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Old PNE roller coaster still grips riders with fear

(by Sarah Douziech. The Province)


Jeff Hutton is smiling and giddy after experiencing one of the fair’s scariest, longest-running and slightly rickety-looking rides.


“It’s exhilarating,” Hutton, 23, says.


Minutes earlier Hutton and his 10-year-old sister Jamie were being hurtled around the curves and drops of the historic wooden roller-coaster at 60 km/h. Blood-curdling screams punctuated the constant, deep rumble of the cars on the winding track.


The two are among thousands who flock to the fair annually to experience one of their most primal emotions: fear.


Why pay to be afraid?


Experts have a few theories, says Paul Budra, a Simon Fraser University English professor who studies horror literature and our attraction to it.


One is our ancestors were chased by predators and developed the fight-or-flight response to survive. Now that modern-day humans aren’t at imminent risk of being eaten by sabre-tooth tigers, riding scary roller-coasters could be one way to exercise that hardwired response.


“We find that somehow pleasurable,” Budra says. “It puts us back in touch with our basic human essence.”


Or it could be that post-ride, we experience a sense of euphoria and accomplishment from enduring something difficult.


But Budra thinks it’s simpler.


Although our analytical mind might say no to what looks like a dangerous situation, our bodies say yes.


“We enjoy emotional states,” he says. “We like the play of emotions in our body and what it does to us.”


Clinical psychologist Joti Samra says when our fight-or-flight response is triggered, powerful chemicals like adrenalin and serotonin are released in our bodies.


“That’s the rush that people would describe,” Samra says.


She says adrenalin makes us feel positive and energetic while serotonin makes us feel happy.


The key is experiencing them in short spurts in a safe environment, Samra says, which is why fair rides are the perfect vehicle to gain pleasure from an emotion that could otherwise be traumatic.


“In a safe environment, we like to indulge the full spectrum of emotions,” Budra adds.


But fair rides aren’t for everyone.


Graeme Leigh, a ride operator for more than 10 years at the PNE, says he’s seen many reactions over the years.


“[People] get pretty excited and they’re ready to go again. Other people just scream the whole time, and sometimes people say they’ll never go on it again,” Leigh says.


“Some people cry.”


Courtney Karg, the PNE’s assistant manager of haunted attractions, says she’s even seen people wet their pants.


People are curious when they hear creepy sounds coming out of the fair’s haunted house and just have to find out what’s going on inside.


About 600 people, mostly teenagers, spend the five minutes it takes to walk through the House of Fright.


Teens are more likely to sign up to be scared because it’s a way of testing limits they haven’t established yet, Budra says.


“They go for the extremity,” he says.


To test your limits, Leigh recommends his favourites: The Helluvator, where you can “lose your stomach”, The Revelation, this year’s new ride, AtmosFEAR, or the classic roller-coaster.


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