BANNER ELK — The feel of the wind hitting your face as you plunge along a mountainside at up to 27 miles per hour will be a fun outdoor reality with the anticipated opening of the first alpine coaster in North Carolina.
The Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster, located near Sugar Mountain, is a veteran-owned and operated venture of Army veteran Eric Bechard, his wife Tara and their daughter, Ashley Brown.
“We are a multi-generation military family,” said Brown whose husband is currently serving in the Army.
Riders will be pulled up 770 feet to the top of the track in a manner much like a ski-lift. Gravity will take over at the top, sending riders speeding down the 2,100-foot track back to the starting point through a series of straightaways, turns and loops.
The coasters have the latest safety features and riders can control their descent rate using a brake built into the coaster cars.
The ride is built for two people but can be ridden solo so long as the rider is at least 56 inches tall. When riding together, the driver of coaster’s sled must be 56 inches tall and is 16 years or older while the passenger needs to be 38 inches in height.
Brown said that the project has been “in the works for years,” and that the inspiration came while living abroad.
“While serving overseas we as a family were introduced to the alpine coasters,” Brown said. “We absolutely loved them and made some great family memories on them.”
Similar mountain or alpine coasters are found across Europe and there are around 20 in 17 states in the United States. The rides are usually located adjacent to ski resorts or directly on ski resort properties during the off-season. Some use a monorail-style track while others use multiple tubular-shaped rails.
As of 2018, the longest such alpine coast ride is the Outlaw Mountain Coaster in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, spanning 6,280 linear feet long and descending 400 vertical feet.
Prior to the Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster, North Carolinians had to travel to the smoky mountains area of Tennessee, where there are several similar alpine rides located in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.
Brown said the coaster brings together the idea of family fun and her mother’s passion for the general area after she spent a few years at Appalachian State University.
“About 6 years ago, my parents decided to retire up in the area,” said Brown. “They wanted to bring a family attraction that embody what we as a family love about the high country.”
Brown said her family wanted to create an attraction that “kept nature intact” and which provided family-friendly fun year-round.
The coaster does not have an opening date yet but Brown says that it will be sometime in the late fall. Once open, the attraction will be open year-round and ticket prices for adults will be $15.00. A future gift shop and restaurant are also being planned.
The Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster will be located near Sugar Mountain at 3229 Tynecastle Highway in Banner Elk. Updates on the coaster can be found by checking out their Facebook page and people can sign up for email updates at WildernessRunAlpineCoaster.com.