Dueling Disney: Mountain Vs. Mountain – Part Two

Written by Jeff Heimbuch. Posted in Disney, Disney History, Disney Parks, Disneyland Resort, Dueling Disney, Features, Walt Disney World

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Published on April 10, 2013 at 3:00 am with 28 Comments

After our last duel on Disney Mountains, we left you in a bit of a cliffhanger. You know…because we were talking about mountains. You see what we did there? Cliffhanger? Mountains?


We didn’t get a chance to talk about the last three mountains on our list. So, this week, we are back again to determine who will win the crown of having the ultimate mountain range! We bring the last few mountains to the table: Splash vs Splash and Everest vs Matterhorn! Let the great expedition begin!

(As usual: Keith will be representing Disneyland, and Jeff, Walt Disney World)

Topic 6: Disney Mountain Range (part two)

Keith: I think I’ve just located my laughin’ place. Splash Mountain opened in Disneyland in June of 1989, in an effort to breathe a little life into Bear Country. It worked. Not only did it bring the crowds, it brought a name change as well. Just a few months before the attraction’s opening, Bear Country was renamed Critter Country. Chickapin Hill, Splash Mountain’s peak, is the smallest of the Disneyland mountains at 87 feet. What it lacks in size, however, it more than makes up for in entertainment value.

The first day Splash Mountain was conceptualized, the Imagineers invaded the Disney Library to collect every character reference sheet the company had from the film Song of the South. Now for those of you who remember America Sings, you know that the majority of Audio-Animatronic figures featured in Splash Mountain were recycled from the beloved salute to America’s musical heritage. Those figures were created by Disney Legend Marc Davis. In somewhat of a happenstance, it turns out Davis also worked on Song of the South. Many of the characters he designed that didn’t make it into the film eventually wound up in America Sings. So it should come as no surprise as to where Splash Mountain gets its unassailable charm.

Splash Mountain was an instant hit in Disneyland. During its first summer, lines stretched all the way back to Frontierland. The single-row log (which, let’s face it, is vastly superior to a side-by-side setup) takes guests on a roughly 10-minute journey that features: over 100 Audio-Animatronic figures, wonderful music, the vocal talents of Nick Stewart (the same actor who voiced Brer Bear in the 1946 film), a 52-foot drop which produces speeds of up to 40 miles per hour, and a rollicking finale which boasts the largest animated set in all of Disneyland.

Jeff: While the Magic Kingdom may not be the original version, I will definitely stand here and cry out that we have the best…especially after the recent (and lengthy!) refurb we just went through.

Because Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom didn’t have a Critter Country of its own, it was decided that the next logical place for Splash Mountain to call home would be Frontierland. So, in the early 90s, construction began. Since this was going to take up a large chunk of real estate, the original Frontierland station had to be demolished. The railroad, during the construction, was temporarily changed from an around the World tour of the Magic Kingdom to a shuttle between Main Street and Mickey’s Toontown Fair. But that’s OK, because the ride was WELL worth the wait.

What Keith didn’t mention about our vastly superior, people sitting side by side version, is how awesome it is. Not only is our version is a little longer (just under 11 minutes, while Disneyland is about 9 minutes), but it also just seems fresher. Sure, it was looking shabby for a while, but as of March 2013, everything is in working order, and looking zip-a-dee-doo-dah-tastic again!

I do have to mention that the attraction got it’s name from then-CEO Michael Eisner. Despite having nothing to do with the film, he suggested the name of Splash Mountain to help cross promote their brand new Tom Hanks Daryl Hannah film, Splash. Genius marketing, I’m sure.

The only thing that Disneyland beats the Magic Kingdom out on is that Ernest P. Worrell himself was the very first person to ride Splash Mountain. You know what I mean, Verne?

