Are We Ready For A New Yeti?

Written by Jeff Heimbuch. Posted in Features, The 626

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Published on July 01, 2012 at 1:23 am with 18 Comments

Last year, Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom celebrated the 5th anniversary of their big E-ticket attraction, Expedition Everest. Disney marked the occasion with a few special events.

One such special event was for Disney Annual Passholders. If you’re a Passholder, you were able to stay in the Animal Kingdom for three hours after it closed, at 6:00 PM, and ride Expedition Everest as much as you want. Evening hours are a rare treat at the Animal Kingdom, so it was definitely worth the free cost of admission.

But while we’re on the topic of Expedition Everest, let’s talk about something that has been a huge point of contention for over 5 years. I’m sure you know what I’m referring to.

The Yeti.

I know, the Yeti has been debated, complained about, and kvetched about for as long as the ride has been in its current state (in other words, for most of its life). But with the ride’s anniversary having just passed, I think it’s worth a revisit.

For those of you who have been living in the Himalayas for the past 5 years, the Yeti has not worked correctly for a long, long time. In its original, vastly superior form, the Yeti would lunge toward the cars of the passenger train, reaching out to grab unsuspecting passengers as the trains sped past. It was truly a thrill, and one I remember fondly from the only time I rode Everest when the Yeti actually worked.

Nowadays, the Yeti is immobile. A seizure-inducing strobe light brightens the cavern to feign the Yeti in motion. Hence, the ever-so-loving name by which we’ve come to know him over the years: Disco Yeti.

While about 75% of guests never notice the difference, we Disney-philes have been up in arms over it forever. So just what seems to be the problem here?

To answer that question, we have to return to when the ride was being developed.

Animal Kingdom opened in April 1998 with few ‘major’ rides. Sure, I enjoy Kilimanjaro Safari and Dinosaur (or Countdown to Extinction, if you prefer its original name) as much as the next guy, but many people viewed Animal Kingdom (and still do) as a half-day park due to its lack of attractions (they are wrong, however. Just ask George Taylor).

This was especially true because some of the REALLY good rides were canned when Disney decided not to finish the Beastly Kingdom section of the park. Lack of attendance just wouldn’t do in the eyes of the company, so Disney set out to build a major E-ticket attraction to lure more people into Animal Kingdom. Thus, Expedition Everest was born.

It was the thrill ride that Animal Kingdom severely lacked. Imagineers pulled out all the stops on this one. They thoroughly researched Asian culture and architecture to make the ride and its surrounding town of Serka Zong as authentic as possible. In fact, a Discovery Channel special called ‘Everest: Journey To Sacred Lands’ was made about the Imagineers’ trip to the Himalayas where they did painstaking research in order to get everything right.

The decision to include the Yeti in the ride was a very valid one. Attendance at Disneyland’s Matterhorn had spiked since the installation of the Abominable Snowman, so adding a Yeti to Expedition Everest was a no-brainer. Aside from that, the legend of the Yeti is very closely intertwined with the culture. It made perfect sense – from every perspective – to include the mythical beast.

So, the Imagineers set out to make their most ambitious Audio-Animatronic, ever. And ambitious, it was – so big and dynamic that it couldn’t be built the same way the Imagineers had built other Animatronics, by using legs to support the movement. Not this monstrosity.

The Yeti was nearly 25 feet tall and designed with horizontal and vertical slides as well as a long boom that went into its back. When suspended from this boom, the Yeti could move 5 feet in and out, and about 18 inches up and down.

The Yeti’s fur was made of about 6,000 pounds of different furs woven together into a gigantic coat. Overall, the coat was about 1,000 square feet and held in place by over 1,000 snaps and 250 zippers. A layer of spandex under the fur protected it from the beast’s inner workings.

For power, the Imagineers installed a 3,000 psi hydraulic thruster which could recharge itself every 20 seconds in readiness for the constant stream of passenger trains. The thrust behind the cylinders was MORE than that of a 747 jet engine. It was definitely one powerful ape.

And that’s where its problems began.

You see, the Yeti was SO powerful that it couldn’t be attached to the structure of the building itself; it had to be its own separate entity. If attached, it literally would have pulled the ‘mountain’ apart, which was NOT something Disney had envisioned.

So, instead, they made the Yeti its own separate structure inside the mountain. But because it was so large and sophisticated, the Imagineers had to build the mountain around the monster.

That’s right, folks: the Yeti is quite literally trapped inside its own mountain!

After running the Yeti in its normal mode for awhile, the Imagineers began to notice a bit of strain on its structural support. “Pish posh,” they thought: “Merely growing pains and settling in! It’ll work out.”

Obviously, they were wrong.

This mechanical Yeti was almost as powerful as its rumored living relative; it was tearing itself out of its structure. Which, when you think of it, is quite frightening. No real reason has ever been given for this major design flaw. Maybe the Yeti was upset by its imprisonment and wished to escape.

