A mountain coaster, also called alpine coaster, is a gravity driven amusement ride with bobsled-like cars on tracks installed on a mountain. It is similar to alpine slides where a low wheeled-sled is used to navigate the track but instead of running over a smooth concave tracks like the alpine slide, alpine coasters run on rails with up-stop wheels like roller coasters. Thus, alpine coasters are safer and faster than alpine slides as it prevents overturning when going too fast on a curve. Tracks are tubular rails like a steel roller coasters while some have monorail-type tracks (on coasters made by Brandauer). But unlike a roller coaster, the rider has the capability to control their speed with its rider-controlled brake system. Alpine coasters can also operate year-round even through light rain and snow.
Safety features, speed, tracks and layout vary by manufacturer. Leading makers of mountain coasters (with trade marks in parenthesis) include Wiegand (Alpine Coaster), Brandauer (Summer Toboggan), Alpine Products (Alpine Mountain Coaster), and Erbschloe Fun Construct (Rolba Bob).
The longest alpine coaster in the world is the Alpine Coaster Imst in Imst, Austria with a route length of 2.197 miles (3.535 km), starting from a height of 5,090 feet (1,550 m) and a total elevation drop of about 1,600 feet (500 m). The highest alpine coaster in the world is the Alpine Coaster of Glacier 3000 in Gstaad, Switzerland with the starting elevation of 9,747 feet (2,971 m) and a length of 3,300 feet (1,000 m).
Most mountain coasters are installed by ski resorts as an added year-round attraction or installed seasonally to augment income during summer months. The latter have easily removable tracks that are placed over the ski runs after the ski season. All mountain coaster tracks are devised for easy installation with minimal impact to the topsoil and environment as most tracks are build close to the ground taking advantage of the natural elevation of the terrain. No concrete work is needed except at the station. Some bridgework up to 5 metres (16 ft) tall are installed by manufacturers to adjust for roads, trails, ski slopes or water way crossings. Aluminum or stainless steel are used for the tracks for low maintenance and durability.
Some tracks are closed loop and include a lift system during the course of the ride. Some coasters on ski resorts eliminate the long tedious climb up to the top by utilizing the resort's ski lift to take the riders to the top of the course, so the riders can just enjoy a longer one-way downhill run back to the station. Mountain coaster erected as rides on amusement parks are usually closed-loop coasters.
The closed loop track and the lift system on the coaster at the Zemplén Adventure Park in Hungary.
Thrill elements on mountain coasters could include varying degrees of curves, dips and hairpin turns. Large spiral circles (helixes) are not only used as a thrill element but also for reducing elevation.
Each sled accommodates one or two passengers and is controlled by a hand brakes located on both sides of the car or one single brake lever in the middle of the car on Brandauer coasters. Riders are advised to place their hands on the brakes at all times for safety reasons. Pulling the hand brake handle causes the cart to stop; pushing or letting go of the handle causes the brakes to release, allowing the cart to accelerate.
Alpine coasters are unique among amusement park rides in that the rider has complete control over his or her speed and ride experience. Riders can opt for slower leisurely run or with minimal or no braking for faster thrilling rides.
Most cars are equipped with centrifugal brake system which controls its maximum speed by limiting the rpm of the run rollers. Riders are responsible to observe a safe distance as a common courtesy to the riders in front. Each cars are equipped with shock-absorbing front and rear bumpers in case of collision, which occurs when riders are driving too fast and leaving not enough space for braking distance. Newer generation coasters are equipped with an anti-collision system, which automatically apply the brakes if the rider gets too close to the car ahead.
To secure the riders on their seats, each car is equipped with a three-point safety belt for the rider and a lap belt for the passenger. Tracks also have safety nets especially on steep curves as a precaution.
The predecessor to the mountain coaster is the Alpine slide, which came out in the 1970s. A German company in Rasdorf, Wiegand, installed the first stainless steel tracks for the alpine slide in 1975 rather than the customary fiberglass or concrete tracks. The company later developed the first mountain coasters in 1997. Josef Wiegand, the owner, envisioned the idea of creating a roller coaster-type ride for ski resorts that would take advantage of the topography of the land, rather then building the structure to create the elevation changes that traditional roller coasters require. The company installed its first coaster under the "Alpine Coaster" trademark in 1997.
In 2007, Alpine Products, one of the largest manufacturer of alpine slides, entered the market with its "Alpine Mountain Coaster". The company is the first maker to add an anti-collision system that detects cars ahead, warns, and stops the cars when needed, among other safety features.
