Inch by inch, Larsens felt taken for a ride at Valleyfair

  • Article by: JAMES ELI SHIFFER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 27, 2008 - 10:15 PM

This is a tale about a little girl named Autumn, a pair of shoes, roller-coasters and the little-known phenomenon of shrinking children.

Autumn, 6, is the youngest of the three Larsen kids, who live with their father, Dave, and mother, Bobbie Jo, near Diamond Lake in south Minneapolis. All year long Autumn looked forward to riding the big rides at Valleyfair. Last summer she had been too short. In the ensuing months, Autumn had grown, but her head still stopped 1.25 inches short of the magic 48-inch threshold.

Her parents dreaded the prospect of a trip to Valleyfair with Autumn grounded while her sister and brother soared. Then the Valleyfair website gave them some uplifting news. A child who stands 48 inches in shoes would qualify for the rides.

A pair of sturdy brown flip-flops with thick soles raised Autumn to 48.125 inches: Victory!

On Aug. 15, the family traveled to Shakopee for a day at Valleyfair. The first inkling of trouble came at guest services, where Autumn was told to take off her shoes before being measured. Her father objected.

They left without the required armband, but managed to get on the 48-inch minimum rides anyway. At 12:30, they were stopped while trying to get on the old-fashioned roller-coaster.

"They like said, I couldn't go on there," Autumn said. "But I already go'ed on there."

Dave Larsen was frustrated most of all by the inconsistency. One ride operator would do the measurement with shoes on. Another made the girl take them off and stand on a pad. Then Autumn was barred by a "meanie" from the Corkscrew, another ride she had been on earlier.

"We ended up leaving shortly after that," Larsen said.

Larsen sent a letter to Valleyfair, explaining the situation and demanding that someone in authority contact him. Instead, he got an envelope with a check for $13, a refund for the extra cost of Autumn's fully-fledged ticket.

The height restrictions for rides are set by the manufacturer for safety reasons, said Rachel Onken, promotions and communications manager for Valleyfair. Onken didn't know about the Larsens' situation but said the refund showed that Valleyfair recognized the family was owed something.

Onken said that if a ride operator thinks that a child's shoes are too thick, they can use a pad that reflects an average shoe height. Kids can also change after a day on their feet, she said.

"Children might shrink a little bit during the day," she said. "If you start at 48 inches, you might be just a hair underneath it by the end of the day."

Larsen doesn't think there was any safety reason to keep Autumn off the rides. Nor does he think that she lost any altitude that day. But Autumn has lost her love of Valleyfair. Every time a Valleyfair commercial comes on TV, she has the same reaction: "That's where the meanie works."

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