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Matterhorn Bobsleds

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Matterhorn Bobsleds, or just Matterhorn, is an attraction composed of two intertwining steel roller coasters, which opened in 1959 at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. It is modeled after the Matterhorn, a mountain in the Swiss Alps. It is the first tubular steel continuous track roller coaster ever constructed and thus an ACE (American Coaster Enthusiasts) Coaster Landmark.

Located on the border between Tomorrowland and Fantasyland (see below), it employs forced perspective to seem more impressively large. Throughout the day, climbers dressed in Swiss mountain-climbing garb may be seen scaling the peak, often accompanied by Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse and Goofy.  


Matterhorn Bobsleds mountain

The Matterhorn Bobsleds

During the construction of the park, dirt from the excavation of Sleeping Beauty Castle's moat was piled in an area between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. When the park opened, the area, dubbed Holiday Hill, was improved with benches and pathways to encourage its use as a picnic area. After the opening of the Disneyland Skyway in 1956, Walt Disney conceived the idea of a toboggan ride on the mountain with real snow but the logistics caused vehement objections by Disneyland construction chief Joe Fowler.

In this period the hill began to be known as Snow Hill. By now instead of picnicking, the hill had come to be used primarily as a nighttime lovers' lane, much to Disney's dismay. New wild mouse-style roller coasters got the attention of Disneyland executives who began to consider applying this emerging technology to the creation of a toboggan-themed coaster ride on an artificial mountain at the site.

The structure was also intended to act as a decorative overlay to camouflage the central pylon of the Skyway. Use of the Matterhorn both in style and name grew from Disney's extended vacation in Switzerland while filming Third Man on the Mountain. He was impressed by the beauty of the real Matterhorn, and merged the toboggan ride concept with the thoughts of a bobsled coaster ride that would run around and through the structure. The peak was first shown in a conceptual drawing that was once on display at The Disney Gallery.

The view to the northwest shows a corner of the now-defunct Junior Autopia, which would be replaced by both the Matterhorn and the Submarine Voyage attraction the following year. One of three major new Tomorrowland attractions to open that year, the Matterhorn debuted on June 14, 1959. Built by coaster builder Arrow Development and WED Imagineering, it was the first tubular steel roller coaster in the world. It consisted of a wood and steel infrastructure surrounded by man-made rock.

Trees could be seen on its sides; by making the trees at higher altitudes smaller, the Imagineers used forced perspective to augment the mountain's height. Waterfalls cascaded down its sides and frequently sprayed riders. Inside was a large, open space through which the bobsleds traveled. The peak had numerous holes in its exterior through which the bobsleds exited and re-entered, though the space within was not elaborately themed, with the infrastructure being only minimally disguised as rock. The Skyway passed through the center of the mountain via a pair of holes on the Fantasyland and Tomorrowland sides. Skyway riders could see down into the Matterhorn's interior as they glided through.

In the early 1970's, the ride was officially made a part of Fantasyland, but this was merely a prelude to far more significant changes. In 1978, the Matterhorn received a major refurbishment. The Imagineers' biggest task was to break up the hollow interior space into a number of small, icy caves and tunnels with far more convincing theming. Some holes in the mountain's skin were filled in as well, including the two large openings at the top of the first lift hill that had allowed guests to briefly glimpse the entire southern part of the park.

Another major addition was the Abominable Snowman, a Yeti by the name of Harold. Harold exists as three similar Audio-Animatronic figures that roar at the bobsledders; the first is visible from both tracks, while the other two are visible only from their respective tracks. Each track also features a pair of red eyes that glow in the dark shortly after the lift hill while Harold's roar is heard. These roars can be heard from ground level as well, even over the (recorded) howling of the Alpine wind. The bobsleds themselves were also changed from the original flat, luge-like, multi-colored two-seaters to rounder, white cars decorated with orange and red stripes.

The Skyway continued to travel through the mountain for the next sixteen years, but its passageway was now enclosed in similarly themed ice caves. Following the closure of the Skyway in 1994, the cavernous holes through which the Skyway buckets had traveled were partially filled in. The holes in the Tomorrowland face remained mostly intact, and a grotto filled with glimmering crystals was installed nearby. An abandoned crate labeled "Wells Expedition" was also added as a tribute to Frank Wells, who had died earlier that year.

The bluish glow of the crystals is easily seen from the ground at night. It is also worth noting that the Matterhorn's external appearance has changed over time. The Matterhorn is painted a warmer gray than it once was, and the "snow" on its sides has become patchier, though the current paint job more closely replicates the sparse snow on the real Matterhorn's upper faces. With the exception of the aforementioned filling of certain holes, the actual external structure of the mountain remains largely unchanged from its original construction.

In 2012, the Matterhorn underwent another massive renovation. This included repainting and resculpting parts of the mountain face to achieve a greater sense of realism with the new snow painted in such a manner to feel more naturally spread onto the mountain with beads of glass mixed in to give it a shimmering effect. This would also be the first time the Matterhorn was completely covered in scaffolding since it's initial construction. Additionally, the Matterhorn would receive a new set of bobsleds and a renovated load area.

In 2015, the Matterhorn underwent yet another major refurbishment. This renovation included the old yeti animatronics being replaced with ones whose range of motion is less limited and they move more fluidly. Additionally, the gaps next to the ride vehicles on the lift were filled with a thin layer of "ice". The yeti now peers through this ice as he climbs the mountain to attack the guests. The crystal scene was replaced with a wrecked camp of some unlucky hikers; large footprints lead to their equipment, which includes two of the original bobsleds, as well as bucket 59 (or a replica) from the Skyway attraction.

