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June 15, 2012

Disneyland’s new Matterhorn: Snow white sights, abominable sounds

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matterhorn4 Disneylands new Matterhorn: Snow white sights, abominable sounds

The Matterhorn Bobsleds, the iconic roller-coaster-type ride that's been closed since January for a redo, will have mountaineers once again scaling its slopes when the ride reopens June 15. (Disneyland Resort)

matterhorn3 Disneylands new Matterhorn: Snow white sights, abominable sounds

Mickey Mouse stands at the foot of the Matterhorn at Disneyland in Anaheim to help lead the celebration of the park's 40th Anniversary on Monday, July 17, 1995. At the peak of the Matterhorn country music star Randy Travis leads a parkwide birthday singalong. (Associated Press)

matterhorn2 Disneylands new Matterhorn: Snow white sights, abominable sounds

Matterhorn is viewed in the distance from the Autopia attraction in Tomorrowland 2006. (Marc Martin / Los Angeles Times)

matterhorn1 Disneylands new Matterhorn: Snow white sights, abominable sounds

Scaffolding covers the Matterhorn on February 2, 2012. The Matterhorn at Disneyland is closed for refurbishing. (Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

Steps away from the honking traffic jam of humanity crushing into the grand opening of Cars Land on Friday, Disneyland quietly welcomed back one of its icons – the Matterhorn Bobsleds.

The Swiss-Alps themed ride was the park’s first roller coaster in 1959 and has been undergoing much-needed minor repairs and refurbishment during the last six months. The most notable alteration is completely cosmetic, and instantly recognizable – the mountain simply looks better, much brighter and sharper. Despite global warming, more snow has fallen over the venerable Matterhorn. It pops, and frankly, is a considerable improvement over its former battered and worn appearance.

Extra snowflakes and frost won’t be the only change visible on the peak’s ridges. After a lengthy absence from the park, real mountain climbers return to the 147-foot mountain and will begin scaling the slopes that separate Tomorrowland and Fantasyland (just as the attraction’s 14,690-foot European namesake marks the border of Italy and Switzerland).

Climbers were a routine sight on the mountainside dating back to the ride’s original opening, but they have disappeared in recent years (although they were up and at it again during a special appearance at a 50th park anniversary celebration in 2005, according to park officials).

matterhorn Disneylands new Matterhorn: Snow white sights, abominable sounds

The Matterhorn’s snowmen make abominable noise. (Disneyland)

There are other changes deep inside the mountain though, but you have to jump on a bobsled to know what they are. The facelift project, which cost about $1 million, brought brand new sleds with it. Instead of the old two-seaters (in which you’d share seat belts with your companion) the cars now have three individual seats.

If you’ve ever ridden with your kids (as I have frequently, and did so again during a Thursday night pre-opening test run) the new sleds are way better than being smushed accordion-style into each other as the bumpy back-and-forth ride unfolds. Definitely, a roomier ride.

But, as before, don’t expect a smooth ride. The individual seats are more comfortable, but you can still feel every click and every clack as you roll down the ride’s roughly 2,100 feet of decades-old steel track. (Hey, a smooth ride isn’t why you hop on the Matterhorn anyway – if you want that, take off on the nearby bullet that is California Screamin’.)

Another difference is not entirely welcome. The abominable snowmen, while being better groomed and lit, have grown much louder during their six-month hibernation. They are loud, startlingly so. The kids in my bobsled – age range 6 to 12 – were covering their ears after the first blast from the fearsome snow creatures.

But this is not a hugely serious matter and one that could be easily remedied if Disney hears from enough park visitors. The Matterhorn is not the best ride in the park or even its best roller coaster. But it’s still one of my favorites and it’s good to have it back in action as we head into summer. In a region with a notoriously short and malleable past, it’s nice to sled down a bit of history.

– Martin Miller

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