Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Blast From The Past - Disneyland's Matterhorn Bobsleds

The Matterhorn Bobsleds celebrated their 50th anniversary this year without much fanfare, so before 2009 ends we would like to pay tribute to one of the most historically significant steel coasters of the 20th century,

Opening June 14th 1959, the Matterhorn Bobsleds was built to 1/100th scale of the real Matterhorn mountain making it the highest point in the Disneyland Resort until the Tower of Terror was built in Disney's California Adventure in 2004. The mountain is a Disney landmark and can be spotted from the freeway.

Before construction of the Matterhorn began at Disneyland, the site was known as Holiday Hill which was formed from dirt leftover from the park's construction, Perched atop Holiday Hill was one of the towers for the skyway, the mountain was built around this tower, covering up one of the biggest "eyesores" in the park. Among Disneyland regulars in the 1950s, Holiday Hill was also known as a make out spot of sorts.

Snow Hill was bulldozed and soon construction of the attractions steel framework began. A total of 2,175 steel pieces of various sizes were used along with enough plywood for 27 homes.

The mountainous shape was then covered with 500 tons of concrete and four waterfalls were created,one of which was 50 feet tall.Disneyland horticulturists were also challenged to create an artificial “timberline.” To this day, members of the Disneyland Resort horticulture team must use cranes to maintain the mountain’s landscaping.

The Matterhorn Bobsled's construction created quite a challenge for Ed Morgan & Carl Bacon.The first task at hand was to design, fabricate and install two custom layouts in and around the construction of a mountain, which was being built at the same time as the coaster.

Then there was that pesky Skyway tower and it's cables, with the Skyway actually running through the mountain. Tubular track was used because it could be bent more accurately than the standard I-beams or angle iron that were used at that time.

The attraction was a huge success, guests stood in line for hours for the chance to experience of of the rides two unique tracks. The tracks were dubbed Tommorrowland and Fanastyland by cast members and measured 2,037 and 2134 feet respectively. The original rolling stock consisted of single, four passenger cars.

In 1978 the attraction was updated and the ride experience changed dramatically with the interior was changed from a large, open space into a network of “ice caves with several scenes featuring the Abominable Snowman.

There are three snowmen, dubbed Harold, one can be seen on either side of the ride, the other two can only be seen on their respective tracks.The single-car bobsleds were replaced by two-car, eight-passenger bobsleds and new computer controls were added, doubling the rides capacity and helping to shortened the lines.

The Matterhorn Bobsleds are unique to Disneyland and can lay claim to a number of firsts, it was the first thrill ride at the park, world's first tubular steel track coaster, the first roller coaster to run multiple cars on the same track due to one of the first computer controlled braking systems, the first coaster built by Arrow Development.

The invention of tubular steel led to another invention, polyurethane wheels, which provided a smoother, quieter ride

Even after 50 years Walt's ground breaking attraction is still one of the most popular rides in the park and it's still offering thrills to riders of all ages.