Keith: Speaking of vastly superior single-row setups… In 1958, Walt traveled to Switzerland to check on the filming of the adventure film Third Man on the Mountain. The film was based on the true story of a young man’s quest to scale the Swiss mountain (The Matterhorn in real life, referred to as The Citadel in the film) that took the life of his father. While there, Walt found himself staring at the mountain for hours. At the time, they wanted to add an E-ticket attraction to Disneyland. Additionally, there was a huge unsightly Skyway tower surrounded by a hill (comprised of the dirt that was dug up to build Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and its moat) called “Holiday Hill” that Walt also wasn’t crazy about. In late 1956, he and head of Disneyland construction Admiral Joe Fowler had a conversation while standing on that hill. “Do you suppose we could get some snow and have a toboggan ride here?” Walt asked. While the logistics of having an actual snowy hill in Anaheim wouldn’t work, less than two years later Walt discovered the perfect solution to all of the aforementioned issues. He sent a postcard featuring the Swiss Matterhorn back home to WED Enterprises, and scribbled on the back, “Build this.”

Jeff: Comparable to Disneyland’s Matterhorn, Walt Disney World ALSO has a coaster that uses a snowy mountain and spectacular beast in its execution: Expedition Everest! Using that age old adage “if you build it, they will come,” they applied the same philosophy when it came to Expedition Everest. Despite Animal Kingdom being an amazing, full day park, Imagineers decided it needed a little extra oomph to help bring in the crowds. And so, a fast paced thrill ride was conceived in the form of this technological marvel of a roller coaster. It was announced on the park’s 5th anniversary, and opened took almost 3 years to build. Imagineers, including Joe Rohde, traveled to Nepal with other researchers and scientists to study the culture of that region. That journey was actually chronicled over three separate TV specials for the Discovery Channel, and they are pretty informative themselves. Using that knowledge, they were able to create an amazing backstory for the ride, making it feel all the more authentic. The fictional town of Serka Zong is rich with details that will make any Disney nerd’s head spin!

Keith: It’s too bad while in Nepal they didn’t grab a brochure on how to maintain a functioning Yeti.

Switching gears to a mountain with a properly-working snowman, the Matterhorn was a breakthrough in roller coaster technology. Up until 1959, roller coasters sat on wooden tracks consisting of long, wide turns. The Matterhorn utilized hollow steel tubes (allowing for a smoother ride and tighter curves), making it the world’s first tubular steel track coaster. When it opened, it was one of Disneyland’s first E-ticket attractions, and Walt himself was one of the first passengers (along with his family, and Vice President Nixon). The mountain itself is exactly 1/100th scale of the real Matterhorn, standing 147 feet tall.

And no, I’m not done just yet bud. But it’s your turn to tell us all about a pretty good coaster that has made history by… er… how did it make history again?

Jeff: It made history by being pretty innovative for its time, that’s how!

I think it’s worth mentioning that you’re not actually visiting Mount Everest on Expedition Everest. You’re actually on one of the mysterious mountains near it, and can see Everest’s peak in the distance. So, with this new mountain range to play with, Imagineers let loose and created a unique ride experience.

The coaster is especially notable for its switching tracks, allowing it to go forward in the beginning, throw you a curveball with a broken track a few minutes in, and then plunging you backward into the darkness as you try to escape the clutches of the Yeti.

Now, I’m sure that Keith will mention the fact that the Yeti hasn’t worked in years. And you know what? That’s fine, that is a pretty big bummer. The Yeti, in its working state, was a technological marvel. Standing just under 25 feet tall, it used more force than a 747 engine to power his mighty swipe. Even in its current, B-mode (Disco Yeti!), I still think it is a mighty impressive sight as you fly by.

Keith: Wait, your Yeti doesn’t work??

Haha, Yeti-teasing aside, I actually really like Expedition Everest. The ride itself is cool, and the queue is nothing short of amazing. In fact I’ll be running by it in just a few weeks when I take part in the Expedition Everest Challenge. I’ll say hi for you.

