Friday, May 19, 2023

The "New Matterhorn" at Disneyland - 45th Anniversary

In September of 1977, Disneyland's then 17 year-old Matterhorn Bobsleds attraction closed down, for a major refurbishment.

I didn't know about the refurbishment at that time, but I was often writing to the Public Relations Dept. at Disneyland, and asking them about "future attractions" at the park.  One of their responses included this Walt Disney Productions Annual Report, for 1977.

Each year, these reports would include info about Disneyland's newest attractions, but they would often include information about things that were in the planning stages, or currently under construction at the park.  This report had information about the new additions to the Matterhorn, as well as info about the future "Big Thunder Railway" attraction.

Blaine Gibson is pictured below, sculpting the face of the Matterhorn's new "Abominable Snowman."

The Abominable Snowman animatronics were actually being adapted from the gorilla figures, originally featured in the park's Jungle Cruise attraction.  These were removed in 1976, when the Jungle Cruise received a major refurbishment, which included the addition of many new scenes.  Incidentally, I have seen statements in two different places on the internet, saying that these gorillas were removed in 1968, but that has to be wrong, because I definitely remember seeing them in person, in the mid-1970s.

In January of 1978, I wrote to Disneyland's Public Relations Dept., again, hoping to get some more detailed info about the park's "future attractions," including the new additions to the Matterhorn, along with a possible opening date.  I also asked specifically about "Discovery Bay," and "Circusland," which were rumored to be the next big construction projects, following the completion of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.  I received this letter, dated February 2, 1978, with a tentative date of May 27th given for the reopening of the Matterhorn.  For some reason, there was no response in regards to my asking about "Discovery Bay."

The PR department's stationary was always very nice.  The Castle and Space Mountain logos were embossed, and coated with a shiny gold foil type of material.

In late February of that year, my grandparents took my brother and me to Disneyland, for "YMCA Days."  We weren't YMCA members, but somehow we obtained an order form, and sent away for the specially-priced tickets, which had to be purchased in advance.  My grandparents had taken us to Disneyland the previous Summer, to see the brand new "Space Mountain."  But I could never really get enough of Disneyland (and my family knew that), so it was nice to be going again, just seven months later.

During this visit, construction on the Matterhorn was visible.  There was a construction wall around the loading and unloading areas, and scaffolding could be seen way up high on the mountain.  The picture below was taken from the PeopleMover, and shows the "enclosing" of the opening that used to be at the top of the lift hill, for the "Tomorrowland side" track.

This next photo was taken from the Skyway, and shows scaffolding on the Fantasyland side of the mountain.  Again, this was for the enclosing of the opening that used to be at the top of the lift hill, but for the "Fantasyland side" track.

I've circled the area with the scaffolding, since it might be a little difficult to see in the photo, above.  (The sun wasn't out for the first half of our day.)  Also note, the plain gray color of the new plaster/concrete, in the areas with the scaffolding.  White paint ("snow") had not been added yet.

Here's a photo from Gorillas Don't Blog (used here with permission....thanks, Major!), showing the same area, before it was enclosed.

By Spring, I was getting really excited about the upcoming reopening of the Matterhorn.  I was in 8th grade, and our class would be going to Disneyland in June, for our "8th grade graduation trip."  Also around this time, the Spring issues of Disney News and Vacationland magazines had a brief mention about the Matterhorn's new "chills and thrills."  This just lead to even more excitement on my part.

Meanwhile, I had made a new friend at school.  He was one grade behind me, and he happened to be just as big of a Disneyland fan as I was.  However, he had "one up on me".....his father worked for Disney.  I never did know exactly what his father's position was, but at that moment in time, he was working on the construction of Big Thunder Mountain, and he had an office in one of the trailers located on the construction site.
One day, my friend showed up at school with this "special edition" of The Disneyland Line, which was (and still is) a publication for employees.  He said that they had more than one copy of this at home, so he gave me his copy!  I was absolutely over the moon!  I have scanned the whole thing, and I am including it at the end of this post.

Okay, so receiving this eleven-page booklet filled with "behind the scenes" information, was definitely helping to satisfy my need for more info on the Matterhorn's refurbishment.  As the reopening date got closer and closer, other "signs" of the reopening started to appear...literally.   During a trip to our local Alpha Beta grocery store, I spotted this sign for Coca-Cola's "Matterhorn Sweepstakes."  This was also the first time I had seen the promotional slogan, "What's Gotten Into The Matterhorn at Disneyland?", which would be used that summer on billboards, literature, television commercials, etc.

The sweepstakes form:

First prize was a two nights stay "near" Disneyland, tickets for one day at Disneyland, a first-class Western Airlines flight to.....Portland, Oregon, a four nights stay at......the Portland Hilton, a rental car for five days in.....Portland, a one day guided tour "near or about" Hood River (yep, in Oregon), and $500 cash.  I wonder why Portland, Oregon was featured so prominently in the Grand Prize?