The attraction

The ride consists of two separate tracks that run roughly parallel to each other for much of the ride, intertwining and eventually deviating from each other at the loading areas. They are the Fantasyland track and Tomorrowland track, named for the side of the mountain their associated loading line begins in. The vehicles hold up to four passengers each, seated single-file. After the 1978 upgrade, the individual vehicles were joined into pairs, increasing the capacity to eight riders. The safety restraints consist of a simple airline-style seatbelt. There are hand grips inside the cars, as well a handrail outside the shell of the vehicle.

The Matterhorn employs only one lift hill. Bobsleds ascend parallel to each other at the start of the ride, climbing past walls featuring snow-like special effects. The top of this lift hill constitutes the highest point of the ride itself, though the mountain continues upward for another couple of stories. The rest of the ride is an unpowered coast through the Matterhorn's many caverns and passageways.

The splash-down pools at the end of each track serve dual purposes. They not only cool off the braking fins mounted on the underside of the bobsleds, but the impact into the water itself acts as a braking mechanism. Because of their constant exposure to water, the fiberglass bodies are regularly waxed.

For many years, a basketball half-court existed inside the structure above the coaster, near the top of the mountain, where the mountain climbers could play between climbs. As internal access to the mountain was locked for safety reasons, the court was accessible only to the climbers. The court was relocated slightly during the installation of the Tinkerbell flight equipment prior to the 50th anniversary celebration; the hoop and playing area remain intact. There is a cast member break room inside the mountain at the base.

At the end of the attraction, guests hear the now-famous "Remain seated please; Permaneced sentados por favor" safety announcement; it is one of many recordings by the former "Voice of Disneyland," Jack Wagner. The recording was changed in 2005 to say "Remain seated with your seatbelt fastened; Permaneced sentados por favor." The changed English dialogue is still Jack Wagner, as it was borrowed from the attraction's breakdown announcement. This recording also introduces the Tomorrowland segment of the Remember... Dreams Come True fireworks show. The safety announcement was featured on the title track of the 1995 No Doubt album Tragic Kingdom, and the line was spoken by Barbie in the film Toy Story 2. The ride's safety spiel is

"For your safety, remain seated with your seat belts fastened, keeping your hands, arms, feet, and legs inside the bobsled. And be sure to watch your children. Auf Wiedersehen!"

Another variant goes,

"For your safety, remain seated with your seat belt fastened, keeping your hands, arms, feet, and legs inside the bobsled. And please, watch your kids. Thank you!"


There have been two deaths on the Matterhorn Bobsleds. Mark Maples, age 15, was killed on the Matterhorn in May 1964 when he unbuckled his seat belt and tried to stand up as the bobsled approached the peak. He lost his balance and fell onto the track below and crushed his skull. Maples was the first fatality in Disneyland history. Dolly Regene Young, age 48, was killed on January 3, 1984 when she was catapulted from her cart and was hit by another bobsled on a different track.

Other Disney parks

Disneyland in California is the only Disney theme park with a Matterhorn Bobsleds ride. The tracks of Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom Space Mountain were based on the designs of the Matterhorn. In fact, the Matterhorn's newer bobsleds which were added in 1978 were based on the other ride's rockets, which had debuted in 1975. However, the track designs are not identical. When Space Mountain was built at Disneyland, it was a completely new design with just one track and vehicles that seated riders side by side rather than behind one another.

There have been three separate proposals to bring the Matterhorn to Walt Disney World: in the Magic Kingdom (land had even been set aside for the attraction), at a Switzerland pavilion in Epcot, and as an unfinished piece of movie scenery at Disney Hollywood Studios.

At Disney's Animal Kingdom, another roller coaster was constructed with a similar theme, Expedition Everest. It is a railway adventure to the top of an abstract version of the Himalayan mountain where another fictional mountain beast, the Yeti, encounters riders. 

Matterhorn Bobsleds was also planned for Disneyland Paris, as an updated replica that would have been placed behind Fantasyland Station. A tunnel was built so the attraction would be accessible from Toad Hall and Le Pays des Contes de Fées. The ride was never built, and the tunnel hasn't been removed. 

Cultural references

  • In 1988, Disney produced a computer game entitled "Matterhorn Screamer" featuring Goofy climbing the mountain collecting flags while avoiding the snowmen and climbing in bobsleds and Skyway buckets.
  • The video game Epic Mickey has its own version of the Matterhorn named Mickeyjunk Mountain, where old Mickey memorabilia goes when it becomes forgotten.
  • In the Emperor's New School episode "Rabbit Face", when Yzma and Kronk ride to their secret lab, they ride past the Abominable Snowman.
  • In the Mickey Mouse short "Yodelberg", Mickey encounters the Abominable Snowman in his cave with Matterhorn bobsleds next to it.

Film adaptation

On June 29th 2011, Disney announced an adventure movie inspired by the Matterhorn ride with Jason Dean Hall attached to write the script. Justin Springer is producing the project, which has a working title of The Hill. The idea behind The Hill is to do a thrilling, fast-paced movie centering on five young adventure seekers who, for mysterious reasons, are called to the top of the mountain and encounter a Yeti on the journey down.


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