BANNER ELK, N.C. -- The Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster is the first of its kind in the state. Co-owner Eric Bechard says that the coaster is an added attraction to the town, which is a ski resort during the winter and a hiking destination in the summer.
The coaster is gravity-operated and individually operated, meaning that riders control their own speed as they travel down the track. It works on the principles of gravity, requiring a hill to be built on. At Wilderness Run, the coaster track spans a 220-foot elevation difference, making for a thrilling ride.
The coaster is set at a speed of about 10.4 meters per second, or roughly 26-27 mph. Bechard emphasizes the importance of math and geometry in designing the coaster, with angles and elevation calculations needing to be factored in to create a safe and exciting ride.
The logistics of running the coaster are also carefully managed, with parking, queue lines, and retail space organized to provide a professional and efficient experience for visitors. Once riders have their tickets, the queue line moves quickly, and attendants ensure that riders are safely belted into their seats and know how to operate the sled.
The coaster begins with a steep 45-degree lift that pulls riders to the top of the track, where they can see the beautiful North Carolina highlands. From there, riders experience a 540-degree turn, seven sharp turns, three wave dips, and two additional 360-degree turns. Bechard says that riders of all ages can enjoy the coaster, with children as young as 3 years old allowed to ride with an adult and even a 100-year-old World War II bomber pilot enjoying the experience.
Visitors to Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster often comment on the beauty of the scenery, even in the winter when there are no leaves on the trees. Riders can see down through the valley as they zoom down the track, and many say that the experience was faster and longer than they expected.
The coaster has become a popular destination for tourists and locals, with Bechard and his family building a community around the attraction. His stepdaughters and son work for the business and all of their workers are described as amazing. For visitors to Banner Elk, the Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster provides an exciting and memorable experience.