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Matterhorn Bobsleds Versus Expedition Everest

Rating: 2 votes, 5.00 average.
by , 04-06-2011 at 08:07 PM

Not long ago I tried to compare the Splash Mountain in Disneyland to the one at the Magic Kingdom, I even declared a winner. Time to take a look at another pair of Disney mountains and, if possible, we'll pick another winner. Now, I understand that this is not directly an apple-to-apple comparison. But, in many respects, they share similar details with different execution. So, what do the Matterhorn and Expedition Everest have in common? Well…

Both are based on real world locations

Expedition Everest is set in lowlands surrounding Mount Everest. The Kali Gandaki region in Nepal influences the village of Serka Zong. The Imagineers use forced perspective to make the mountain peaks soar with the tallest peak being the nearby fictional "Forbidden Mountain" where the attraction is based and Mount Everest is in the background.

The Matterhorn Bobsleds is based on the famous and distinctive mountain in Switzerland. Walt was in Zermatt visiting the set of the 1958 Disney movie Third Man on the Mountain and fell in love with the little ski resort. He liked it so much he tried to build his own ski resort in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California in the Mineral King area (See The Mineral King Story). The attraction is a 1/100th scale model of the real mountain. Walt’s original concept was to have a real bobsled ride on ice. Wisely, they came up with a different solution. When you look at the mountain and notice holes, do not worry, Walt reminded us that it is a Swiss mountain after all and like the cheese… it has holes.
Both pushed the state-of-the-art of roller coaster technology at the time they were built

Expedition Everest features a lift hill with a new safety mechanism that doesn’t clank the entire way up; the thrill of going backwards in the dark, and the largest Audio-Animatronic that Disney has developed.

Photo courtesy of (If you don't know Yesterland, take a look today, it is amazing!)
The Matterhorn Bobsleds was the first tubular steel coaster. Every tubular steel roller coaster can trace its roots back to the Matterhorn (and Arrow Dynamics who developed it with Disney). The mountain was multi-functional. Inside was a tower for the Skyway. In fact, hiding the tower was the functional problem Walt was trying to solve by building the mountain to begin with.
Both mountains tower over their surrounding environments
Expedition Everest is almost 200 feet tall and "the tallest mountain in the state of Florida" as the Disney folks like to say.

Matterhorn Bobsleds are set within a 147-foot tall structure. The Matterhorn was one of the tallest structures in Orange County for many years.
Both have inhabitants

Expedition Everest has the Yeti. After an incredible amount of research, many trips to Tibetan cultural regions, and working with zoologists, the Imagineers where able to locate a very special beast and bring him to Florida. He even gets his own museum. This creature was the highlight of many promotional films. However, he is rarely spotted in the wild today.

The Matterhorn has Harold, the abominable snowman. Although he may have been living in the mountain since it was first discovered in 1959, he was first spotted in 1978. While Harold’s arms do move and his eyes glow, he doesn't have much movement. Strobe lights help create a sensation of movement.
Both were seen as more than just another new attraction
When the Animal Kingdom first opened, many complained there wasn’t enough to do. Some still do. So Walt Disney Imagineering needed to come up with something that would become one of the park’s signature attractions. Only Kilimanjaro Safaris had the cache to motivate people to get out of bed early in the morning and to visit the park. Expedition Everest was the answer they came up with and has been a wildly successful addition to the resort.

The Matterhorn was the centerpiece of what many considered Disneyland’s second Grand Opening. In one day, on live television, opened a massive expansion including the Matterhorn Bobsleds, the Monorail, the Submarine Voyage, the Motor Boat Cruise, and an expanded Autopia! ABC broadcast Disneyland ’59 on June 15, 1959 and it is an amazing artifact of this historic day. This show is available on Walt Disney Treasures Your Host Walt Disney DVD.

The Matterhorn is the mother of all steel roller coasters. For that reason alone, we should all look to its peak and bow in respect. The fact its inspiration was the need to cover up the unattractive tower that held up the Skyway always impressed me. And it sits on the dirt from the moat in front of the castle that was once know as Holiday Hill. I understand that back in the day before the Matterhorn was built, this was quite the place for those hormone-charged 1950s teenagers to make out.

The entire setup is just perfect. Most people don’t even notice the little forest with Aspens and Pine trees out front along Matterhorn way... the themed benches, the little sheds covering the final part of the queue, the queue itself. It was even pretty clever creating a queue along the well landscaped side of the mountain instead of some miserable switchback.

The bobsleds have their own special charm. With the current configuration it can be really fun to ride if you want to get to know somebody better as riders can pair up on the bench style seats. However, the result can be painful if the combination isn’t right. With two tracks, everybody has his or her preference to which side of the mountain is better.

The Tomorrowland side is tighter and features the only real drop on the ride. The Fantasyland side is swoopier with faster long curves. Both sides feature close encounters with Harold, the Abominable Snowman. His growl in the dark at the beginning of the Fantasyland side is the scariest thing. A great ride during the day but even better at night.

A favorite feature is when you are racing another sled. This doesn’t happen all the time but the sight of another speeding bobsled moving alongside then disappearing and then reappearing is quite fun. The urge to interact with the other sled is irresistible. The mountain has gone through a lot of changes over the years. Its Skyway was removed, holes patched as though it was never there. I am as old as the Matterhorn, so I understand the occasional need for a face lift.

And that is not the former Governor of California giving the safety spiel at the beginning of the ride. The ride warning has even been incorporated into a song by the band No Doubt.


I was at the Animal Kingdom in May 2006. Expedition Everest had only been open for a month. It was a brand new attraction with fully working effects, what a beautiful sight to behold. Now this is an E-Ticket I said to myself. This attraction tells an original story and is not dependent upon another property. The whole area is loaded with details. You really sense that magic as you approach. What I mean when I say magic is that moment when your apprehension turns to awe and delight. I was very impressed. So like many others I quickly moved to grab my Fastpass and to take what was to become the first of 12 rides on that trip. It was part Matterhorn, part Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and part something really new and different. This is how I remember it.

Of course the entire setting is pitch perfect. The use of the buildings to frame a small courtyard off of the main path, the clever way they have created an ideal viewing area for those who do not wish to ride, and sense of overall calm with the occasional screams coming from the coaster.

The queue is simply one of the best ever attempted by Disney. This is one of the times when waiting has its benefits. You actually do yourself a disservice by passing through the Fastpass lane or single rider line because you miss the full queue. Even if you don’t want to go on the coaster, definitely take a walk through the whole line. Make your reservation for the Tea Train. For good luck be sure to tap one of the many bells hanging in the temple. You will inspire others.

The queue takes you inside and out, disorienting you from the main path. By the time you enter the camping supply store you have bought into the concept that you are in the Himalayan lowlands and are about to go on a journey to parts unknown. A walk through the Yeti museum just seals the deal. They build a back story for the Yeti then demonstrate how he is real. We also learn the cautionary tale of those who have not had successful encounters with the beast. If you are not excited by the time you have entered the long room with the windows facing the loading dock then something is wrong.

As the train pulls into the station, the tweet from the whistle and the burst of steam belching from the rear just confirm that you have left Florida and are someplace else. A real steam train! (I know I know). The plantings were all new but you got to love that little stroll through the foothills. Today, when I ride I have noticed how lush the area has become.

As you go up the lift, through the temple, and over the crest you dip into a blanket of fog. Yes, fog. Refreshing cool fog. You don’t even notice the tunnel that goes up and the way the track comes to an abrupt end. Okay, the hawk flying along side of the mountain was a bit cheesy and the backwards tumble remains a very unusual sensation. The first encounter with the Yeti is memorable and tells a strong story before you plummet over the first big drop.

Finally there was that first encounter with the Yeti. Wow! I have seen Harold at the Matterhorn hundreds of times but this guy was very impressive. He tried to grab my head! I swear he was just inches away. The movement was so fluid, the red glow of the eyes so frightening, and those mangy hands with the fingers reaching out toward me. I was hooked. I rode the front row the first time and the back car the next time. That puff of steam made the experience more real. I mixed it up for my dozen trips on that day. I even rode the coaster at night. At night it is virtually dark the entire way. Absolutely the best time to ride Everest is at night.

I learned that the Yeti costs millions of dollars and has the physical force of a 747 jet! But rumor has it that he seems to have broken his foundation and has not worked on a regular basis for years. An absolute shame since he is essentially the climax of the ride.

Back in May 2006, if you got the chance to see him working, you would have been amazed. When the Yeti moved and there was fog and steam and the hawk. And everything worked as it should, it was wonderful. During that time I would rank the entire show near the top of my Disney ride list. But the way it is now, the way most of that stuff has gone unrepaired….

SAMLAND'S WINNER: The Matterhorn Bobsleds at Disneyland

But that's just how we see it. What's your winning mountain: Matterhorn or Everest? And what's your case for crowning it the top dog?
Sam Gennawey is an urban planner who has collaborated with communities throughout California over the course of more than 100 projects to create a great, big, beautiful tomorrow. For the past couple of years he has been the publisher of Samland’s Disney Adventure, a blog dedicated to the history and design of the North American Disney theme parks. Sam is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Regional Planning History Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving municipal, county, and private sector planning documents from throughout Los Angeles County.

Sam has recently contributed to a book which celebrates the 40th anniversary of Walt Disney World. "Four Decades of Magic" is now available in both hard copy and Kindle version at Amazon.

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Updated 04-07-2011 at 12:33 PM by SAMLAND



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  1. JMora's Avatar
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    The Matterhorn, and for the very same reasons you, Samland crowned it the winner. Of course it was more then just a mountain, it also acted liked a beacon that one was arriving closer to Disneyland, or away ;(

    My memories as young a child were that even though there was this terrifying roars that could be heard, screaming people on fast bobsleds zooming in/out of the near perfect mountain design and dark caverns. It a special lure like no other Disney attraction, it remains my favorite til this very day.

    Plus, the fact it's a dueling roller coaster is always a extra bonus, and after 33 years, Harold still works =)
    Updated 04-06-2011 at 09:38 PM by JMora
  2. Rex Dopey24's Avatar
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    matter horn.
  3. MrTour's Avatar
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    Heck, the Matterhorn was a lot of fun when it was hollow! And yes, before the resort built up, the Matterhorn was a beacon that you could spot off both the 5 and 22 freeways.

    Does anyone remember the advertising pitch for the re-do in 1978? "What's gotten into the Matterhorn?"
  4. lonegungirl's Avatar
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    Matterhorn. I was surprised to read on wikipedia (fount of all human knowledge) that EE is supposed to be 3-4 minutes long, while Matterhorn is ~2 minutes long--EE always seems incredibly short to me.

    Unfortunately, the difference boils down to the fact that, for me, Matterhorn represents a time of enormous growth, industry, and innovation for DL, whereas EE now mostly symbolizes the company's inclination to save money and time by leaving things half-finished or broken, because it's "good enough."
  5. bamato's Avatar
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    I haven't ridden on EE, so my opinion is very biased. But based on the comparison above, I'd still have to go with the Matterhorn. It has history, and is an icon that most people never forget.
  6. jaxbistro's Avatar
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    I will go with the Matterhorn as well. I wonder though, what my son will say when I ask him, for I grew up on the Matterhorn and IT was the Disneyland icon for me, for when I looked north from the 22 on the way to Disneyland, it was the beacon that told me I was almost there and the adrenaline would shoot through my body. (Back in the day you used to be able to see it from the freeway before the tall buildings and soundwalls blocked it.) My son holds no sentimental value to either one so it will be a less biased opinion.

    EE is a great ride, but it's very difficult to compete with found memories forty years in the making.

    Permanecer sentados por favor.
    Updated 04-07-2011 at 06:56 AM by jaxbistro
  7. danyoung's Avatar
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    While I understand the Matterhorn's rich history, just based on the ride experience it's an easy choice to go with EE. I've always enjoyed the Bobsleds, but as a roller coaster it's pretty lightweight. EE's backwards sequence is really fun, and the drop is just about as intense as I ever want to enjoy on a coaster! True, some of the effects either aren't working (the Yeti) or are pretty lame (the bird on a stick!). But as an overall experience Everest wins hands down.
  8. The Shadoe's Avatar
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    Without reliance on nostalgia, Expedition Everest wins, hands-down. No question about it. The ride is far more detailed, the rollercoaster more fun, the animatronic more impressive, the queue more entertaining, and details more... detailed.

    Both are good rides, but based solely at face value, Expedition Everest is the clear winner. Nostalgia skews things for some folks, though.
  9. ttrocc7007's Avatar
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    Heck this is easy. One's in Disneyland, and one's not! It's Matterhorn hands down, although to be fair, even the Matterhorn was more fun when you used to be able to travel through it aboard the Skyway.
  10. Barbossa's Avatar
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    Would like to make a comparison, but I can't. Haven't been to Florida yet. Hopefully, in the future.
  11. Nick92's Avatar
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    I haven't been to Disney World yet but from reading the explanation of Expedition Everest...I say Matterhorn all day!
  12. Nick92's Avatar
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    I haven't been to Disney World yet but from reading the explanation of Expedition Everest...I say Matterhorn all day!
  13. disneyland255's Avatar
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    No EE for me yet...this June though...but I go with Matterhorn. It is my favorite attraction of all time. It has everything I love in a coaster. Sharp turns, dips, tunnels, and an abominable snowman! LOL Great review of both rides though!
  14. Mousecat's Avatar
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    If you want to take a fun little trip down the Fantasyland side of the Matterhorn, to Myron Floren's polka music, then visit Samland Here.

    Thanks for the great comments.

    SamLand's Disney Adventures
  15. JiminyCricketFan's Avatar
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    I have ridden both, (EE only with the broken Yeti). The technology of EE is amazing because you travel backwards at one point. Theming is also better with EE as the outside area is just amazing.

    For the Matterhorn, it feels like a longer ride. The duel tracks and view ports make for more fun.

    I have to vote for the Matterhorn just because EE is currently broken. If the Yeti was fixed, there would be no question that Expedition Everest would be the better attraction. But with the Yeti just a strobe light, EE loses some points. With the Matterhorn feeling like a longer ride and two tracks, it gives it the edge.

