A Disneyland favorite is in serious need of repair, and the park has closed the ride down to try and make sure it lives to see another year. The Matterhorn has been closed for what Disney is saying is refurbishment, and it will need quite a bit of it according to recent reports. The ride has been an attraction at Disneyland since 1959, and because of its unique construction and architecture, it is a challenging ride to repair and keep maintained. The repairs it needs are significant, and those repairs are needed to solidify the infrastructure of the mountain.
The Matterhorn Bobsleds is not an original 1955 attraction at Disneyland, but it’s so deeply ingrained in the park’s mythology that it may as well be. That mountain, its snow-capped peak rising on one side above Fantasyland and above Tomorrowland on the other, is a permanent fixture in the hearts of parkgoers, and of the park’s landscape itself.
So it might surprise you to learn that the mountain is actually falling down.
Disneyland’s original roller coaster opened in 1959 and is one of the oldest attractions in the park — but it is one of the most architecturally challenging and has needed significant repairs over the years to maintain its structural integrity. Since Disneyland reopened in April, the Matterhorn has been closed for refurbishment, undergoing what is believed to be a significant repair to the infrastructure of the mountain.
“She’s old and getting older,” Disneyland vlogger David Erickson said in a Matterhorn construction update video on his FreshBaked! YouTube channel May 12, 2021. “I’ve heard from a few folks that there is decay happening on the interior. … The repairs needed are extensive.”
Currently, the Matterhorn is fenced off from guests, and parts of the exterior of the mountain have fallen off. Construction materials are visible inside ride tunnels above the fence line. A ripped piece of tarp has been seen blowing from the hole in the top of the mountain where Tinkerbell starts her flight over Sleeping Beauty Castle in the nighttime fireworks show.
The plan, Erickson speculates, is to repair the Matterhorn in stages, rather than keep it closed for an extended period of time. That is how the mountain was repaired in 2019, when pieces of the mountain’s interior collapsed onto the ride track. Matterhorn closed for repairs during the week, then reopened on weekends to guests until the refurbishment was complete.
On Disneyland’s website, the status of the ride is simply “closed for refurbishment,” and the park’s daily calendar has the closure running through July 1. Last month, Disney announced plans to develop a live-action movie based on the Matterhorn Bobsleds.
Erickson also pointed out that while there were rumors about razing the existing structure and building a new one, present-day building codes would prevent that from happening. “Even if they wanted to, they can’t,” he said. To build the same kind of 1/100 scale of the real Matterhorn mountain today, the footprint of the structure would have to be significantly larger than the one built in 1959. It would mean closing other nearby attractions, like the Alice in Wonderland ride, to make space.
“You can’t build the Matterhorn today the way they did,” Erickson explained.
In addition to strengthening the structural integrity of the ride, Imagineers are also believed to be replacing some track ties. Big Thunder Mountain was closed for 14 months between 2013 and 2014 when the park replaced the entire ride track to create a smoother ride.
“Hopefully, that results in a less turbulent ride experience,” Erickson added. Matterhorn is widely known as one of the bumpiest, most jostling rides in the park. A running joke among Disneyland fans is that you have to book a chiropractor appointment for the day after you plan to ride it.
There’s also an argument to be made that Matterhorn is the most dangerous ride at Disneyland. There have been two fatalities on that ride, one in 1964 and one in 1984. Both times, the rider was not wearing a seatbelt. In the 1964 death, it’s believed that the rider’s friend undid his seatbelt. In the 1984 incident, it’s unclear whether the rider unfastened her seatbelt or it malfunctioned.
By comparison, Disneyland’s Space Mountain, which tops out at 35 mph rather than Matterhorn’s 27 mph, has never had a fatality from a ride accident. Space Mountain opened in 1977, and Big Thunder Mountain opened in 1979, so both are about 20 years younger than Matterhorn.
The current renovation is not the first time Matterhorn has undergone a major change. In fact, creating the ride was a major change in early Disneyland. The dirt from the excavation and construction of Sleeping Beauty Castle first became a wooded hill where the Matterhorn now stands, called Holiday Hill, which was a picnic spot for guests, and later (when it was called Snow Hill) held supports for the Disneyland Skyway gondola attraction that opened in 1956.
Walt Disney originally wanted to build a toboggan attraction with real snow. When he visited the Alps during the filming of the live-action “Third Man on the Mountain,” Disney was inspired to build a replica of the Matterhorn at the park. He sent a postcard from Switzerland to Imagineer Vic Greene saying simply, “Vic, build this! Walt.”
Those Disneyland gondolas became part of the Matterhorn attraction. Skyway cars passed through the interior, and guests could see the inner workings of the mountain (but not the legendary basketball court inside). That attraction was taken down in 1994, allegedly because it had become too worn out, but it also is believed to have caused structural damage to the mountain as well. The opening where gondolas passed through was closed at that time. Other major repairs and upgrades have happened to the Matterhorn several other times, including a six-month refurbishment in 2012. The iconic abominable snowman wasn’t actually added until 1978.
Interestingly, Matterhorn Bobsleds isn’t the company’s only troubled attraction involving a yeti.
Expedition Everest, a roller coaster in Disney’s Animal Kingdom park in Orlando, also features the mythic snow creature — but the yeti in that ride has been broken since 2008, just two years after the ride opened. Repairs to the audio-animatronic aren’t possible without major construction and closure of the entire ride.
“It’s an unexpected and unforeseen set of issues,” former Imagineer Joe Rohde, who designed Animal Kingdom, tweeted in 2020. “Very complex, with no easy or timely solutions as of yet.”
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