By TMoM Team Member Laura Simon
** Update as of 8/22/20 from their website: We are closed until further notice due to the State of North Carolina shutting us down. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you as we have taken all precautions asked and had hoped we could stay operational. Please follow our Facebook page for all updates.
In case you haven’t heard, there’s a brand new alpine coaster in Banner Elk. What’s an alpine coaster? Well, it’s a little like a roller coaster, built into the side of a mountain, with individual cars that slide around bends and curves, over boulders and ferns and under trees, all the way down to the bottom.
If you – like my children – are at all inclined toward Star Wars, it feels a lot like that scene in Return of the Jedi where they fly their speedsters through the trees toward Ewok village, except that there aren’t any storm troopers shooting at you. And there aren’t any Ewoks. If that’s disappointing, you can always imagine the storm troopers and make the pinging sounds of a blaster yourself. At least, that’s what one of my kids did.
In all seriousness, the Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster is a whole heap of fun. My kids loved it, our friends loved it, and I loved it, which is saying something because I don’t like roller coasters. It isn’t as scary as a big coaster, so manage your expectations there. It also gives you a measure of control, which is apparently very important to me. At the top of the slide, you physically release the brake that enables you to start sliding. If you’re scared, you can release it slowly, and if, at any point, you feel a little out-of-control, you can ease up and apply a little more brake.
Honestly, if regular roller coasters provided a brake instead of making me attempt to stop the train by pressing my head back against the seat, I’d probably go to Carowinds tomorrow. It’s a great concept. And honestly, I used the brake very little. I just need to know that it’s there.
There are some important things to consider when you take your family to the Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster.
First, the average ride is several minutes long. It’s worth it, but you’ll probably want to tie the coaster into some other adventures in the area. Linville Falls and Grandfather Mountain are right up the road, as is Boone and App State. You won’t have a problem filling a whole day with other regional activities. You could even bribe your kids to finish a hike with the promise of the alpine coaster. If it works and they stop whining about their tired feet, please comment and let me know.
Also, kids need to be 54 inches to ride in their own car. You can put two people in a car, but one of them has to be at least sixteen. This is important because you need a backup plan in case someone is too scared to ride alone. In my case, my daredevil eight-year-old completely freaked out and almost refused to ride at all. He was willing to ride with his ten-year-old brother, but that wasn’t permitted.
I will tell you that the folks who worked there were more than accommodating of our situation and made sure that both kids who needed to ride with me were able to get their rides in. But save yourself that stress and make sure you have a big person for every little, just in case someone goes to complete pieces in the line.
Weight is a factor as well, for the simple reason that the driver of the car has to be strong enough to push down on the levers and release the brake. My 10-year-old, who tips the scales around 57 pounds, had a hard time pushing the levers down all the way. He still had an epic time and he wanted to be in a car by himself, but do consider that when you plan.
You can purchase a single ride or a 3-ride bundle. Buy the bundle. You’ll want to go all three times. Currently, because of Covid, you’ll ride three times in a row and never get off the car.
Also, because of Covid, the owners have set up a reservation system for Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Plan to sign up for a slot several days (or more) in advance. You’ll still spend some time waiting in line. I think we waited about forty minutes after our check-in time at noon. It wasn’t bad at all. The line is outdoors, mostly in the shade, and there’s a pretty view. We had packed supplies to entertain the kids while we were waiting, and no one used any of those supplies. I personally spent a lot of time watching the folks finishing the ride, trying to figure out just how scared I needed to be. But that’s just me.
Be sure to secure everything that isn’t attached. While he created a safe place for my daughter’s stuffed kitty to wait, the attendant told me people have lost hats, masks, sunglasses – and one unfortunate man lost the key to his day-old SUV and had to have it towed. In this respect, the Alpine coaster is just like a roller coaster, and if you lose something as you round the bend, it’s probably gone for good. Those ferns are thick.
It was hot and sunny when we visited, but they do operate in the rain. The cars have rain shields, and frankly, I think it would be pretty fun. I’d also love to try it in rain or snow.
The lodge is pretty and new, with clean bathrooms on two different levels. There’s a gift shop, an elevator, and an observation deck. The staff was incredibly friendly and helpful, and I truly can’t say enough about how gracious they were when my kiddo freaked out. It was obvious that they enjoyed watching the kids have fun, and I appreciate that.
Everyone on staff wore masks. The attendants who help you with your seatbelts, instruct you, in using the cars, and get you started will have to get somewhat close, but it’s outdoors and with the masks it felt very safe.
The drive from most parts of Winston is going to a little under two hours, hence my recommendation to add some other local activities. Banner Elk is a lovely town with some excellent restaurant options. The hiking options are wonderful as well. Linville
Falls is free and offers a variety of trails. Grandfather Mountain features both a free state park and a paid experience. If you’re planning to do the suspension bridge, choose the paid version.
If you want to take a short drive into Boone, check out this TMoM daytrip blog for ideas. We wound up stopping at a roadside go-cart track in Boone, which was a hit with all our people.
Whatever you decide to add to your adventure, the Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster is an absolute blast.
*Please take CDC recommendations and any additional safety precautions when venturing out on this excursion. TMoM is not liable for any accidents or harm.
*Credit: Some photos above used with permission from Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster’s Facebook page.