Alpine coasters around the world
- Ridge Runner Mountain Coaster at the Blue Mountain in Ontario, Canada has a downhill length of 3,650 feet (1,110 m) with a maximum speed of 26 miles per hour (42 km/h).
- Alpine Coaster of Glacier 3000 in Gstaad, Switzerland is the highest alpine coaster in the world with the starting elevation of 9,747 feet (2,971 m) and a downhill run of 3,300 feet (1,000 m) reaching a top speed of 25 miles per hour (40 km/h). The ride opened on March 26, 2007.
The very first alpine coaster in the United States is the Glenwood Caverns Alpine Coaster in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, which opened in 2005. The ride starts with a downward run of 3,400 feet (1,000 m) and then followed by 1,000 feet (300 m) lift.
- Cranmore Mountain Coaster at Cranmore Mountain Resort in North Conway, New Hampshire. The ride starts with a lift of 1,315 feet (401 m) and then a drop of 2,390 feet (730 m) totaling to 3,705 feet (1,129 m) with a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour (40 km/h). Opened on November 20, 2010.
- Gold Runner Alpine Coaster at the Breckenridge Ski Resort in Colorado with a downhill run of 2,500 feet (760 m).
- Jiminy Peak's Mountain Coaster at the Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort in Hancock, Massachusetts with a total length of 3,600 feet (1,100 m) and maximum speed of 23 miles per hour (37 km/h). The attraction opened on July 1, 2006, the second mountain coaster in the country and the first in New England.
- Mountain Coaster Poconos at Camelback Mountain Adventures near Camelback Mountain Resort in Tannersville, Pennsylvania. Ride starts with an uphill climb to the crest before going downhill for 4,500 feet (1,400 m) with a maximum speed of 30 miles per hour (48 km/h). Opened in July 2012.
- Mountain Creek Alpine Mountain Coaster at the Mountain Creek in Vernon Township, New Jersey.(No description available on their website)
- Nor’Easter Mountain Coaster at the Attitash Mountain Resort in Bartlett, New Hampshire, which starts with a 1,420 feet (430 m) uphill climb and a drop of 2,880 feet (880 m) totaling 4,300 feet (1,300 m), and top speed of 25 miles per hour (40 km/h). Opened on November 24, 2010.
- Nor’Easter Mountain Coaster at the Greek Peak Mountain Resort in Cortland, New York has a track length of 4,300 feet (1,300 m) and top speed of 28 miles per hour (45 km/h).
- Park City Mountain Alpine Coaster at the Park City Mountain Resort in Utah with a total length of nearly 4,000 feet (1,200 m), with a top speed of 30 miles per hour (48 km/h). The ride opened on August 28, 2006, the third oldest alpine coaster in the United States.
- Sky High Mountain Coaster at the Holiday Valley Resort in Ellicottville, New York has an uphill track of 1,865 feet (568 m) and downhill of 2,940 feet (900 m) for a total length of 4,805 feet (1,465 m). Opened on August 20, 2011.
- Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster in Pigeon Forge, TN is claimed to be the longest in the US as of 2014 with a length of over 1 mile (1.6 km) long with a maximum speed of 27 miles per hour (43 km/h). Opened on August 3, 2013.
- Snowbird Mountain Coaster at Snowbird Ski Resort in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah. Length is 3,120 feet (950 m) with an elevation drop of 160 feet (49 m).
- Timber Ripper Alpine Coaster at the Okemo Mountain Resort in Ludlow, Vermont. The track starts with a 1,600-foot (490 m) climb followed by 3,100 feet (940 m) run for a total of 4,700 feet (1,400 m) with an elevation drop of 375 feet (114 m), reaching speeds of 25 miles per hour (40 km/h). Opened on December 23, 2010.
- Timber Twister Alpine Coaster at the Spirit Mountain in Duluth, Minnesota, which starts with a drop of 3,200 feet (980 m) reaching speeds of 26 miles per hour (42 km/h) followed by a 6-minute climb back to the top.
- Wisp Resort Mountain Coaster at the Wisp Ski Resort in McHenry, Maryland. The coaster starts with a 1,300 feet (400 m) uphill track followed by 3,500 feet (1,100 m) downhill run for a total of 4,800 feet (1,500 m) with an approximate maximum speed of 28 miles per hour (45 km/h) and 350 feet (110 m) elevation drop on the eastern side of Wisp Mountain.
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