The price for a six pack of Coke was written on the sign with a black marker, and that 1978 price was only $1.29!  Oh, and I didn't steal the sign!  There were multiple signs out on the display in the Coke section, and I took one that didn't have anymore order forms attached, and asked a checker if I could have it.

At least one can in each six pack of Coke, had this sticker affixed to it.

Once the May 27th grand reopening date arrived, advertisements started to appear in the Los Angeles Times.

This next ad was dated May 28th, the day after the grand reopening.  If I am remembering correctly, this was the first time I had seen the use of color ink, in a newspaper advertisement.  Of course, it was used in the printing of the Sunday Comics section of the paper, but it wasn't common to see it used elsewhere in the paper.  I wonder how much extra Disney had to pay, to run this ad with the red-colored eyes?

After the official reopening, I was told by my friend's father that they were having problems with the "New Matterhorn."  I can't remember if I was ever told exactly what the problems were, but the ride did close down shortly after reopening.  This worried me, because my 8th grade graduation trip was just 13 days after that reopening date.  Would it open again in time for my trip?  The answer was no.   I posted about this disappointment back in 2011, in one of my "Vintage Disneyland Trip Reports" about that graduation trip.  I also told about how we came close, or at least we thought we were coming close, to being able to ride it on that day.  Unfortunately, it didn't happen.  For anyone who's interested, that post can be seen here:  Eighth Grade Disneyland Trip - 1978.

Here is my ticket from that day (June 9, 1978).  Notice how it has "Grad Party" on it, rather than "Grad Nite."  The 8th grade graduation trip was a daytime event, and not an all-night party like the graduating high school students attended.

I had included this photo from that day, in my older post.  This was taken in the afternoon, from the PeopleMover, and it was the first bobsled that we had seen running all day.  When we saw people riding in the vehicles, we got very excited and assumed that the Matterhorn had reopened.  Never assume!  The rest of that story is in my older post.

We also rode the Skyway that day, several times.  We were surprised on our first pass-through of the Matterhorn, because we didn't know that we would be able to see the Abominable Snowman.  I tried multiple times to get a pic of him.  In fact, over the years, I tried and tried to get a decent picture of him.  I never did.  There is also more to the story about my photographic attempts that day, in my older post.

Even though I obviously did not attend "Grad Nite" for the seniors, I later managed to get the Grad Nite flyer for that year.

I love the graphics on this flyer.  This one is dated June 14th.  I wonder if the grads attending this particular night, were able to "Experience the chilling new Matterhorn"?

As eighth grade students, we were not given one of these "We're Really Sorry" return tickets.  But they were obviously giving them out to some guests.  Maybe it was only if you went into City Hall and said, "We drove three thousand miles to get here, just to ride the New Matterhorn, and you have completely ruined our day, our week, and our month, by not having it be open for us!"  (This ticket is from the blog, "Vintage Disneyland Tickets.")

So, at some point after my "Grad" trip, the Matterhorn did reopen, even though I don't have an exact date.  And shortly after it reopened, my friend's father took us to "work" with him, and turned us loose in the park for the day.  I was kicking myself, because I did not take my camera with me on that trip.  I believe it was a short-notice kind of thing.  It was also my first time going with this friend, to his father's "place of work".....Disneyland!  I did not realize until we were there, that we would be driving onto the property through the back gate, passing by random ride vehicles just lying around on the ground, and getting to walk around behind the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad construction site.  Fortunately, I was asked to do this again, and that time I did take my camera, and A LOT of film.  I will post those pictures, including the ones taken backstage, in a future post.  But for now, I will include just the ones which relate to the still fairly new "New Matterhorn." 

First though, we have the Summer 1978 Entertainment Guide (July 30th - August 5th) from that visit.  I made sure that I got one from a ticket booth inside the park, since we did not enter through the Main Gate that day.

And, the free guide for the Summer of '78:

Among the new additions to the Matterhorn, were two castings of the Abominable Snowman's "footprint."  These both had (and still have, today) a date of May 27, 1978, engraved on their plaques.  Again, this had been the official grand opening date for the "New Matterhorn."  The plaque on this one states that it was a footprint found on the "north slope" of the Matterhorn.

This second footprint used to be located on the northern edge of the former Alpine Gardens (Pixie Hollow, today).  The plaque on this one states that the footprint was found on the "south slope" of the Matterhorn.

At some point, this casting was moved just across the walkway, and placed behind the tall fencing that goes around the Matterhorn.  The photo below, is from 2011.

