Wood coasters look to be all the rage for the 2006 season after Six Flags (NYSE:PKS) announced that it would be adding El Toro to its popular Six Flags Great Adventure amusement park in New Jersey. The news comes two months after family-run Holiday World announced plans for The Voyage to debut as another record-breaking wood coaster in May 2006. El Toro will feature the world's steepest drop on a wood coaster, while The Voyage comes packed with 24 seconds of airtime weightlessness.

The fact that next season's biggest thrills will be coming from throwback wooden coasters is significant. Ever since Disney (NYSE:DIS) launched its Matterhorn coaster in Disneyland, parks have relied on steel coaster designs to twist riders to greater thrills. Steel has served the regional amusement park industry well over the years. It's not a matter of the ridiculous inverted maneuvers that are possible with bendable steel. In fact, the four highest-rated steel coasters earning Amusement Today's Golden Tickets awards for 2005 don't have a single loop between them. It was steel's ability to provide smoother and faster rides with bigger drops that captured the heart of many a coaster enthusiast.

Wood coasters offer a rougher, white-knuckled ride, but they don't have the cumbersome seat restraints found on most looping steel coasters. If the trend back toward wood coasters persists, many parks may be due for a makeover. Cedar Fair's (NYSE:FUN) Cedar Point has portrayed itself as an oasis of gargantuan steel coasters, with all but two of its 16 coasters constructed mostly of steel. Wood coasters do require a great deal of maintenance, but if that's what the public wants, that's what they are likely to get.

Earlier this month, Cedar Fair lowered its guidance for 2005. The move was based in part on an attendance decline at Cedar Point. This doesn't mean that Cedar Fair will now rush to add a record-setting wood coaster of its own for the 2007 season, but it would certainly make sense. It was Six Flags Great Adventure that wrestled away the record-breaking steel coaster crown from Cedar Point this summer.

Keeping the turnstiles clicking is important for any park, naturally, but even more so for Cedar Fair, whose investors have grown used to a steady stream of fat distributions. The units yield 6.3% at the moment, and the company's consistent operating history and knack for raising its payouts earned it a nod as a recommendation in our Income Investor newsletter service.

Cedar Fair has served its investors well by growing guest spending at its parks and building out adjacent resorts. That can only take you so far, though. It's too late for Cedar Fair to break out a monster wood coaster for the 2006 season, but will it deliver for 2007?

Knock on wood.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz enjoys taking his family on coaster treks over the summer. He already has his sights set on conquering The Voyage and El Toro come June. He owns shares in Six Flags, Disney, and Cedar Fair. T he Fool has a disclosure policy. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.