There’s a new way to speed down the mountain at Idaho's Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area — and you don’t need a lesson, gear or athleticism.
The Glade Runner mountain coaster opened recently. Its 4,330-foot track will pull you 800 vertical feet up the mountain from Simplot Lodge toward Pioneer Lodge, then send you on a joyride of twists, turns, dips and 360s on more than a half-mile of track.
The gravity-fed descent, with rider-controlled speed that tops out at 25 mph, might tug on your tummy in the first spiral and it definitely will leave you wanting to ride again.
“It’s a thrill ride — high thrill and low skill,” said Nate Shake, director of mountain operations. “... It’s nice and twisty and exciting along the way.”
The custom coaster cost about $3 million and took more than six months to build. It’s the centerpiece of the ski area’s quest to become an income-producing summer recreation area to help offset the financial struggles caused by lean snow years.
But a crew will shovel and sweep the coaster tracks all winter, too, so it becomes a two-season attraction. The coaster will be open daily during the holiday school break then Friday-Sunday the rest of the ski season. The hope is that the same guests who come to Bogus Basin for tubing will want to ride the coaster, supplementing the interested skiers and boarders.
“It was real fun,” said Scott Probert of Boise, who was able to do some test rides. “It’s a nice addition to Bogus Basin. ... I liked the sections where you almost do a full circle.”
The coaster was manufactured by Wiegand, the No. 1 producer of mountain coasters worldwide. Coasters are becoming popular at Western ski resorts, and Bogus Basin general manager Brad Wilson has tried four others. He likes this one best — and not just because he has to.
“It’s not the longest of that group but it is by far the most exciting of the group,” he said. “As soon as you get over the top, there’s pretty much no let-up. It’s pretty full-on fun and turns and twists and spirals. The other ones that I’ve ridden have more straight area, more coasting.”
The coaster begins and ends at a new building adjacent to Simplot Lodge that features a deck for loading and unloading and a storage room for the carts. Each cart can hold two passengers, with children 15 and younger required to ride with someone who is 16 or older. Both positions have seat belts that lock when you leave the station and unlock when you return. The cart is latched onto the steel rails.
A cable pulls the cart and rider to the top of the track, a relaxing journey that takes about 3 minutes, 15 seconds and includes views of Shafer Butte. Then the cart is set free for the winding trip to the bottom — and the rider controls the speed. A pair of handles, one on each side of the cart, must be pushed fully forward to go full speed. The rider pulls back to slow down. A governor built into the cart won’t let you exceed 25 mph.
“You can push it all the way down and ride it wide open, which is what we recommend,” Shake said.
For some, that’ll be easy.
For others, sliding down an unfamiliar track at top speed through the trees and sometimes 40 feet off the ground will be unsettling enough to pull those handles at least a bit. That’s one feature that will make you want to return. If you slow down the first time, you’ll want to go faster the next time.
“The beauty is it is designed to be able to go full throttle 100 percent of the way, but it’s common sense to slow down,” Wilson said. “You come into a turn that’s more than 360 degrees at 25 miles an hour, your brain is telling you to slow down.”
The descent includes more than 10 sizable turns, several left-right-left jogs and two giant circular turns — one about 450 degrees, the other about 340. You’ll dip through the trees and have a particularly nice view of Deer Point and perhaps the city in the distance right before that first spiral turn. Of course, you’ll only know that if you’re recording a video to watch later. Your eyes will be squarely on that gnarly turn in front of you.
“The top 360 is really exciting,” said Shake, who joked that the staff had the difficult job of testing all the carts. “... It was thrilling. A little nervous at first. The anticipation builds as you ride up.”
My ride took just less than 5 minutes total. The descent, from the crest just short of the upper station, to the slow sign at the bottom took 1 minute, 40 seconds (with some braking).
It’s recommended that you wear similar clothes to skiing, depending on the conditions. On a 30-degree, dry day, you can probably get by with a coat, stocking cap and sunglasses. On a cold day — or one with snow falling — goggles and snow pants would be good choices.
Young children should enjoy it, although they might not want to go full speed.
“It’s definitely not a scary ride,” Shake said.