That all said… no, Jeff. Just, no. Everest can’t hold a candle to Disney’s original snowy peak. In addition to all of the awesome things I’ve already mentioned, the Matterhorn: had the Skyway travel through it, has real-life mountain climbers scale it (including Mickey himself), is used to shoot fireworks from during the POTC portion of Remember Dreams Come True, is the base for Tinker Bell when she takes flight, is so awesome it’s had entire lands fighting over it for years (when the Matterhorn first premiered it was categorized as a Tomorrowland attraction–now it stands stoically in Fantasyland), is home to a basketball court (yeah, that’s right), and was also the first ride anywhere to feature a “splashdown” finale. Oh, and I have four words for you: Permanecer sentados por favor. Jack Wagner for the win!

Jeff: I will actually say that I do love the Matterhorn, without a doubt…but if we are fighting over stuff in its current form, then the Matterhorn has to give in to Everest. Ever since they recently refurbed it, your seats are way too small to be comfortable (even for a small guy like myself!), and it seems to be a rougher ride than it has been in years! I’m sorry, but Expedition Everest definitely disco dances its way right past Harold and the Matterhorn!

But before we end this column, I’d just like to mention that we only covered the Disney Mountains that have comparable Disney counterparts on both coasts. Therefore, ranges such as Grizzly Peak, Mount Gushmore, and Cadillac Range were ineligible for this installment!

That does it for these two this time around! So what do YOU think? What resort has the superior Mountain Range? Is it Keith & Disneyland or Jeff & Walt Disney World? Vote in the poll, and let us know in the comments below!

Dueling Disney is written by Jeff Heimbuch & Keith Gluck

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email us at [email protected] or [email protected]

You can follow us on Twitter: @DisneyProject and @JeffHeimbuch

About Jeff Heimbuch

Jeff has been in love with all things Disney since a very early age. He writes From The Mouth Of The Mouse and The 626 every week for MiceChat. He also collaborates on The Disney Review every weekend. Aside from that, he is one half of the devastatingly good looking duo of the weekly vid/podcast Communicore Weekly (the other half being fellow MiceChat columnist George Taylor), which you can find at www.communicoreweekly.com Jeff is also writing a book with former Imagineer and Disney Legend, Rolly Crump. You can find out more about the book at www.itskindofacutestory.com

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Comments for Dueling Disney: Mountain Vs. Mountain – Part Two are now closed.

  1. Actually, the Matterhorn was the first tubular steel rollercoaster. Smaller fairground
    coasters, kiddie coasters, and wild mice were already in production with flat steel tracks.
    Also, plenty of rides had splashdowns before Matterhorn. Shoot the Chutes all splashed
    down, and Mill Chutes featured a ride through dark tunnels in small boats that at the end
    of the ride were pulled up a chain lift abbot 25 feet to freefall down a hill to a
    Great ride, no less.

    • Gah! One of the books I used said it was the first splashdown. My fault for not double-sourcing. Thanks for the heads up!

      • I don’t think you were wrong. The Matterhorn doesn’t have the first splashdown, but I believe it was the first one used very specifically for braking the vehicles, not just for amusement.

  2. I greatly enjoy these posts. Thanks.

    I’m not sure which would win between the Matterhorn and Everest. The Matterhorn is my favorite Disney attraction, ever, but MAN are those new bobsleds terrible. They are swished. The handles are poorly designed so they aren’t easy to get to (just bad ergonomics), and the ride is much, much slower than it has been in the past.

    For example, has anyone been on the left track and in that little incline before diving into the last yeti tunnel, notice that the ride almost slows to a crawl? What’s up with that?

    Wish they’d fix the Florida yeti. My understanding is they have to take apart parts of the mountain to really work on him, is that correct?

    • Totally agree with your assessment of the Matterhorn. It’s so sad now that I won’t even ride it anymore. It used to be a “must ride” on each visit. Now it’s a mere shadow of itself.

