Thrill seekers from all over the country made their way to Kansas City, Kan., to ride down the world’s tallest water slide, which opened to the public Thursday.
On Wednesday night, Troy Reeves and his 14-year-old twin sons, Nick and Chris, set up their motor home in Schlitterbahn’s lot. They had driven 1,650 miles from their home in Arizona with the Verruckt slide as the second-to-last stop on their family vacation.
The boys and their father lay down on the concrete lot and looked up at the lit-up Verruckt towering over them. Seeing the 168-foot 7-inch structure in the flesh gave them second thoughts.
But when the park opened at 10 a.m. Thursday, they were among the first in line to get reservations.
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Because of Verruckt’s popularity, Schlitterbahn put in place a reservation system to allow visitors to enjoy the park and then show up at their allotted time.
Each raft’s riders needed to have a combined weight of between 400 and 550 pounds, so the family was separated. Troy Reeves and Nick, along with Corey Smith from Salina, Kan., were on the first raft to go down the slide.
“Look at the ride and decide if you can safely participate. You are the best judge of your own limitations,” said a Schlitterbahn lifeguard while reading them a list of safety precautions. After all, Verruckt, which means “insane” in German, goes up to 50 miles per hour.
All Verruckt riders have to be at least 54 inches tall and weigh less than 300 pounds. There is no age requirement.
Smith started out from Salina about 3 a.m. and was one of the first people in Schlitterbahn’s parking lot in the morning. He came only to ride Verruckt, and when he was done, he would start the 2 1/2-hour drive back.
And the ride was a different kind of thrill for Smith, who has bungee-jumped off the 1,053-foot-high Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado.
“I’m pretty sure we had air,” Smith said.
(The ride feels that way, a park official said, but the raft is always in contact with the slide.)
Troy Reeves said he felt like the raft was vertical at the launch, but it got even better going up the second hump.
“You are catching your breath, and then this cold water comes at you,” he said.
Although there were riders from states as far away as Alaska, California and Florida, some riders were from Schlitterbahn’s own backyard. The three Ayers sisters from Overland Park went down Verruckt together.
Despite her fear of heights, which gave her slight nausea at the top, Maggie Ayers, 16, still went on Verruckt because she thought it would be fun and she didn’t want her younger sisters to think she was “a baby.”
“I think that anything that is high enough if I fell off I would severely injure myself is a little too high,” Maggie said.
“Maggie, if you fell off, you would be severely dead,” Sophie Ayers, 15, joked as she looked down 17 stories.
Nathan Sanderson, the supervisor who talks to every rider at the top of the slide, has ridden Verruckt 24 times.
“Everybody today has been too afraid to scream,” Sanderson said. “They have been saving their last breath.”
After riding Verruckt, Troy Reeves joked he and the family would take a day off from thrills by sitting on the couch. On the way back to Arizona, the Reeves family might stop at a Schlitterbahn park in Texas, though there is no Verruckt there.
“You bring me to any slide and it won’t be scary anymore,” Nick said.
Layne Pitcher, director of marketing and sales at Schlitterbahn Kansas City Waterparks, said the reservation system will be in place as long as Verruckt remains popular.
Riders were able to make reservations for a one-hour slot, and if a reservation wasn’t available, they were welcome to stand in a walk-in line, which could take up to three hours to reach the ride.