The Abominable Snowman Debuts at Disneyland, 1978

Exhibit / August 2, 2017

Back cover of the Disneyland Grad Nite ’78 Souvenir Program

Object Name: Matterhorn Bobsleds attraction
Maker and Year: The Walt Disney Company, 1978
Object Type: Theme park attraction
Image Source: Tom Simpson/Flickr, Vintage Disneyland Tickets,
Description: (K.E. Roberts)

Walt Disney got the idea for the Matterhorn Bobsleds attraction while on location in the Alps during the filming of Third Man on the Mountain (1959). He bought a postcard featuring the Matterhorn, one of the three highest north faces of the alps, and wrote a one line message to Disneyland engineer and art director Vic Greene: “Vic, build this! Walt.” The 147-foot-high replica, which featured the first steel track roller coaster in the world, opened the following summer, on June 14, 1959.

By 1978, times had changed. To a young generation raised on The Exorcist, Jaws, and countless other occult and cryptid terrors, racing through Alpine passes and ice caverns didn’t offer much of a thrill. The mountain needed a malevolent demon, and it got one in the form of the Abominable Snowman. The Matterhorn was refurbished beginning in September 1977, and the updated attraction premiered in June of 1978. A crystal cavern and “blue ice” were added, the bobsleds were redesigned and expanded from one to two interlinked cars, and the “legendary creature” took up residence—three of them, actually, placed in strategic locations throughout the ride (two of them were repurposed audio-animatronic gorillas from the Jungle Cruise attraction).

Speculation about Bigfoot and the Abominable Snowman (or Yeti) peaked in the late ’70s, thanks to ratings blockbusters like the Rod Serling-narrated Monsters! Mysteries or Myths? (1974), the two-part Six Million Dollar Man episode “The Secret of Bigfoot” (1976), and the Leonard Nimoy-narrated In Search of… (the Bigfoot episode aired in 1977), as well as the 1972 cult film The Legend of Boggy Creek. Years earlier, when climbing Mount Everest in 1953, mountaineers Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay discovered large footprints that could not be identified, leading to Ivan T. Sanderson‘s articles in Truth magazine about both the Abominable Snowman (1959) and Bigfoot (1960). The Mort Kunstler illustration for the latter article looks strikingly similar to the creature caught in the infamous Patterson-Gimlin film of 1967.

The advertising campaign for the “chilling new Matterhorn” was extensive, and included detailed descriptions of the creature’s giant footprints and “thunderous” roar, presented much like the dramatized, purportedly real-life encounters in the programming mentioned above. The glaring red eyes of the “What’s Gotten into the Matterhorn?” ad shone through the darkness at the beginning of the attraction. At the time, the pulley-operated Skyway traveled through the mountain, and passengers could see and hear the beast—its roar echoing throughout newly insulated ice-walls—without having to brave the roller coaster itself.

5 thoughts on “The Abominable Snowman Debuts at Disneyland, 1978

  1. I totally remember when the Abominable Snowman got added to the Matterhorn. It was kind of a funny gimmick though, because the bobsleds never really slowed down enough for us really get “scared” by this snow beast. But what did we expect, right? It was a rollercoaster.

    I also remember riding the Skyway through the Matterhorn and hearing both the screams of the bobsled riders and the monster below. Weren’t the Skyway cars fitted with speakers to allow narration? I could’ve sworn there was some kind of lead-up to the exciting trip through the Matterhorn.

  2. If you looked at the right angle from the skyway, heading from Tomorrowland to Fantasyland, you could see one of the snowmen. One of my proudest moments as a q2-year old was lining up the shot with my Kodak Disc camera to get a picture of it on my family’s 1987 summer vacation.

  3. Pingback: Disneyland Through the Decades – 1970s – A Castle and a Wish

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