  3. Thank you guys, lots of fun.

    I’m scratching my head trying to decide which range is better. Here’s how it breaks down for me:

    Space Mountain – Disneyland wins by a mile
    Big Thunder – Disney World wins
    Splash Mountain – Disney World wins
    Matterhorn/Everest – Hmmmmm. I love them both. I think Everest offers neat technology, but it is a deeply flawed attraction. Matterhorn is wonderful and historic but not of the same scale as Everest. I’d call it a draw.

    So . . . . reluctantly, I declare Disney World’s mountain range the winner!

  4. Thanks for another fun article. I think it’s important to mention that all the Anaheim mountains are in the same park. To clarify, it’s a “half” court inside the Matterhorn. One other addition was a huge rotating star that was on it’s peak for the holidays. In those days, the Matterhorn was the tallest structure in the area. You could see it, and that huge star, for miles.

    • Thanks Geezer!

      Well to be totally accurate, it’s not even a half-quart! It’s more like a quarter-quart :p — I probably should have just written basketball hoop, haha.

      Yeah, that star was said to weigh 22 tons!

      • ACTUALLY… the basketball “court” is now history. Just as the old bobsleds left in the refurb, so did the court.

  5. Great article Guys

    Personally, disneyland wins, mainly because of the history of the Matterhorn. Despite being rough, it is still a classic. Now if WDW could repair the Yeti, then it would be a different kettle of fish. Sadly, that has not happened, so Harold is still the best creature to live in the mountains.

    Thanks again Guys


  6. WDW wins by a mile. DL’s Splash, while very nice, has ugly AA’s compared to the newer AA’s at the MK. Side by side logs are superior unless you want to spoon your wife or date from behind at DL. Everest is superior even without a working Yeti. The ride is more exciting and the technology and theming throughout almost puts in in another category. I repect the history behind the Materhorn, but I’ve never enjoyed the ride. It was uncomfortable before so I can’t imagive how it is now.

  7. This one is a toss up for me. Disneyland’s Space Mountain is the inarguable winner, though, on the other hand, I prefer Magic Kingdom’s Big Thunder. I have a personal soft spot for Disneyland’s Splash Mountain (there’s a charming simplicity to the music and sets where MK’s feels a bit overcooked, I also prefer the single file logs) and though I think it’s sort of an apples/oranges comparison, I have to say that Expedition Everest is a more exciting coaster with more complete theming than Matterhorn.

    So yeah, I’m calling it a tie.

  8. The Matterhorn is my favorite Disney “coaster” hands down. You always have that Coney Island feeling that you’re about to jump the tracks.

    Let’s not forget the ORIGINAL log ride down the road at Knott’s(which Disneyland totally ripped off). Knott’s indoor/outdoor mountain log ride was a big draw in the 60s/70s/80s. Its no coincidence when I heard that a log ride was the most requested ride at disneyland since the 60′s. While Disneyland took away some of Knott’s uniqueness, I’m glad SM didn’t kill the Knott’s version and its getting it’s expensive overhaul at the moment.

    A log ride isn’t a log ride when its side-by-side, and I love log rides, so Knott’s and Disneyland are in another league than the high capacity flume ride at WDW.

    • Agreed, the Knott’s log ride was the inspiration for Splash Mountain. Kids today call it a Splash Mountain wannabe, so I remind them when Knott’s log ride was built man was just walking on the moon; technology has developed rapidly since then. So happy to see Cedar Fair investing $5 million in a classic attraction.

  9. This is a though one to decide!! However I gave my point to Disneyland… I noticed that the poll says Disneyland or Magic Kingdom (not WDW). And Everest (which I think is ammaaazing and as an attraction itself, if working properly, beats the Matterhorn easily)… is located in Animal Kingdom Park. So… Disneyland wins by default!

    • I just tried to fix the poll to change “Magic Kingdom” to “Disney World” and ended up screwing up the results. You’ll now see Disneyland, Magic Kingdom, and Disney World on the results page. Oh well, we’ll still have a good idea of what people think.