Here's a closer look (from the blog, "Vintage Disneyland Tickets"):

During the many Disneyland visits of my youth....and maybe even a little beyond that, I attempted to capture things on film, which were either very difficult to photograph, or not intended to be photographed.  Just go along with me on this.....either that, or else LOOK AWAY as you scroll quickly past the photos.  I was going to include this photo in  my "What Is It & Where Is It?" post from last year, but I thought that it might be too obvious.

Over the years, I made several attempts to capture the newly added "ice crystals."  Notice how there is no fog present in this scene.....more on that, later.

Another change in 1978, was the replacement of the original vehicles from 1959, with newly designed "tandem" bobsleds.

Here's a better view from 2011, shortly before the 1978 bobsleds were permanently retired.

Of course, we always had to ride the Skyway, to get a glimpse of the Abominable Snowman.......

......and try to get a decent photo of him!  Well, at least this one turned out a little better than my previous attempt, but not by much.

Out we go, through the other side of the Matterhorn, on our way to Tomorrowland....

So after finally getting to ride the "New Matterhorn," I was surprised not to see any "fog" in the attraction.  All of the advance descriptions of the ride had mentioned "fog."  The commercial on television showed fog.  Where was the fog?  I ended up visiting the park a couple more times over the next 12 months, and still no fog.  I decided to write a letter to Disneyland's Public Relations Dept., and ask them, "Hey, what gives?!?!"  My letter ended up being forwarded to WED Enterprises in Glendale, California.

This was their response, dated June 15, 1979.  Apparently, the fog effect hadn't been working right.  Or maybe it didn't look right. Or something.  I guess I could have asked my friend to ask his father, but I don't know if he would have known the answer.

This was the "souvenir booklet" that was mentioned in the letter.  And yes, I did "enjoy" it very much.....thank you, Mr. Fitzgerald!

I don't remember when they finally added fog back to the Matterhorn, but here are a couple photos that I took at a much later date (1995), showing some of the fog effects.

Sometimes the fog was not as "thick" as it was at other times.

It doesn't look like there was any fog, in this pic from 2005.  And now that I think of it, I can't remember if the current version of the attraction has the fog effect or not.  Does anyone know?

Here are a few souvenirs from that time period, which included updated images of the Matterhorn.

This updated postcard featured the new bobsleds.

That postcard "replaced" this older one:

There was also a new set of Pana-Vue slides, featuring updated views of the Matterhorn.  Someone must have taken this photo of "Harold," through cheesecloth.  Either that, or they smeared Vaseline on the lens!

I have always loved aerial photos of Disneyland, taken from the vantage point of the park's mountain climbers.  The new footprint casting from the "north slope" can also be seen here, in the planter out in front of the "Swiss Chalet."

Here's the older Pana-Vue slide, showing the same view:

I purchased this "Super 8" film of the attraction, at a time when Disney was marking down and clearing out all of their souvenir films.  I saw the older style bobsled in the photo, and was hoping that the film would be all "vintage" footage of the ride.  I was a little disappointed (at the time) that the footage had been updated to the new version of the ride.  But now it's pretty cool, because it does include footage of things that were removed in the Matterhorn's 2012 and 2015 refurbishments.  I will try to get the film digitally converted at some point, and share it.

I have to say that back in the day, there weren't too many photos released of the Abominable Snowman.  There was that one Pana-Vue Slide, but you had to have a slide projector to get a really good look at it (no digital scanners back then).  And there was this teeny tiny photo, which was included in the updated version of Disneyland's "Pictorial Souvenir" books.

"Harold" (I wonder who first gave him that name?) also appeared on the Fall/Winter 1978-79 Disneyland Guide.

During the Matterhorn's 2015 refurbishment, "Harold" and his two identical cousins were removed from the attraction, and replaced with updated animatronics.

Also at this time, the "ice crystals" scene was removed, and replaced with.......junk.  The trashed items include; partial Skyway buckets (1956 & 1965 versions), bobsled vehicles (painted to look like 1959 versions), a crate marked "Wells Expedition" (which is a tribute to former Walt Disney Co. president, Frank Wells), pieces of old Skyway cable, an alpenhorn, lanterns, skis, and other miscellaneous debris.  I think this was kind of a neat idea in theory, but you ride past it all too quickly to really be able to make out what it is.

When the "Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission:  Breakout!" opened in Disney's second park in Anaheim, one of the original Abominable Snowman figures was placed inside the attraction's queue, as part of the "Collector's" personal collection of artifacts and creatures.  Coincidentally, this attraction opened on May 27, 2017, exactly 39 years to the day, of the New Matterhorn's debut.

I hope everyone enjoyed this vintage trip down the icy slopes of the Matterhron!

****Bonus****  Here is that special edition of The Disneyland Line, in it's entirety: