Matterhorn Bobsleds Then and Now – the 60th Anniversary of a Disneyland Original

Today is the 60th anniversary of the Matterhorn Bobsleds.  This unique Disneyland attraction is the one and only in any Disney theme park, and worth celebrating.  Here’s a look back and a look at how it is now.

The Origin of the Matterhorn Bobsleds

There’s not quite a straightforward origin to the attraction.  The Disney family would travel to Europe for vacation, and Walt often drew inspiration for many Disney attractions and movies from his travels.  Much of the inspiration, however, came from making Third Man on the Mountain, which took place on the Matterhorn.  Walt Disney was a bit fascinated with it and wanted an attraction that used the peak.  It could be that the Matterhorn was chosen because the Swiss-inspired Skyway appeared in the park in 1956, and Walt wanted the theme of a Swiss alp to go along with it.  According to Chris Nichols in Walt Disney’s Disneyland, “Walt had said time and time again that he didn’t want thrill rides or roller coasters in the park, and insisted that Matterhorn Bobsleds…had to be different.”

Innovative Construction

Imagine you’re walking down Main Street in 1955 and you spot Sleeping Beauty Castle.  To the right of it…nothing!  Yes, that’s right.  There was no mountain, pretty much nothing at all, right next to the iconic castle.  This was the view for the first few years of the park.

“But, there had to be something there that just wasn’t tall, right?”  Nope.  Nothing was there for guests.  Oh, maybe some benches and a large dirt mound where a Skyway pole was going to sit, but nothing to truly note.  If you look on the maps from the early years of the park it was a dead end at that part of Main Street.

When Matterhorn Bobsleds came to be it opened a whole new portion of the park to guests!  That was the first innovation for the longstanding roller coaster.  It had even more innovation to it than that, though.  It was the first tubular steel roller coaster.  “Huh?  What does that mean?”  Well, the coasters of before were made of wood and sat on a track like the bobsleds.  But, these tracks were flat and had a different experience.  If you look at popular roller coaster tracks in modern days the majority use this tubular steel track design.  Matterhorn was the first to implement this design.  It was also the first to enable multiple cars going at the same time!  We’re so used to that type of loading and going that we probably take it for granted.  Imagine longer lines for a roller coaster and this is what would have happened without the innovation!  This was also the first “mountain” at a Disney park.  Now we have whole “mountain ranges” that many guests try to conquer.  So, the Matterhorn has quite the impressive resumé for a Disney attraction.

No Yeti Yet

Matterhorn Bobsleds opened June 14, 1959, to lots of screams…but no screams of its most iconic feature.  The Abominable Snowman, or “Harold” as he was nicknamed, didn’t make his presence known until almost 20 years after in 1978.  The ride itself expanded at this time too.  The late Dave Smith points out in Disney A to Z: The Official Encyclopedia that there were tandem tracks installed to increase ride capacity.  So, the ride did not have the dual right and left system we know today.

Today’s Mountain

The way we experience the Matterhorn Bobsleds today is rather different than how it originally was, and even how it changed in 1978.  Lots of refurbishments to the mountain and its entrance has been done over the years.  The most recent changes brought in FastPass for guests.  The drastic change during this time was in 2015 for the park’s 60th and it brought a new Abominable Snowman who is more menacing than Harold.  You can still catch Harold in a Disneyland Resort attraction, but over at Guardians of the Galaxy Mission: Breakout.  Earlier than these changes was having the Skyway taken out of the park.  This meant the closing up of large openings in the mountain where it would pass through.  Those that were able to experience both attractions back when they were available remember the fun of getting glimpses of the thrilling descent of the bobsleds high above.

Though there have been some rather significant changes to the Disneyland original, this is still a guest favorite.  Though it’s 60 years old it holds up very well today to provide thrills and smiles to guests.  Here’s to another 60 years for the Matterhorn Bobsleds!

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