Taking a Spin on The Matterhorn

Born from the dirt excavated to build the moat for Sleeping Beauty’s Castle rises a 147-foot high mountain on the border between Disneyland’s Fantasyland and Tomorrowland.  We know this mountain better as…..The Matterhorn.

Matterhorn #1Disney Imagineers, like they did with a lot of tall structures, used forced perspective to make The Matterhorn seem bigger than it actually is.

The Matterhorn attraction rose out of Walt Disney’s desire to rid the parks of guests who were using the Matterhorn area (at the time known as Snow Hill) as a late-night rendezvous area since this really did fit into Disney’s vision of the park.  Like many of Walt Disney’s visions, his initial vision needed to be scaled back.  His original attraction concept was a toboggan ride with actual snow on the mountain.  Obviously, the logistics of keeping real snow fresh on a small mountain in southern California would be near impossible.

In 1959, The Matterhorn debuted as world’s first tubular steel roller coaster.   It, also, became Disneyland’s first “thrill ride.”  The forced perspective came into play as Disney Imagineers made the trees smaller and smaller as you went higher up the mountain.  One of the interesting facts about The Matterhorn is the mountain is complete 1/100 scale model of the actual Matterhorn in Switzerland.

When The Matterhorn first opened, in 1959, the mountain had a lot more holes in the mountain than the mountain we see today.  This can be seen in this pair of photos from yesterland.com

Matterhorn in 1959
Matterhorn in 1959
Matterhorn in 2002
Matterhorn in 2002

Some of these holes were closed to give the mountain a “cleaner” look.  Other holes were closed because when The Skyway was closed in 1994.  In my opinion, I like the cleaner look of the modern version of The Matterhorn.

The Matterhorn and its dual track system can be seen at Space Mountain in the Magic Kingdom in Orlando.  When the attraction first opened, the attraction had single car bobsleds which held up to four guests.  In 1978, the ride was refurbished and the bobsleds became two-car bobsleds which doubled ride capacity.  Another upgrade was computer controls of the cars on the track which held to increase the number of guests going through the attraction and shortened wait times even more.  The modern cars for the attractions came in use after the 2002 refurbishment.  Imagineering kept the double-car system but the number of guests per car dropped from four to three.  As a result, each double bobsled only holds six guests.

The biggest debate is whether The Matterhorn is in Fantasyland or is in Tomorrowland.  The question isn’t clearly answered by Disneyland itself.  Disneyland guidebooks went back and forth on this question.  One year, The Matterhorn would be on the edge of Fantasyland.  A few years later, The Matterhorn would be gone from Fantasyland and now was on the edge of Tomorrowland.  The Matterhorn, originally, was built as part of the Tomorrowland expansion in 1959 but has now drifted into Fantasyland.


  • At 147 feet, The Matterhorn is the highest point at Disneyland
  • First roller coaster to have an electrical dispatch system which allowed more than one car on the track
  • Has a half-court basketball court inside the attraction used by cast members who mountain climb up The Matterhorn
  • Inspired by the Disney film, “Third Man on the Mountain” which was filmed on The Matterhorn in Switzerland
  • First roller coaster built by Arrow Development which is now the leading supplier of roller coasters.


A video showing the showing the changes to The Matterhorn over the years.

 The Matterhorn can be seen around 4:00 minute mark of this video.  Actual video of the entire attraction from 1959 is hard to find.  But the entire video is worth a watch for Disney history buffs

The Matterhorn, even though, it isn’t one of Disneyland’s original attractions from opening day, it quickly became one of Disneyland’s iconic attractions.  It is also one of the things that makes Disneyland unique from Walt Disney World.

Thanks for reading!

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