The Matterhorn Bobsleds attraction at Disneyland has been delighting visitors since Dwight D. Eisenhower was president. That’s a long time, folks!
By modern standards, the ride through the mountain may be a tad slow, rough and herky-jerky–but when it opened in 1959, it was the first and only steel tube roller coaster in existence. The Matterhorn also distinguished itself as a rollercoaster careening inside and around the outside of a mountain. Not only that, but the rollercoaster features two different tracks running simultaneously. At the time of its debut in 1959, the Matterhorn was one of Disneyland’s early technology and thematic crowning achievements.
Here are some bits of Matterhorn history, trivia and a few vintage photos.
Matterhorn Opening Day – June 14, 1959
The Matterhorn opened the same day as the Monorail and Submarine Voyage which marked the first big Disneyland expansion since its opening in 1955. These were the first “E” ticket rides introduced at Disneyland.
Disneyland finally phased out the ticket books altogether in 1982. It introduced the option of buying either ticket books or an all-inclusive Passport at the start of the summer season on June 20, 1981.
Vice President Nixon and Family at the 1959 Matterhorn Grand Opening
Walt Disney invited then Vice President Richard Nixon to help launch the Grand Opening of the new Disneyland expansion along with his wife Pat and their two daughters Tricia and Julie. Walt knew how to make a splash, like the opening of Disneyland four years earlier, he invited 2,000 members of the media and televised the event once again with TV personality, Art Linkletter.
Nixon (who grew up in Yorba Linda not too far from the park) and family were among the first to ride all three of the new attractions.
Before the Matterhorn Was Built
It’s hard to imagine Disneyland without the Matterhorn looming over the park. Here is a photo of the hill where the future Matterhorn will stand.
The hill was formed during the excavation of Sleeping Beauty Castle. The dirt had to go somewhere and so it was placed in the area between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. The area was initially called, “Holiday Hill” then later renamed to “Lookout Mountain.”
Matterhorn Construction Begins in 1958
Walt Disney’s inspiration for the Matterhorn came directly from the seeing real Matterhorn in Switzerland during the filming of the Disney feature, Third Man on the Mountain in 1958. Disney picked up a postcard at a gift shop in Switzerland with the Matterhorn on it, mailed it to Imagineer Vic Green with a message that read, “Vic, build this.” and the rest is history. It’s good to be the boss!
Here’s a movie still from the 1959 film, Third Man On The Mountain. You can see the close resemblance to the recreated mountain at Disneyland.
The Matterhorn at Disneyland is exactly 100 times shorter than the real Swiss peak. The one in Anaheim is 147 feet tall while the one in Switzerland is 14,700 feet!
Imagineers testing the bobsled prior to opening. The track they are riding is on the Fantasyland side, which by most accounts is about 20 seconds faster than the Tomorrowland side.
The Matterhorn is situated between Tomorrowland and Fantasyland but in 1970 it was officially declared to be a part of Fantasyland.
Matterhorn Climbers Begin In 1959
Soon after opening, Walt Disney wanted mountaineers atop the 147 foot Matterhorn to thrill guests. Over the years, climbers have taken many forms. Characters from Tinker Bell to Mickey have scaled the mountain over the past 60 years.
Disneyland Adds A Christmas Star To the Matterhorn
The star was about 24 feet across and could be seen at night from quite a distance according to reports at the time.
The star was added to the Matterhorn from from 1961 to 1972.
Is There A Basketball Court at the Top of the Matterhorn?
Yes and no. There is a basketball hoop in a small break area at the top of the mountain. It wouldn’t be considered even half a court according to most estimates. The basketball hoop has given countless cast members a chance to unwind or kill time prior to going out on the mountain.
This video shows the court and provides a great insider’s look at the Matterhorn.
The Matterhorn Gets the Abominable Snowman in 1978
1978 saw a major refurbishment of the Matterhorn that included new bobsleds, smaller caves and tunnels and more icy theming inside. The biggest addition was of course “Harold” the audio animatronic Yeti who appears twice during the ride. Harold, as he was affectionately known by Imagineers, was actually three separate audio animatronic units, the first appearing to rides on both tracks before they split and the other two appearing during the different tracks journeys.
more fascinating Matterhorn facts and photos to come soon!