The Imagineers, not wanting a 20,000 pound animatronic beast to literally FALL on guests, turned him off.

And so the Yeti has sat dormant for years. And years. And years. Sure, every once in awhile we’ve heard rumors of him running in “A Mode”. But for most of his existence, Disco Yeti has been trapped in “B Mode.”

Disney fans, of course, cried foul: How could Disney let such a major part of their most expensive attraction continue not to work? But Disney has remained tight-lipped about the entire experience.

There are a couple of long running, very plausible theories.

First, to fix such a thing would be very expensive. Expedition Everest is rumored to have cost Disney in the $100 million range, so I’m sure Disney executives see throwing more money at it to fix a mechanical ape as an unwarranted cost, especially since they have a ‘temporary’ fix in place (which seems more and more like a permanent fix every day) that seems to be doing the job just fine.

Secondly, Disney would have to close their biggest attraction at Animal Kingdom for an unspecified period. While rides go down for routine maintenance and rehab all the time, this would be a much LONGER instance. Years, possibly. It would be bad for business to shut down the park’s ‘biggest draw’.

Disney can’t simply replace the Yeti with a new one, either. To even take the old Yeti out, they’d have to take apart the mountain. Say that with me now: TAKE. APART. THE MOUNTAIN. That combines the first two factors of cost and downtime, and makes execs heads spin.

Alas, not all hope is lost.

While the Yeti likely will never return to its original operating mode, rumors have been circulating that Imagineers have a plan. Supposedly, they are designing a system for replacing the outstretched arm of the Yeti. Instead of the entire Yeti grabbing for the guests, the arm would do all of the work.

Supposedly, the swiping arm was a major part of the problem to begin with, but this arm would weigh significantly less and not strain the structure nearly as much as the Yeti did when he was at the height of his power. While not a perfect solution, it is a step in the right direction.

There is no news as to when or even if this change will take place.

For now, we’re stuck with a malfunctioning creature. Am I that broken up by it? Not really.

Even without the original Yeti, Expedition Everest is one of my all-time favorite coasters. Its design and attention to detail are fantastic, and when the train hurtles backwards, I still get a lump in my throat.

Animal Kingdom guests must think the same because Expedition Everest continues to draw 2 hour plus lines almost every day. It must be doing something right.

But deep down inside, I hope that one day Disney does find the time, the money, and a feasible solution to their Yeti problem. In the meantime, I’ll continue to enjoy seeing the Yeti in its finest polyester suit whenever my train rumbles past.


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by Jeff Heimbuch

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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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18 Comments

Comments for Are We Ready For A New Yeti? are now closed.

  1. just a thought, but if all goes well with the addition of Avatarland, they could technically close it for a refurb, even if it is just replacing the arm

  2. You fail to address all of the other special effects that are not functioning within the ride, including the steam on the tracks, the AA bird, and more.

    Expedition Everest is a total failure in operational terms of everything except keeping its coaster running Six-Flags style.

    The folks who screwed up on the design work on ALL of the special effects should be gone from WDI. The fact that they’re still employed virtually guarantees that we’ll continue to see this type of poor design work in the future. There is NO excuse for the problem with the Yeti unless the engineers simply did not know what they’re doing and could not use a computer to figure out stress simulations. This is done every day all around the world by engineers and designers.

    The whole episode is shameful. Just imagine if none of the effects in the Harry Potter Forbidden Journey ride were working–sure, the ride system would work and take you through, but without any effects working. What screams we’d hear!

    The Walt Disney Company is dragging its feet here. The Yeti could easily be cut up and removed from the mountain in pieces. A new figure could be designed and brought into the mountain in pieces and assembled inside. Yes, they would have to close the attraction for 3 months to do this. This happens ALL THE TIME at the Tokyo Disney Resort as part of the regular maintenance of all of their attractions.

    Saying that you can’t shut a ride down for 3 months to fix it is a lot of baloney and the only excuse is because the bean counters know that Animal Kingdom’s revenue would fall for 3 months, and they won’t let that happen. It’s so shameful that it’s sickening. Walt would have fired all of them.

    • Here, here!!!

  3. Who was the genius who never designed the Yeti for maintenance? The first rule of any major design is making sure you have access to all major parts. Building the entire mountain around the Yeti and not designing a “back door” is beyond incompetence. That defies even the most basic notions of common sense.

    • You’d be surprised these days. Have you seen the show Tanked? The guys at ATM, who are the stars of the show, have poor designs for maintenance. They’re great for aesthetics but not much else. Yet they have their own TV show. If you look up their track record, the tanks look great initially, but because of many other reasons I won’t mention here most of their tanks are broken down or empty.

      Why the Yeti doesn’t have a way to be removed if needed is beyond any of us. It’s the star of the show, yet they expected him to last forever? Power of a 747+ man made structure… yeah. No common sense.

  4. There is absolutely NO excuse for the primary show element of a major attraction to be left broken for years on end.

    WDW management should be ashamed of themselves and guests should continue to loudly express themselves. It seems that WDW doesn’t fix anything these days unless there is some sort of uproar about it first.

