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Confronting fears at the Stratosphere Tower

View of the Insanity ride, which tosses riders high above the Las Vegas
Photo by Richard Moreno |

It’s not easy being confronted by your worst fear. In my case, it’s acrophobia—fear of high places—and the confrontation took place a couple of years ago atop the 1,149-foot Stratosphere Tower in Las Vegas.

The tower, which rises over the Las Vegas Strip, is tallest structure west of the Mississippi and the tallest freestanding observation platform in the country. According to its media materials, the tower weights more than 100 million pounds and contains 290 miles of rebar, which, if laid end-to-end, would stretch from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

Of course, none of that mattered as I stood at the top and looked out over the Las Vegas Valley. I could see miles of tiny houses and streets. The massive megaresorts lining the Las Vegas Strip almost seemed intimate. The dozens of cars on Las Vegas Boulevard resembled shiny toys.

I forced myself to walk to the railing that was the only thing separating me from a horrible 1,149-foot fall onto one of those tiny cars below in order to get a better view of the city. Despite my feelings of panic, I made it to the rail and for a moment forgot about the height.

Because of the way the streets were laid out in grids, the city seemed sort of orderly—a feeling I never had when I was on the ground. Since everything was smaller in scale, even the giant hotel-casinos seemed manageable and it was possible to recognize their distinct designs and themes.

But I hadn’t taken the 100-story elevator ride to the top of the tower to look at the city. I had agreed to join some friends on the Stratosphere’s thrill rides, of which there are four.

The first ride we encountered was “Big Shot,” a device that launches you about 160 feet into the air at 45 miles per hour, then freefall back down (although hydraulic brakes catch you before you hit the ground).

During the ride, you experience G forces of nearly four G’s, as you’re shot upward, followed by zero G’s on the way down.

The ride is actually over pretty quickly. Basically, you sit down, get strapped into a seat that looks out over the city, and get catapulted up the side of a metal structure at the top of the tower, then have a weird feeling of weightlessness as you fall.

I found that closing my eyes made it go much faster.

Next up was X-Scream, a kind of giant teeter-totter that sits on the edge of the big pod at the top of the Stratosphere. Here, you’re strapped into an open carriage that slides headfirst over the side, then abruptly stops and dangles you above the Strip before lifting itself up in order to pull you back so you can do it all over again.

Despite my height fright, I sat down in the center of the car and strapped myself into the contraption. I looked around at all the other eager faces and tried hard to mask my rising feeling of panic and terror.

After checking everyone’s belts, the attendant pressed a button and the big balance beam rose up and pitched forward tossing us over the side. After sliding on a track for about 27-feet—while looking straight down on the city below—we came to a jarring halt.

And sat there.

I felt my heart race as we just waited for what seemed like an eternity. Then, we were pulled back onto the tower and the whole thing was repeated.

Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to get off this ride.

The Stratosphere’s last ride is Insanity, a large metal arm that expends about 64 feet over the edge of the tower. The riders sit in open chairs that hang from the arm and are spun around at about 3 Gs.

The result is that you’re spinning around at great speeds about 900 feet above the Strip and the only thing you can see is down. Really far down. Again, closing my eyes helped me survive this ordeal.

The last ride is Sky Jump. This is the newest attraction at the Stratosphere—it replaced a roller coaster that used to run around the top of the tower that apparently wasn’t scary enough.

Sky Jump is essentially a decelerating fall from the side of the tower (about 830 feet down). You’re strapped into a contraction that allows you to do a controlled free fall to the ground.

It’s pricey at $119.99 per jump but it gets a four-star rating on Yelp.

So did I do it? Heck no. I couldn’t even get my legs to work well enough to look over the edge and watch someone else do it.

So much for confronting my fears.

The Stratosphere Tower is located at 2000 Las Vegas Boulevard South in Las Vegas. For information about hours and prices go to http://www.stratospherehotel.com/Activities.

Rich Moreno covers the places and people that make Nevada special.