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Melting the Matterhorn

Getting ready to ride the Matterhorn!
Getting ready to ride the Matterhorn!
Jena Savage

Many guests arriving at Disneyland via the Santa Ana Freeway will have their first glimpse of the park as soon as the famous Matterhorn Mountain comes into view. Like many other Disney attractions, the Matterhorn was inspired by a Disney film – “Third Man on the Mountain” from 1958. It also was influenced by a 1955 documentary called “Switzerland.” Walt Disney had been enchanted from his many visits to the real Matterhorn, so the idea for a new ride incorporating the amazing peak was not far-off.

The Matterhorn Bobsleds debuted on June 14, 1959. The mountain is approximately 147 feet tall, which is 1/100th the height of the actual mountain. To this day, it is still the tallest structure in Disneyland. And it is the only Disney mountain not duplicated in any of the other parks – a true original.

At the time the ride opened, few people realized just how innovative the attraction actually was. The Matterhorn was Disneyland’s first thrill ride, and used hollow metal tubes as opposed to noisy wooden tracks, as all previous roller coasters did.

It’s hard to imagine that over 1,500 guests per hour can make it through this attraction, due to the fact that the bobsleds are doubled up into pairs. As many guests may realize, the two tracks available on this coaster are very different. If you head to the attraction from the Fantasyland side, you will experience a more mild form of the coaster. But enter the queue from the Tomorrowland entrance, and be prepared for a much more thrilling ride! During the two-and-a-quarter minute trip, the sleds on both tracks travel at an average mph of 20, although the tight curves make it seem much faster.

The Matterhorn was Disney’s only roller coaster until Space Mountain opened in 1977. It was so special that President Richard Nixon rode the very first bobsled down the mountain. The mountain is regularly ascended by a team of 14 trained alpine climbers, and according to the August 1963 edition of “National Geographic,” members of that team scale the mountain eight times a day, sometimes dressed as Mickey or Goofy! There is also an elevator and a basketball court (although some claim it may no longer exist) located inside the famous mount.

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