    This ride needs a lot of fixes beyond just the Yeti. The bird on a stick is the most pathetic anti-climax of an effect at a moment in the ride that could really use a major show element (the giant hand of a Yeti reaching up to grab the torn up track perhaps), but that lame bird is always broken.

    The broken steam on the trains, lack of a final act of the ride (It just suddenly ends after your encounter with the Disco Yeti), the less than exciting projected image of the Yeti on the forward track switch, all lead this attraction to be a huge disappointment. The buildup to the ride (how it looks as you approach, the building tension in the queue) is much bigger than the payoff in the ride itself .

    Yes, the theme and scale of the attraction are impressive, a great example of Disney design. But the execution leaves so much to be desired than the attraction should probably be closed for an extensive refurbishment and re-engineering. Walt Disney was famous for plusing existing attractions after they were already open. But he would never have waited 5 years to fix a problematic ride like this one. And WDW management needs a firm kick in the ass to fix this one now.

    Keep up the pressure Jeff. Thank you!

  5. You know Expedition Everest seems to fall under the same issues that Indie and it’s “rusted ice box” machine seem to have, no one seems to be able to fix the problem without ripping the building apart, the difference is THIS IS A MAJOR EFFECT whereas the ice box is a minor one. I have to wonder which “genius” skipped stress testing on a rig to simulate 6-12 mouths of use. I mean who the hell green lights something that has more power then a Rolls-Royce RB211-524, that wasn’t tested and that is going to be built into the center of the attraction?

  6. The ride was awesome the 7 or 8 times I rode it with all the effects working.It is really dumb what happened to this ride. Disco Yeti,lol have any one seen his music video?

  7. This reminds me a bit of Alien the movie. The Mother Alien was tied up while popping out eggs with little Aliens inside and on hatching were running around attaching and forcing themselves to Ripley’s people. So maybe Disco Yeti is doing the same, and her band of little Yeti’s are active all through her tunnel like Grizzly Bears in another Everest called Grizzly Mountain in Honk Kong. We know Yetis can grow from Apes already and why not Bears.

  8. Thanks for the excellent article, Jeff Heimbuch!
    We long-time, frequent Micechat users know that there has been a lot written about this.
    Yet this article and some of the comments (including those from Fukai and Dusty–thank you two too!) were above average, so I wish it could be turned into a thread as will with the article as the OP and the comments leading to a more typical thread discussion on the forum section under WDW. That way it would be debated more thoroughly than articles usually are, and this article could get even more attention.

    The prices for the Big Thunder BBQ were changed as was the music in Knott’s Ghost Town; maybe the Yeti, the steam from the Everest trains, and the bird could be as well.

  9. P.S. Also, on a regular thread I could correct my own typos–for example I could change the “as will” to “as well.” (I’m complaining about a huge, complex machine not working while I can’t get a sentence right.) And I could add a proper smiley face. :)

  10. Thank you, all of you, for your great comments. A lot of you brought up stuff I didn’t even think of mentioning, like the bird or the steam from the train, so this is much appreciated.

    Keep those comments coming! If we’re loud enough, eventually Disney will get the message and at least do SOMETHING to fix these problems!

  11. Thanks for another great article.

    I’ve always wonder about the beginning section of the ride – between the first and second lift. I always expect to see some animatronic animals here like Thunder Mountain or maybe a Himalayan village, but instead just a patch of grass. Was theming ever planned for this area? Did they just run out of money?

  12. While I appreciated all the reasons/excuses in the article, I don’t forgive WDW by any means for what guests are seeing today. I’ve never even seen this bird on a stick work – and I did ride in 2008, 2009 and 2011. Has it been broken that long? And steam – I don’t think I’ve seen that since my first ride.

    The Yeti excuses have never worked for me – it doesn’t take more than the power of a 747 plane to make a figure lunge out at the audience. It was poorly conceived and designed (is it plain WDI or Garner Holt? Surely the latter wouldn’t have dreamed this mess up).

    Having a single arm move up and down a la Harold in the Matterhorn would have been FINE. Should have been converted to that in pre-testing before the ride even opened to the public. I’m so over the excuses.

  13. This article contains some factual errors. The mountain was not built around the Yeti, the Yeti is actually pretty close to ground level, it was the Yeti’s foundation that was built around the same time as the rest of the mountain. They moved the Yeti in after the Mountain was built (for weather reasons probably). To remove the Yeti they wouldn’t have to “take apart the mountain.”

  14. I don’t understand why the Yeti can’t be taken apart or dimantled in pieces where it stands, and then taken out of the mountain? Must be some overhead steel to attach blocks and chain to for this task? or maybe that was planned for maintenance. I’m sure it went together in pieces.

  15. I don’t know who you are, but you have a tremendously fascinating writing style! I love the unique information, but the way you present it in such an interesting and sometimes humorous way is really refreshing. Keep up the good work!