Walt Disney sprouted the first of the “mountain range of thrill rides” at Disneyland Park with the Matterhorn Bobsleds in 1959.
Ever seeking ways to improve, or plus, his theme park, the gears of Walt Disney’s imagination never ceased to crank. While on vacation in Europe on the set of the 1959 film, Third Man on the Mountain, Walt took in the majesty of the mountain on which he stood, and pieces of the what-to-build-next puzzle came together then and there.
A Disneyland executive had sent Walt a magazine article about wild-mouse-style roller coasters, the type seen at fairs and carnivals. Walt kicked that idea up a Disney notch, and thus sprouted the first of the “mountain range of thrill rides” at Disneyland Park (Matterhorn Bobsleds ’59, Space Mountain ’77, Big Thunder Mountain ’79, Splash Mountain ’89).
The Matterhorn was part of the first major expansion to take place since the Park’s opening in 1955, premiering along with the Disneyland Monorail and the Submarine Voyage. The attraction opened to the public via a live nationally televised broadcast on June 14, 1959.
The Matterhorn Bobsleds were constructed on “Holiday Hill,” a mound that had resulted from digging the Castle moat during Park construction and had served as a makeshift separator between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. To shape the mountain, hundreds of pre-fabricated wooden forms were assembled around a steel framework then covered with cement. Horticulturists created an artificial tree line to mimic the actual mountain. To authenticate the appearance, Matterhorn Mountain Climbers scale its façade. Every now and then, Mickey himself takes to the ropes. Built to 1/100th the scale of the real Matterhorn in Switzerland, Disneyland’s mountain stands 147 feet tall and was the highest point in the Park until Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (at DCA) eclipsed it in 2004.
Matterhorn Bobsleds were the first tubular steel track roller coaster in the world! It was also the first to employ an electronic dispatch system, which enabled multiple cars to be on the track simultaneously. Its pioneering design set the stage for future roller coasters to feature loops and corkscrews.
The attraction was originally part of Tomorrowland, but merged into Fantasyland in the early 1970s without moving an inch. One bobsled runs on the Fantasyland side (slightly longer with some sharper curves) and another on the Tomorrowland side. There are separate queues for each track.
Inside the top 1/3 of the Disneyland Matterhorn stands empty space. Urban legend states that when the attraction was being built, in order for such a structure to stand at such a height, it had to qualify as a sporting facility. So, according to the myth, a basketball court was installed to satisfy permit constraints.
Truth or fiction? (Pay attention to the section starting around the 1:52 mark!)
In honor of March Madness (the NCAA college basketball championship tournament coming up in March), get physically fit and go play some basketball! Expand your assignment into a unit study and investigate the origin of the sport. The original peach-basket-on-a-post somewhat resembles the makeshift hoop in the Matterhorn!
SCHOOL SUBJECT: Physical fitness
SKILL LEVEL: All
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