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The latest tourist attraction in the US state of Florida is a snow-capped, 60-metre hill at Disney World in Orlando.
It is made from 25,000 steel components and is designed to resemble Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain.
It cost more than $100 million, and according to Disney, is the most expensive roller coaster ever constructed.
Disney has christened the ride “Expedition Everest”.
However, the roller-coaster is not just the latest addition to Disney’s arsenal of amusements.
The company intends to use Expedition Everest to raise its profile as a nature conservationist. A copy of an entire Tibetan village has been constructed at the bottom of the mountain.
It is “astoundingly authentic”, says Bob Iger, chief executive of the Walt Disney Company.
The roller-coaster’s designers spent a long time travelling through the Himalayas and collected more than 2,000 items of furniture and decorations during their trip.
The chief designer was Joe Rohde, an adventurous looking man with a large beard and earlobes that reach down to his jaw and from which hang an extensive collection of Far Eastern jewellery.
“Of course the real Himalayas are incomparably more beautiful, larger and more diverse,” he says, “But if you want to get an impression of the Tibetan mountains without going there, you have to come here. We resemble the original very closely.”
Expedition Everest certainly does set new standards.
When it reaches the peak, the roller-coaster does not plunge down the other side as other rides do, but comes to a sudden halt in front of tracks that appear to have been ripped apart by an immensely strong force.
The coaster then reverses backwards at high speed before it once again comes to a quick halt.
As the passengers wait and stare at the side of the mountain where the shadow of a Yeti can be made out, the tracks turn around enabling the ride to race onwards inside Everest.
The biggest surprise comes deep within the mountain where the Yeti makes a sudden appearance.
The Yeti, the largest and technically most complicated figure Disney has ever built, then tries to grab the intruders from above their heads.
“The aim was to tell a story in which each one of our guests plays a role,” explains Rohde.
“During my expedition to the Himalayas, I was surprised to hear the Yeti is looked upon as a creature that guards the mountain’s pristine environment,” says Rohde.
“It watches over nature and makes sure the mountain’s solitude is not disturbed. Our job was to recreate this myth and the ideal of nature protection that it represents,” he says.
Disney has been praised by animal rights activists such as Jane Goodall for its efforts at housing elephants, giraffes, lions, hippopotamuses, rhinos and other animals in their huge outdoor enclosures.
· Christoph Driessen