When you go to Disneyland there are a few things that always stand out. Whether it be the Disneyland Railroad station as you walk in or Sleeping Beauty Castle at the end of Main Street USA, for me its always been the Matterhorn. When I was young and would make the trip up the 5 freeway the one thing that always told me we were close to Disneyland was seeing the Matterhorn peak over the trees as you got off the freeway. This week we will dive into how Matterhorn came to be an iconic symbol of Disneyland.
When the moat for Sleeping Beauty Castle was being dug out all of the dirt for was placed right next to the build site. The cost to remove all the dirt was way too much so Walt decided to place some trees and benches on it so the guests would have a nice place to relax and enjoy the park. When the skyway was built in 1958 Walt was very unhappy that the supports were placed on top of the hill and it was a major eyesore. Also at this same time, Walt had been starting to think of what to do with the mound of dirt and it was at this point that he and Imagineers decided it was time for the first e-ticket attraction to be built at Disneyland.
Walt was initially against having an e-ticket attraction but his designers were able to convince him that that is what the people want so he agreed. His first idea was to have a little ski park on the hill and call it snow mountain. Obviously because if the location of the park this could not be possible. While Walt was in Switzerland in 1958 filming Third Man on the Mountain he fell in love with the real Matterhorn as it was the backdrop for a lot of shots in the movie. Walt went to the local gift shop and bought a postcard featuring Matterhorn mountain and sent back to his studios with four simple words. “Vic Build This – Walt ”
With the idea now in place now came the task of figuring out what was the best way and most functional way to make the attraction come alive. The mountain was built from the top down with over 500 tons of steel and concrete. This was done to insure that there was no damage from falling concrete would be done to the attraction as it was being built below. It was built over the Skyway attraction so it could pass right through the mountain. The ride system was the first of its kind in the world. Until this time all roller coasters were built out of wood and with a flat track system. Disney legend Imagineer Bob Gurr was tasked with designing the track and ride system.
He decided that a bobsled car would be the best design to go along with the snowy mountain theme. Gurr and Aero Designs also came up with the track system. It was the first time that they used machines to bend and shape the tubular track. This was to done to be able to make the sharp turns easier and safer. Also, they used rubber tire pieces on the track and under the bobsl to help with the braking system. The Matterhorn was the first tubular roller coaster with a computerized braking system of its kind. It is also the first time that water was used as a braking system as well in the splashdown area at the end of the attraction.
On June 14, 1959, Matterhorn Bobsl opened along with The Submarine Voyage and The innovative Monorail. This was the first big expansion to Disneyland. The Matterhorn came in at a budget of 1.5 million dollars and stands at 147 feet and is the highest point still at Disneyland. It is the only attraction that has switched lands without being moved one foot. It has two tracks that are supposed to be the same but if you ask anyone they say there is for sure a difference in the sides. One is faster and the other is rougher. You will never get a cast member to confirm or deny this. And of course, don’t forget about Harold.