The purpose of the coaster's initial ascent is to build up a sort of reservoir of potential energy. The concept of potential energy, often referred to as energy of position, is very simple: As the coaster gets higher in the air, gravity can pull it down a greater distance. You experience this phenomenon all the time -- think about driving your car, riding your bike or pulling your sled to the top of a big hill. The potential energy you build going up the hill can be released as kinetic energy -- the energy of motion that takes you down the hill.

Once you start cruising down that first hill, gravity takes over and all the built-up potential e­nergy changes to kinetic energy. Gravity applies a constant downward force on the cars.