforementioned S&S Sports Power people came through with the BIG SHOT.

And there's even more planned for the Stratosphere: Someday you may be able to ride up an exterior leg of the tower inside a giant 70 ft. high gorilla. Neato.

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Tower Trivia

  • The Tower is 1,149 feet tall, standing higher that the Seattle Space Needle, the Tokyo Tower and the Eiffel Tower.
  • The Tower weighs approximately 100 million pounds.
  • The length of rebar used to build the Tower, layed end-to-end, would reach from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
  • The steel used in construction weighs more than 1,600 tons.

Animation, logo art and photography as indicated on this page courtesy Stratosphere Tower




© Robert Coker.
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