Stratosphere plans SkyJump thriller, 855-foot free fall

A few people have already jumped from the 1,149-foot Stratosphere, though usually for reasons beyond the pure thrill of it. Now gamblers who drop a wad at the casino can find out what it feels like to take that plunge and live to see another day.

The hotel known for outrageous thrill rides is adding SkyJump Las Vegas, a "controlled free fall" of 855 feet from the top of the tower to a landing platform on the second level.

"It’s kind of like a big fishing reel," Stratosphere marketing director Todd Ford described Friday. "The core in the middle is graduated, so as you jump off you go fast and then it slows you down so you have a nice gentle landing."

SkyJump joins the Big Shot, X-Scream and Insanity rides at Stratosphere, where the sheer height of the tower makes any ride a little more exciting than anything at the county fair.

Even the dismantled High Roller coaster — considered tame in terms of speed and sharp turns — provided a certain "edge" when riders couldn’t see the ground below them.

Ford predicts SkyJump, based on a ride in Australia, will become one of the top tourist attractions in North America.

"It’s not just for adrenaline junkies that want to jump off a building," he said. "It’s also people that want to watch them, who might not have the courage to do it themselves."

Jumpers will have a fabulous view of the Strip — if they keep their eyes open.

Construction of the $3 million SkyJump ride began this month and the new attraction is expected to open in April. Cost is $100. Tickets for X-Scream and Insanity are $12, while the Big Shot is $13.

The ride is similar to skydiving and base jumping. After a short safety lesson, riders put on custom "jump suits." They’ll then be connected to a patented high-speed "descender" machine and led to the edge of a small platform where they leap from the 100-story Stratosphere. Guide wires keep them from slamming into the concrete structure. The entire experience takes about 30 minutes.

The ride is adventurous, but safe, Ford said. It won’t operate during high wind conditions.

Developed by the late Bob Stupak at the site of the former VegasWorld, the Stratosphere has become a Las Vegas icon with its observation deck and Top of the World restaurant.

In 1996, Stupak proposed a "King Kong" ride where people would scale the tower walls inside of a 70-foot gorilla. The gorilla would have carried 48 thrill-seekers about 670 feet above the street. As the beast descended, projections of airplanes would appear to attack him, at one point sending him into a 30-foot free fall.

Another Stratosphere ride idea that met with ill fate was a proposed roller coaster that would drop from the top of the tower across Las Vegas Boulevard at speeds of 120 mph. Neighbors put the kabosh on that one.

"It’s really not the noise," one area resident told the Review-Journal in 2001. "The main concern is no one wants to live in the shadow of a carnival."

Frank Riolo, chief executive officer of Stratosphere parent company American Casino and Entertainment Properties, said the new thrill ride is part of the company’s commitment to reinvesting in the property at all levels. Recent improvements include new carpets and refurbished hotel rooms and rest rooms. A new bar also opened at the top of the tower.

The most popular ride at the Stratosphere is the Big Shot, which shoots passengers straight up 160 feet at four times the force of gravity.

"It’s my favorite," Ford said. "That unique second and a half when you hit the top — that feeling of weightlessness — that’s what made me go back again."

X-Scream is like a giant teeter-totter that propels people 27 feet over the edge of the tower, while Insanity uses a massive mechanical arm extending 64 feet out and spinning riders at a force of three Gs.

Contact reporter Hubble Smith at hsmith@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0491.

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