Abominable Snowman, Disneyland, Elizabeth Fais, Giant Dipper, Historic, Matterhorn Bobsleds, San Diego, Santa Cruz, Switzerland, Walt Disney, Zermatt
A delectable post on All Things Summer (by Tami Clayton) set me thinking… What’s my most quintessential summer experience? And because I’m a total adventure geek, the answer is two words: Roller Coaster!
My love affair with roller coasters is limited to the historic kind, however. Sorry, folks. I’m not a fan of the super-thrill-whirl-and-hurl roller coasters of today. I much prefer the sky-high rickety old wooden structures from the previous century. [photo credit] Maybe that’s because I grew up in a small town in Southern California, that was a two-hour drive from San Diego.
That’s where my adrenaline-ride love affair began … at Belmont Park in Mission Beach. Because THE BEST DAY EVER, was a trip to the beach and riding the roller coaster. Oh yeah, and a chocolate milk shake was part of that package too!
Twin Giant Dippers
San Diego’s Giant Dipper, also known as the Mission Beach Roller Coaster, was built in 1925. The original coaster was constructed by a crew of 100 to 150 people in two weeks. When the coaster opened on July 4, 1925, it was the centerpiece for Belmont Park. The park was a huge hit in the 1940’s and 1950’s, but fell into disrepair in the late 1960’s. The coaster finally closed in 1976, and was scheduled to be torn down in the early 1980’s. [photo credit]
Luckily, a group of citizens formed the “Save the Coaster Committee”, intervening in the demolition of the Giant Dipper, and had it designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1987. The coaster was restored, to the tune of two million dollars, and re-opened on August 11, 1990.
The Santa Cruz Boardwalk Giant Dipper is the twin sister of the San Diego Giant Dipper. And I can say from first-hand experience, that the Santa Cruz coaster is every bit as much of a thrill ride as its sister!
The Santa Cruz Giant Dipper opened on May 17, 1924, and is the fifth-oldest roller coaster in the United States today. [photo credit]
Over 55 million riders have ridden the coaster since its opening. The United States National Park Service recognized the Giant Dipper as part of a National Historic Landmark also covering the nearby Looff carousel in 1987. [Wikipedia]
The Santa Cruz and San Diego Giant Dippers are the only remaining coasters on the West Coast built by the noted coaster builders Prior and Church.
But hang on to your hats folks … there’s one coaster that deserves a mention, even if it’s not “officially” historic …
The Matterhorn Bobsleds, Disneyland Resort
What the Matterhorn Bobsleds ride lacks in historic clout, it more than makes up for in kitsch. And I mean that in the BEST possible way. Because the Matterhorn Bobsleds are awesome! [photo credit]
Walt Disney was inspired to build a miniature of the Matterhorn at his park in Anaheim, while filming the live-action drama “Third Man on the Mountain” in Zermatt, Switzerland (1956). Under Walt’s direction, his team of Imagineers recreated the mountain to scale (exactly 100 times shorter than Switzerland’s 14,700-foot-tall original), and designed special tubular steel tracks for the coaster to simulate the smooth motions of bobsleds gliding over ice. The ride contains two separate tracks that intertwine with each other as they descend the mountain, another stroke of genius by the man with the magic. The ride opened for the first time in 1959, and has been a favorite ever since.
The Matterhorn underwent its first major renovations in 1978, with the significant addition of the Abominable Snowman. The Audio-Animatronic creature roars at passing bobsledder as he glares with red glowing eyes. As if to say, “Get the hell off my mountain!” Uh, huh. Like that’s really working, Big Guy. I don’t know about you, but he’s one the main draws for me on that ride. The Skyway attraction, the buckets that passed through the middle of the mountain, were taken down in November 1994. And in 1995 the Frank Wells Lost Expedition tribute was added in honor the late Walt Disney Company President, who was an avid mountaineer.
The silhouette of the Matterhorn rising above Fantasyland is iconic. Yet oddly enough, Disneyland (in Anaheim, California) is the only Walt Disney park in the world with a Matterhorn ride. I’m not sure why. If anyone out there knows the “official” story, I beg you … please share.
Never ridden the Matterhorn Bobsleds; can’t make it out to Anaheim for face time with Mr. Abominable? No worries!
Check out the video of a real-ride experience … lederhosen are not required … but screaming is highly encouraged.
Patrick Thunstrom said:
I’ve never been to the wooden coasters you mentioned, but I totally know the Matterhorn. (Though I question if the 1970s is correct for the removal of the air tram, because I was born in 86 and I swear I remember riding it at least once!) I’ll admit that my favorite coaster of memory is Montezuma’s Revenge at Knotts’ Berry Farm, but basically everything at Knotts’ and Disney are my childhood rides, so picking the favorite is pretty tough in the long run.
Elizabeth Fais said:
You are right Patrick. I dug out my uber-Disney resource material. Major renovations to the Matterhorn were made in 1978 which included the addition of the Abominable Snowman. The Skyway attraction was not removed until November of 1994, however. Thanks for pointing that out. I’ve updated the post with the correction.
I have to admit that Space Mountain is another of my favorite Disneyland rides. It is indeed a roller coaster, but since it is nowhere close to being “historic” yet, I didn’t mention it. I’ve never been on Montezuma’s Revenge at Knotts’ Berry Farm. My folks stopped taking us there when we were still in grade school, and for some reason I never went back on my own. NOW I have a reason to, though. With a name like that, I absolutely have to ride Montezuma’s Revenge!
Patrick Thunstrom said:
Montezuma’s is a steel coaster that uses that slingshot launch. Lots of fun! And if you’re there, the Boomerang is always good. Unfortunately, all the coasters I used to know at Knotts have been replaced, so those two are the only ones that are still running that I’m aware of.
Tami Clayton said:
I love the old wooden rollercoasters, too! Six Flags Great America was the theme park closest to where I grew up and the American Eagle is their enormous wooden rollercoaster. It was always my favorite and one of the best things to do (in my opinion) is to save it for the last ride of the day. I would get a seat in the very front so I could see the sun set over the trees as you ascended the first big hill. As you’re hanging there waiting for the rest of the car to make it over the peak, time would seem to stop for just a moment. And then I’d throw my arms up and scream like a banshee until the ride stopped. So. Awesome. When I go back to Chicago in the summer to visit family and friends, I always make time to go to ride the Eagle. 🙂
Tami Clayton said:
P.S. In all of my excitement in writing about the Eagle, I almost forgot to say thanks for the shout out! Thank you!!
Elizabeth Fais said:
The Eastern seaboard and Midwest are known for their great coasters. I think it’s that moment you described, where time stops, that makes a roller coaster ride so magical. It’s like stepping outside of time, and when I get off the ride I feel like someone entirely new. There’s a giant (new) wooden coaster at Disneyland’s California Adventure, designed to emulate the historic coasters of the past. I’ll have to give it a go next time I visit Disneyland. I’ll take the ride at sunset, as you described. And yes, screaming at the top of your lungs is required. 🙂