If you’ve driven along Tynecastle Highway through Sugar Mountain recently, you might have noticed activity going on in the 3300 block near Alpine Ski Center and Souvenir Shirts.
That activity will soon become Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster, a two-person ride in which carts are pulled to the top of the mountain, then glide down through banked turns and declines, with the rider controlling the speed through a brake system.
A mountain coaster, otherwise known as an alpine coaster, is different than a roller coaster at an amusement park.
“We’ll be the first one in North Carolina,” said Eric Bechard of Banner Elk, owner of Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster. “There are about 20 of them in the U.S. Worldwide, there are about 250 of them.”
Eric and his wife Tara, a retired military family, said they fell in love with the area and thought a mountain coaster would be ideal to have as a family business.
“Most mountain coasters are built around ski resorts,” Bechard said. “It compliments the ski resort. We can run it all year round, you can run it in the snow, you can run it in the rain.”
The tract of land in the Sugar Mountain area was chosen due to its high traffic volume and natural incline.
“There’s plenty enough people here and who come through here to enjoy it,” Berchard added.
Now three years into the planning and implementation, progress is becoming visible. Currently, certain parts of the land are being cleared out, but many of the trees will remain, Bechard said, to keep a wilderness feel to the ride. The visuals of the ride will also include boulders.
“You only need a 20-foot path (for the ride),” Bechard said. “We tried to keep as much wilderness as possible. We’re Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster, it wouldn’t be much of a wilderness run without the wilderness.”
The plans are for the carts to be pulled up 770 feet to the top, then go down a 2,160-foot downtrack, which will start out with a full left-turning loop. Along with a U-turn, the ride has another three-quarter turn and another full right-turn loop, ending where you started.
“You get pulled up, much like you would on a ski lift, then gravity allows you to get up to a top speed of 27 mph,” Bechard said. “From when you get in the car and start moving going up to when you finish the ride, in the same spot, it’s about a seven-minute ride,”
Along with the ride, Wilderness Run will have a three-story alpine center with parking, but Bechard said the center likely won’t be open when the mountain coaster itself opens.
Currently, the plan is to open in July or August, Bechard said. The actual pieces to the ride are travelling from Austria on containers, where they were constructed. Bechard hoped they would arrive by the end of March, but were still waiting as of early April.
“If it doesn’t happen (in July or August), it’ll happen shortly after,” Bechard said. “This is the building season for this area.”