The straw was actually sprinkled in small layers at the end of the slide to provide friction, a measure that typically allowed at least one of the several riders to survive any given trip.
Roller Coaster History
"You know, Yuri, at this point a revolution might kill fewer people."
Since they relied on ice, Russian Mountains were only available during the winter -- that is, until thrill-seeking Russian Empress Catherine the Great (the Michael Jackson of the 1700s, apparently) decided to have her own personal slide built in her back yard and demanded that it be usable during the brief portion of the year that Russia isn't a depressing ice sculpture, laws of nature be damned. Her terrified subjects solved the problem by using wheeled carts instead of ice tracks, thus inventing the modern roller coaster.
"Now great lines shall form in front of the structure, and men shall dress as mice and ducks."