  10. The Matterhorn has been the kids’ first roller coaster in my family for 2 generations (which is saying a lot because we live in the Midwest). It is still my favorite and always will be. I don’t mind the bumpy ride, I actually like it! But I am 5’5″. :-) And we always called Harold “Fred,” so I think that means that his full name is Harold Frederick “Abominable” Snowman. I feel so sorry for the WDW folks who don’t have their yeti working fully, because the snowmen are definitely the best parts of the rides!
    The Matterhorn wins it for me!

  11. I can’t believe people are so staunch in proving if Everest is “better” than Matterhorn . Of course its better its 50 years newer! It’d be the biggest shame in Disney rides if it wasn’t better! Its silly to compare a 50 year old attraction to a brand new derivative of it! Its like comparing a 70 year old Michael Jordan to some 20 year old new hot player, and saying “who can play better Bball now. Silly! The true question is who was better in their prime. And in this case, which ride was more significant in its prime? Matterhorn in the 60s/70s or Everest 2006 with working yeti. I think Matterhorn easily wins for the aforementioned revolutionary ride system. It was an attraction personally envisioned by Walt Disney. Foreign dignitaries rode it! And the greatest reason: it set the precedent for all of Disney’s future mountain thrill rides from thunder mtn to grizzly gulch to space and even expedition Everest. That is a fact that few attractions can claim. Compare it all you want, Everest is the better ride and it should be, but it would be nothing without the Matterhorn bobsleds.

  12. Just because Matterhorn was created during the Walt Disney years doesn’t make it better. Everest is superior to Matterhorn in every way.Period.
    Splash Mountain at Disney World is better because the pace is slower and you can follow the story better. The side by side seating is definitely a plus in comfort and capacity. They are both unique in their own ways, but Disney World made improvements where needed from the original at Disneyland.

  13. I have to side with the Matterhorn over Everest. It’s got a spiffy new pant job and I don’t have to sit in someone’s lap to ride. Let’s face it, even Randy Newman showed the Matterhorn in the “I Love LA” video. “Look at that mountain…”

    I’ll give Splash to Florida because the ride is longer and no lap sitting (picking up on a theme here).

    • There’s no more lap sitting on Splash Mountain now either. Each person has their own spot separated by a back rest.

  14. Overall, I give it to Walt Disney World.

    Splash- The single log was more fun for cuddling, but now that the logs have actual seatbacks, that point is mute. MK’s Splash is longer and just seems more vibrant. Am I wrong in thinking it has more drops?

    Everest- While I love the Matterhorn, if I had to pick one to ride over and over again, it would be Everest. It is a fantastic and fun roller coaster. While the A version was even scarier and is must missed, I still enjoy the speed, drops, and backwards portion of the ride. Hearing the complaints over the new seats of the Matterhorn also point to an Everest win.

    Thunder– as I said last time, WDW

    Space- While I really do love MK’s version, ultimately I go with Disneyland.

  15. In this series, on most of the topics, Disneyland has come out as superior. However, in this article, I feel that WDW comes out ahead. As a Disneyland fan from long ago, it was a real eye opener when I rode the Splash Mountain at WDW. In my first experience, I felt it was better than Disneyland’s. As to the Matterhorn and Everest… comparing the oldest mountain to the newest is interesting. The Matterhorn has several advantage, first it really appears like a mountain because of the work on forced perspective. Everest, the highest mountain in the world, does not appear that high from a distance because the ramp that puts the train high into the mountain. It shrinks the appearance because of that. However, the current Matterhorn has seats which are really painful to be in. Everest is just as fun and is easier to ride.

    Space Mountain DL vs Space Mountain WDW — Disneyland wins
    Splash Mountain DL vs Splash Mountain WDW — WDW wins
    Matterhorn DL vs Everest WDW — WDW wins
    Big Thunder DL vs Big Thunder WDW — WDW wins by a nose.