Ever since writing a post about alpine coasters, I’d been hoping to ride one for years. These cousins of traditional roller coasters are built on mountains, often giving ski resorts a year-round attraction. With alpine coasters (also called mountain coasters) there are two main differences from the roller coasters you find in theme parks. They always have solo cars where most roller coasters connect cars into trains. And, riders can adjust their speed by using hand brakes. The Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge area is now home to four alpine coasters. So, while we were in the area for a family trip to Dollywood, I included a visit to one of these rides in our itinerary.
No Brake Nights
I chose the Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster assuming it’d be a bit tamer for my wife and 5 year old daughter. When we arrived, it was dark and we were told by the employee at the ticket counter that we couldn’t brake or slow down. Since it was dark they urged all riders to not use their brakes until we reached the end. Slowing down might cause us to get rear-ended by another rider that was moving faster than we were, but couldn’t see us with how dark the mountain was at night.
My 8 year old was still up for the challenge, but I suggested my 5 year old and wife sit this one out since I didn’t know how fast the ride was. The cars fit either 1 or 2 riders.
The Mountain Climb
After hearing instructions from the ride operator, being seated and buckling in, the ride op asked me to brake and then release my brake. I did and then we were dispatched. The long slow climb up the mountain was surreal. We were greeted by the orchestra of singing summer bugs. In certain areas it was pitch black and in no time we felt pretty far from civilization even though we were only a football field or two from a busy road connecting Gatlinburg to Pigeon Forge. The Christmas lights along certain sections of the ride looked really cool.
It’s Going Down!
Our trip down was a lot of fun. Knowing that I couldn’t brake and that I didn’t have to make any calls on when to brake, we just settled in and enjoyed the ride. The Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster starts out at a gentle pace, but really picks up speed as you move down the mountain.
The rides course is a series of slight turns and straights connecting large downward helices. The last helix or two really had some decent g-forces. Though she has about 15 coasters under her belt, I don’t think my daughter was used to riding something where the g-forces were this strong, plus she was sitting up in between my legs and couldn’t really sit back like I could. We had fun, but one ride was enough for my daughter. Even if I was alone, I would have been on the fence about a second ride.
Overall, it was a fun ride and I’m interested in re-riding it during the day in the future. The night experience was awesome, but I’m also curious how different it feels when you can see the ground and trees whizzing past you. I’m not sure how it measures up against the other alpine coasters in the area, but I’d recommend it if you’re interested in something a little more thrilling than other local attractions (outside of Dollywood of course).
When you exit there’s a sign offering a discounted re-ride. So, you might want to have some extra money handy in case you’ll want to re-ride. Inside the main building there’s some merchandise and you can buy your ride photo. Ours turned out excellent even though it was night. I still opted not to buy it.
Tip: Be Prepared to Go FAST on Night Rides
My only tip for this ride is pretty obvious. I’m not sure how the other alpine coasters in the area are run at night, but if you think that you might want to brake, do not visit Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster in the evening.
I’m looking to return to Dollywood in 2016 to ride Lightning Rod. While I’m in the area I’ll be looking to experience the other alpine coasters in the area. I’d interested to see how they compare. The other alpine coasters in East Tennessee are: The Coaster at Goats on the Roof (which Lance from ScreamScape really enjoyed), the Ski Mountain Coaster that just opened at the Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort and the Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster which is the second longest in North America at 5,400 feet in length.
What’s Your Take?
Any questions or comments about the Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster? Leave them below.