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There are many ways to enjoy majestic mountain destinations, either in summer or winter. The first activities that come to mind may be skiing, hiking and mountain biking. One that may not first come to mind is riding an alpine coaster. But it should as it tops our list of favorite summer activities. These days many mountain resorts offer fun variations of this thrill ride set in a natural alpine environment.
I first rode an alpine slide in Breckenridge, Colorado in the mid-2000s. Since then I’ve had the opportunity to ride the alpine coaster at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, the Forest Flyer at Vail Epic Discovery, Rocky Mountain Coaster at Copper Mountain and the Breathtaker Alpine Coaster in Snowmass. My whole family (kids ages eight and twelve) are big fans of speeding down the mountain on an alpine coaster and think that if you haven’t tried it you should!
So, what the heck is an alpine coaster?
Inform yourself now as alpine coasters continue to gain popularity! Prior to 2005, no alpine coasters existed in the United States. That is until Steve Beckley, the owner of the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, flew to Germany. He went to convince the owner of Wiegand Sports to let him build one in the US.
Since then alpine coasters have popped up in ski resorts across the country. Two new alpine coasters opened in 2020. There’s no sign of this trend changing, and we should all be glad for it.
An alpine coaster is similar to a roller coaster. But this thrill ride is set atop a mountain where riders can breathe fresh air. Riders take in spectacular natural views as you speed down the mountain, making hairpin turns along the way.
What is the difference between an alpine slide and an alpine coaster?
The alpine slide has been around since the 1970s. However, the alpine mountain coaster was first developed in 1997 by a German company, Wiegland.
Alpine coasters are designed to take advantage of the natural mountain elevation and topography. Gravity drives individual cars attached to a fixed track down the natural contours of a mountain. Riders control their speed with a brake lever. On a closed loop track, the car gets hauled up the hill at the end of the ride by a pulley system. Then there are systems where the rider takes a chairlift up the mountain and rides down the track. The alpine coaster is different from the original alpine slide. It is attached to rails and winds through the mountain topography most commonly on a 360 degree closed track.
The alpine slide originating in the 1970s is an unattached wheeled cart that slides down a concrete chute built on a slope. These go faster than the alpine coaster. There is less control. And they start at the top of the hill and end at the bottom.
Why should you ride an alpine coaster this year?
Mountain alpine coasters are fun!
An alpine mountain coaster is similar to a roller coaster. It is a fast thrill ride that gives riders an adrenaline rush.
But the beauty of an alpine roller coaster is that it exists in a spectacular natural mountain environment. No concrete jungle surrounds these thrill rides. Your car may wind, dip and make hairpin turns through a lush green forest. Or it may soar over an expansive ski slope with majestic mountains and blue skies as the backdrop. Riders breathe in fresh mountain air as they let out joyous screams while feeling the thrill.
No lessons or equipment required on alpine coasters.
Unlike skiing, the most common way of speeding down a ski slope, an alpine slide does not require any kind of lessons. Nor does it require special equipment. The closest you will come to needing special equipment is that some alpine mountain coasters require close-toed shoes.
Kids as young as three years of age and at least 38” tall can ride with their parents or another adult. They can hop on and enjoy the thrill without expensive ski lessons. Ski resorts do typically require that a waiver be signed at check-in, prior to riding. Some may require purchase of a scenic lift ticket to get to the ride, whereas some are located at the base of the mountain.
Are alpine coasters safe?
As long as the rules are followed, alpine coasters are a safe thrill ride. Unlike alpine slides, the carts are actually attached to the track. While the rider is able to control speed to a certain extent, most max out around 25 mph. And, there’s a system that automatically slows riders if they get too close to another cart.
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Where are mountain alpine coasters found?
Alpine Coasters in the Colorado Rockies
The Colorado Rocky Mountains are now home to seven alpine coasters. In 2005, the first alpine coaster was built, the second in 2010 and five more have opened in the past two years. Wikipedia credits Switzerland with having the highest alpine coaster in the world with a starting elevation of 9,747 feet. However, three of Colorado’s seven coasters start above 10,000 feet!
The Alpine coaster at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park was the first in the U.S., built in 2005. Goldrunner Alpine coaster at Breckenridge was the first built at a Colorado Resort in 2010. Then came the Forest Flyer at Vail’s Epic Discovery in 2016, the Breathtaker Coaster at Snowmass, the Outlaw Mountain Coaster at Steamboat and the Rocky Mountain Coaster at Copper Mountain in 2017. And, the Inferno Mountain Coaster at Purgatory in Durango opened in the summer of 2018.
Most of Colorado alpine coasters are open seasonally for summer and winter. But the original alpine coaster at Glenwood Caverns is actually open year-round, weather permitting. And most Colorado alpine coasters have daytime hours with Glenwood having the longest hours of operation. But there are occasional opportunities for night time rides on the Rocky Mountain Coaster at Copper Mountain.
In addition to alpine slides, Colorado’s resorts have been adding fun summer activities en masse. Vail’s Epic Discovery boasts zip lines, ropes courses, summer tubing and bungee in addition to the alpine coaster. Alpine coasters will only enhance your family’s mountain summer vacation!
Tennessee Alpine Coasters
The Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge areas of Tennessee are also meccas for these fun rides. In 2013 the Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster was the first coaster built in the Smoky Mountains. It also has the title of longest down hill track in the United States.
Now the state is home to seven alpine coasters in total. These include the Anakeesta Rail Runner, Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster, Ski Mountain Coaster, Rowdy Bear Mountain Coaster, The Coaster (Goats on the Roof), Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster and Rocky Top Mountain Coaster.
Other States with Alpine Coasters
California, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Utah, Vermont and Wyoming are now also all home to alpine coasters. Many of these have been built in recent years as these coaster rides have gained popularity.
Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster in Banner Elk, North Carolina and Mineshaft Coaster in Big Bear Lake, California are the two most recent additions to the list. Both were built in 2020.
Have you ridden an alpine coaster? What did you think? Which alpine coaster is your favorite? Tell us in the comments below!