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|Norm Pirtovshek has a need for speed - and he has the
perfect job as VP and GM of Canada’s Wonderland
your hobbies include driving fast cars, racing horses and power boats,
it makes perfect sense that Norm Pirtovshek, vice president and general
manager of Canada’s Wonderland, would be the first to ride the new Leviathan – one of the largest and fastest roller coasters in the world.
After all, the coaster was Norm’s idea. Leviathan (named after a sea monster), towers over the park at a record breaking height of 306 feet (93.3 M). The first sea-monster "hump" features an 80 degree drop, reaching a top speed of 148 kilometres an hour.
“It’s one of the top five fastest free-fall coasters in the world,” says Norm. “It’s relentless, intense and terrifying, but smooth . . . and good off-the-seat time. I knew the first time I rode it, we had built one of the best rides in the world.”
Not only is Norm the gate keeper of the park, he also holds the master plans to Canada’s Wonderland. He gets to decide which rides or attractions to add, and he is instrumental in the design concept.
“We build lots of prototypes or one-off rides here. After 32 years in the ride business, I know every owner and ride manufacturer in the world. I knew who to call when I wanted to build the Leviathan.
I called Walter Bolliger of Bolliger & Mabillard (B & M) in Switzerland to design and build Leviathan. I said, “Walter here’s the layout.” Then we talked about the speed, the height, how quick to make the turns, and then the engineers took over. Today’s technology and science have advanced and with virtual reality, you can almost ride a coaster before it is built. Technology is making the ride business better.”
Norm, B & M engineers, and the park’s maintenance director were the first people to ride Leviathan. “Leviathan is the park’s 16th coaster, making Wonderland one of the top three coaster destinations in the world.”
Norm has been with Canada’s Wonderland since day one. He joined the company in 1980 in the rides maintenance department and helped ready the park for opening day in May 1981. His commitment and enthusiasm for the job lead to opportunities within operations, construction and park maintenance. He has served as a vice president since 2000.
Nothing gets by Norm. “At about 7:30 each morning I walk around the entire park” he explains. “I’m not happy until everything looks perfect. Then I go into the office and sign purchase orders and cheques (over $250 million has been spent since the park opened - to add new rides and attractions). Then I’ll go back into the park. I wore a pedometer one day and I had walked 23 kilometres.” (The park sits on 379 acres, 300 of which are developed).
As the largest employer in York Region, Canada’s Wonderland has over 3,000 full and part-time staff - 140 of whom work year round.
“We run day and night shifts and do four hour inspections every morning before the park opens. Every coaster is taken apart every winter and reassembled. When I give a talk to the staff each year, I stress the importance of guest service. We have three million visitors each year. Although it may be the one thousandth cone they have served that day, it’s the first for that customer. Our motto is to make it the best experience of the year for every customer.”
Norm says he’s a rarity in the amusement park business. “It is an unusual career path to go from rides maintenance to operations and management. When I took over as general manager, there were only three people like me in the amusement park industry so they say.”
Canada’s Wonderland is owned by Cedar Fair Entertainment Company, which owns ten other amusement parks. Since 2001, Norm has been actively involved with the board of directors for the Technical Standards Safety Association (TSSA), which acts as an advisory council for ride safety standards in Ontario, serves on the Harmonized Committee Board of Directors with the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) and American Standard Testing Materials International which is working to unify amusement ride safety standards documents in North America.
“My philosophy is that if my family can’t ride it, no one is going to ride it,” says Norm. He and his wife Debbie have been married 34 years and have three children who “grew up on the rides.”
When their two daughters Kirsten, Caitlin and son Matthew were young, Norm and Debbie lived on a farm, and bred race horses. “Now my wife and I live 10 minutes from the park. I owe a great deal to Debbie for sticking with me through the long hours. It’s a fun job, but you better be passionate about it. You either love it or hate it and leave. You find out pretty quickly within the first year. I’m very passionate about it and there’s not a day that goes by that I’m not happy to come to work. In fact, I rarely leave!”
Summer vacations are out of the question so Norm and Debbie vacation in the off season at historic places like Charleston or Williamsburg.
Norm says he’s excited to add an educational element to the park with the new Dinosaurs Alive! exhibit - one of the world’s largest animatronic outdoor dinosaur parks.
“Students can learn about 43 different dinosaurs, a number of which came from Canada, and the exhibit is landscaped with local botany. It’s a good fit and a learning experience partnership with Dinosaurs Unearthed - a Canadian-based travelling dinosaur exhibit company. Ours is a permanent exhibit and four or five new dinosaurs will be added each year.”
When Norm decides to take a coffee break, instead of heading to the nearest Tim’s, he heads to the nearest ride. “I wander up and jump on a ride.” After work, Norm speeds off in his sporty 680 BMW. “I like anything involving speed!” GL
To see some videos, be sure to check out our
Canada's Wonderland GoodLife video page