Friday, January 27, 2012

Alpine Sleighs Yeti

One of the most beloved original rides at Houston, TX's Astroworld in 1968 was the Alpine Sleighs.

Among many exciting features, it had state-of-the-art special effects (like a yodel tunnel where you shouted something at the entrance and it was secretly recorded and played back to you as you exited as if it was an echo) , COLD air conditioning (a not so common a thing in 1960's Houston), funny cave-men gnomes, and an ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN!

It was a very interactive Abominable Snowman. Maybe too interactive? Let's just say people don't like an overly interactive Abominable Snowman. In this terrific article by the DAFE (Darkride and Funhouse Enthusiasts), original ride operator Tom Shelton explains:
"Each of the ride operators took turns playing the snowman... [My crew member Bill] was playing the snowman for the first time... I noticed that he was getting too close to the people in the sleighs. Bill was trying to scare every person that came through the Cold Room. He became very aggressive with his acting. He would jump on the sleigh as it passed by while screaming loudly. One of the young passengers was frightened so badly that he grabbed the front of the head piece of the snowman suit as Bill jumped down from the sleigh. This resulted in Bill being dragged down the track while the young passenger firmly held his grip. I managed to pull Bill from the track just as the next sleigh was passing. It is amazing how fear affects different people. We were scared to death. However, we sat there and died laughing about the incident for the next five minutes.

The snowman had one advantage. The riders could not see very well when the sleigh came up out of the strobe tunnel. The snowman could not be spotted easily at first. We started hiding and then running and jumping on the sleigh, scaring many people. In many cases, all they could see was some big hairy thing jumping on the sleigh and hovering over them. You could hear the people laughing and shouting about the experience all the way down the track. The snowman suit had big hairy gloves. We would hide just out of view of the people. As the sleigh came by, we would stick the hairy glove just far enough out to touch a person's neck. This really produced some great stories. As one sleigh went by, a lady stated Oh, something touched my neck.' She brought her shoulder up and flinched. This pulled the hairy glove off of my hand. The lady screamed horribly as the sleigh went down the track with the hairy hand lodged between her shoulders and face. This was a classic!

"We were instructed to be 'friendly abominable snowmen'. That lasted about a week. You could usually scare most people one time. After that, the younger passengers wanted a piece of the snowman. You name it, they threw it at the snowman. They would tear off pine tree limbs to attack the snowman. Every type of food product would end up on the snowman suit. We confiscated syringes filled with vodka to stick' the snowman. The suit had to be dry-cleaned every night. This cost was $700 per day. We started equating playing the abominable snowman' to a tour of duty on the Russian front."

Love it.

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