Matterhorn Bobsleds

Matterhorn Bobsleds
Poster for Matterhorn Bobsleds
ManufacturerWED Enterprises, Arrow Dynamics
Attraction typeRoller Coaster
Opening dateJuly 14, 1959
Ride duration2:07 & 2:26 minutes
Length2,037 feet (620.8 m) & 2,134 feet (650.4 m) ft (0 m)
Total height147 ft (0 m)
Maximum speed27 mph (0 km/h)
Height requirements35" (0 cm)
Wheelchair accessible
Must transfer from wheelchair

The Matterhorn Bobsleds or the Matterhorn is an attraction made up of two intertwining steel roller coasters at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. It is based on the Matterhorn, a mountain in the Swiss Alps of over 14,000 feet (it's exactly 4,478 metres), which has been scaled back to 1/100-scale to fit in with the rest of Disneyland.

Located on the borderline between Tomorrowland and Fantasyland (see below), it employs forced perspective to seem more impressively large. Throughout the day, Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse and Goofy, aided by two climbers dressed as Swiss mountain climbers, may be seen scaling the supposedly arduous peak. The mountain climbers themselves can often be seen scaling the peak.


Walt Disney conceived the idea for the attraction when visiting Switzerland during filming of his film, Third Man on the Mountain. He was impressed by the beauty of the real Matterhorn, and had the thought of a bobsled ride at the recently opened Disneyland in California.

Originally intended as a decorative overlay for the central pylon of the Disneyland Skyway, the concept for the Matterhorn later evolved into a full-blown, separate attraction. The peak was first shown in a conceptual drawing that was once on display at The Disney Gallery. The view looking to the northwest shows a corner of the now-defunct Junior Autopia; both the Matterhorn and the Submarine Voyage attraction, which took the place of the Junior Autopia, opened the following year.

The attraction opened on June 14, 1959, as one of three new major attractions for Tomorrowland that year. Built by coaster builder Arrow Dynamics and WED Imagineering, it was the first tubular steel roller coaster in the world. It consisted of a wood and steel infrastructure surrounded by manmade 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 got riders wet. Inside was a large, open space through which the bobsleds traveled. Unlike the real Matterhorn, this peak had numerous holes in its shell through which the riders sometimes exited and re-entered. 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, traveling through one pair of holes to Fantasyland and through another to Tomorrowland. Riders could see down into the Matterhorn's bowels as they glided through.

In the early 1970s, 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 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. (These had allowed guests to briefly glimpse the entire southern part of the park.) In addition, the Abominable Snowman, a yeti by the name of Harold , was installed in the form of several Audio-Animatronic figures that roar at the bobsledders. These roars can be heard from ground level, even over the (recorded) howling of the wind. A complete change of the bobsleds was also effected – the bobsleds were changed from the original 2-seater, flat luge-like, multi-colored model to a new, more rounded car and only being one color - white, with orange and red pinstripes adorning the sides.

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 travelled 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, leading some parkgoers to joke about the effects of global warming. The actual external structure of the mountain is largely unchanged, though holes have been filled and minor alterations have been made to the mountain's shape.

The attraction

Enlarge picture
The Matterhorn

The ride consists of two separate tracks that run somewhat 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 based on which side of the mountain their associated loading line begins in. The vehicles are capable of holding up to four passengers each, sitting behind one another. After the 1978 upgrade, two vehicles were joined, 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.

Only one lift hill is used in the entire ride. Bobsleds ascend parallel to each other at the start of the ride, climbing past walls that feature snow-like special effects. The top of this lift hill constitutes the highest point of the ride itself, though the mountain itself 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.

There is a basketball half-court inside the structure above the coaster, near the top of the Matterhorn mountain. This court is really just a break room with a wooden floor where the mountain climbers can play basketball in between climbing sessions. It is not accessible to anyone else, as internal access to the mountain is locked for safety reasons. There is another cast member break room inside the mountain at the base.
Enlarge picture
Up close view of Matterhorn climbers
At the end of the attraction, guests hear the now-famous "Remain seated please; Permanecer sentados por favor" safety announcement; it is one of many recordings by the former Voice of Disneyland, Jack Wagner. The recording was recently changed in 2005 to say "Remain seated with your seatbelt fastened; Permanecer sentados por favor." The changed English dialogue is still Jack Wagner, as it was borrowed from the attraction's break down announcement. This recording also introduces the Tomorrowland segment of the Remember... Dreams Come True fireworks show. This safety announcement was also featured on the title track of the 1995 No Doubt album Tragic Kingdom.

Other Disney parks

Disneyland is the only theme park with a Matterhorn mountain.

The tracks of Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom Space Mountain were based on the designs of the Matterhorn. And 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.

For years, plans for a replica of the attraction at Walt Disney World have been tossed around. The ride would have been located in a proposed Switzerland Pavilion at Epcot's World Showcase. Another possibility was a planned Mt. Fuji themed coaster for the Japan pavilion. Sketches of the attraction have been presented to the public, but due to the difficulty in securing grants from a sponsor and respective countries, the ride was not built and plans were put on hold. Many have speculated that Expedition Everest, which opened at Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom in 2006, stemmed from the long-proposed Walt Disney World Matterhorn clone. The two have many similarities, such as a snowy mountain theme and an encounter with a mythological snow beast (the Matterhorn's Abominable Snowman, and Everest's Yeti). It therefore now seems extremely unlikely that any Matterhorn clone will ever be built at Walt Disney World, since it would risk being too similar to Everest.


1977 bobsleds

1983 bobsleds

2000 bobsleds

Yeti footprint near the bobsled ride

In popular culture

  • When the Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, Shah of Iran, and his wife, Empress Farah Diba, visited Disneyland, they enjoyed the Matterhorn Bobsleds with Walt Disney and a Disneyland Ambassador, and it was filmed for Disney's weekly television show.
  • In the sing along songs video Disneyland Fun, during "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah", the Matterhorn was the last ride the kids rode on before meeting up with Chip and Dale.
  • The Matterhorn was parodied in Timon and Pumbaa's Virtual Safari on The Lion King 1½.
  • In the Adult Swim stop-motion animation program, Robot Chicken, the Matterhorn is the location of a secret laboratory where Walt Disney is revived as a giant, mechanical spider that eats Cuban children.

See also

External links

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