Matterhorn Bobsleds was the first roller coaster-style “thrill ride” at Disneyland. It was instantly popular and presented the longest wait time for Disneyland guests through most of the 1960s and early 1970s. Its popularity led to the creation of an entire “mountain range of thrill rides” beginning with Space Mountain in 1977, followed by Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (1979) and Splash Mountain (1989).
Matterhorn Bobsleds was also the first roller coaster in the world to employ a tubular steel track and an electronic dispatch system which enabled more than one car at a time to be on the track. Although there are no loops in the Matterhorn tracks, the tubular steel track design pioneered by the attraction made it possible to build the first roller coasters with loops and corkscrews.
Still a favorite with today’s guests, the Matterhorn Bobsleds rated in the top 10 for “Most Popular Attractions” in the recently released Zagat Disneyland Insider’s Guide. The attraction also tied for fourth with Big Thunder Mountain Railroad for highest “thrill rating”. (1. Space Mountain, 2. Indiana Jones Adventure, 3. Splash Mountain)
The Matterhorn, which can be found in no other Disney theme park, is often the first “Disneyland landmark” spotted by visitors as they drive to Disneyland Resort.
The Disneyland Matterhorn was built to 1/100th scale of the original Matterhorn, 147 feet versus 14.700 feet.
At 147 feet tall, the Matterhorn has been the highest point in the Disneyland park since 1959 and a landmark for vacationers who can spot it from the freeway. It was outdone in 2004 when The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror opened in Disney’s California Adventure park. The Tower of Terror is 183 feet tall.
An ambitious construction project, the Disneyland Matterhorn was built from hundreds of full-size wooden shapes, no two alike, which were assembled around a steel framework to create the mountain’s shape, then covered with cement. Disneyland horticulturists were also challenged to create an artificial “timberline.” To this day, members of the Disneyland Resort horticulture team must use cranes to maintain the mountain’s landscaping.
The attraction was inspired by a little-remembered live-action Disney adventure film, “Third Man on the Mountain,” which starred James MacArthur and Michael Rennie as mountaineers. The movie was filmed in Switzerland, on and around the real Matterhorn.
Before construction of the Matterhorn began at Disneyland, the site was known as Holiday Hill and served to separate Fantasyland from Tomorrowland. Among Disneyland regulars in the 1950s, Holiday Hill was also known as a nighttime hangout for amorous couples.
The Matterhorn gained a new occupant in 1978 when the yeti/abominable snowman took up residence. This was also the year of significant enhancements to the Matterhorn interior, including new caverns and ice crystals.
From 1959 to 1994 (when it was retired) the Skyway attraction traveled through the Matterhorn as it carried Disneyland guests between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland.
Guests who look quickly while whizzing through the Matterhorn caverns may spot mountaineering supplies and other evidence of the “Wells Expedition.” These scenic details are a tribute to the late Frank Wells, who was president and Chief Operating Officer of the Walt Disney Company from 1984 until his death in 1994. Wells was an experienced mountain climber and skier.
Since its opening in 1959, the Matterhorn Bobsleds attraction has carried more than 258 million Disneyland guests.