    All I can say is WDW should figure out how to fix their Yeti!!!
    Updated 04-07-2011 at 02:02 PM by JiminyCricketFan
  16. Disneykin Kid's Avatar
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    Haven't rode EE, can you elaborate a little more on what happens on the ride? You go up til the track ends, this is where the track is broken? Then you go backwards, then there is a drop, but at this point are you going backwards or forwards?

    Nostalgia aside, it's still kind of sad that the 52 year old Matterhorn wins over the latest and greatest Disney can offer. Maybe it's the broken Yeti that makes the difference? They should really fix the Yeti, no matter the cost, it's a joke on the message boards (Disco Yeti), and that's probably the worst PR. And I don't think cheaper fixes (arm on a stick?) are going to cut it, you're always going to have that bad thought in people's minds, unless you fix it right. Actually I like the face on the Abominable rather than the Yeti, which looks kind of...I don't know, indescribable. But that doesn't matter, just fix the animatronic.

    Also, what's with the 'flat' look to EE? I know it's not a distinctive mountain like the Matterhorn, but this doesn't look right, it doesn't look fully dimensional.

    Yeti the largest AA Disney ever built? Uni beats them there with King Kong, even the giant cat arm in the American Tail show at USH years ago was pretty good.

    Bird on a stick? That doesn't sound very good.
  17. DisneyanaFan's Avatar
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    I'm also a big Matterhorn fan - this ride is great in 2011; hard to imagine how 'new' this attraction must have been way back in 1959.

    Sadly, I also haven't ridden EE, though not for a lack of trying. The one time back in 2009 that I convinced my wife to vacation at Disneyworld we visited AK and I collected fast passes for the ride in the morning. Unfortunately by the early afternoon the ride was broken down and remained down the rest of the day. A kind CM did exchange the fast passes for a re-entry ticket to another ride. Should have used them to ride the Safari ride again, but instead I took my daughter over to ride Dinosaur - which terrified my 6 year old and left me rather non-plussed (a bumpy ride through the dark with a dinosaur popping up to roar at you every few seconds - nowhere near the environmental effects seen in Indiana Jones).

    Now the 8 year version of my daughter is desperate to travel out to Florida again so she can see the Harry Potter attractions, so maybe just maybe I'll have another chance to try EE - would be nice however if they fixed the Yeti!
  18. Dustysage's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Disneykin Kid
    Haven't rode EE, can you elaborate a little more on what happens on the ride?
    Here's a good video of the ride which will give you a much better idea. It is a great attraction, but perhaps too intense to be considered family friendly. And it is a shame that many of the effects you see in the video no longer work:

    Updated 04-07-2011 at 03:15 PM by Dustysage
  19. Backside of Water's Avatar
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    I am going to whole-heartedly disagree... Now, obviously, the Matterhorn is a Walt original. It also is older and has the point of nostalga. I grew up on Disney LAND in CA so naturally I would usually say that anything in CA is better. However, in this instance, this is not the case. The immersive theming alone makes me love EE far more than MB. Also, you have to admit, EE is much more thrilling and exciting as a ride. not just the roller-coaster-ness. but the overall immersion factor. I love the ammount of dedication that the WDI team took to make such a spectacular and original story that really makes the ride feel... well, unlike a ride. Matterhorn you very often break the fourth wall of the ride by constantly being able to see the rest of fantasyland and people waiting in line around the mountian. EE, you see a very distant view of a park for a very brief moment, and even still there is a certian awe factor that you get from that.

    Just my humble opinion, but I do think they are both quality rides. I am a youngin, so I guess nostalga is a little less important to me, but I apreciate the lengths that WDI went to in order to make such an immersive ride and que as EE. Especially shocking for (dare I say it) NEW Disney!!! DUN DUN DUNNNNNN!!!

    Anywhoo! Great article Sam! Hope to see more of your great topics soon!
  20. Dustysage's Avatar
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    When Expedition Everest first opened I was just floored by how detailed and amazing the little village around it and the queue were. Top job by Disney. I was a touch disappointed by the ride itself which I found to be a bit too short (given the long lines and huge buildup). I also found it to be a little bit too extreme for a Disney park. Had they toned it down just a little, it could have been a great family ride. But as it stands, many groups of people would not be able to ride this attraction. Worse, many of the best effects are now broken.

    I would also, reluctantly, need to give the win to Matterhorn at Disneyland (which I also find to be a bit too rough).

    The message to Disney is to always maintain their attractions and try to keep their family friendly image in mind when designing attractions. The ride could have kept all elements but simply reduced the g-forces and speed a bit and it would be a MUCH better attraction overall.

    FIX THE YETI ! ! !
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