By Harley Nefe
High Country visitors and residents have another way to experience the Blue Ridge Mountains with the Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster.
Located at 3265 Tynecastle Highway near the Sugar Mountain Resort in Banner Elk, the coaster opened May 9 under Gov. Roy Cooper’s phase one reopening.
When the second phase order was issued, the attraction opened to the general public.
The anticipated opening of the Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster was originally scheduled for early January, but was pushed back.
The attraction is open year round.
“Right now with all the trees blossoming, it’s just beautiful, and of course in the fall and in the winter,” said Eric Bechard, who is the co-owner of the Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster. “People come here, and they know it’s in the mountains. They know that we are kind of in a temperate rain forest. So, when people come here, they are already prepared for the mountain weather.”
The Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster will also offer scenic views of the neighboring Sugar Mountain Ski Resort.
With the assistance of a German design company called Wiegand, the coaster is the work of Eric and Tara Bechard, who hail from a retired military family who acquired the 5.83 acres of land where the attraction is located.
“We’re a hands-on family. I was here with the construction crew and the engineers building it. Tara was doing stuff in the background getting things ready for retail space,” Bechard said. “We make a really good team. I much rather be out here doing hands-on stuff, and she likes being in there doing all that, and it works out really well.”
This alpine coaster is the first in the state of North Carolina.
Guests get set up in a cart, speed down a long track of loops and turns and can use a brake to determine how fast to go.
Riders control the speed of the ride through a brake system, but can reach speeds up to 27 mph.
“It feels like you’re going a lot faster with all the twists and turns,” Bechard said.
The coaster has carts that are designed to traverse the 3,160-foot track, including 2,390 feet of down track. The track includes full left and right looping turns, a U-turn and a three-quarter turn. The ride starts and stops in the same spot. It begins 770 feet up the mountain and is powered by gravity.
Ashley Brown, the Bechards’ daughter and the marketing and online customer service director for the Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster, said there are three near-360 degree turns, but no significant drops.
“You can go slow and take it all in or you can go fast for a real fast thrill, “ Brown said.
The entire ride up and back down is completed in about seven minutes, and guests can ride multiple times.
One ride is $16 for an adult (13 years and up), $13 for a youth (7-12 years old) and $5 for children (3-6 years old). Three rides are $35 for an adult, $29 for youth, and $12 for children.
“We really want to make it affordable for everybody and fun for everybody,” Bechard said.
The Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster attraction will honor tickets, which have a time stamp on them, for two weeks. Therefore, not all the rides purchased need to be completed on the same day.
The hours of the attraction are 10 a.m. until dusk every day.
The attraction is run by appointment on Friday, Saturday and Sundays through mid July to better handle waiting times and crowd control. Guests can go online to the Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster’s website and sign up for a time slot to come in. During the weekdays, walk-ins are welcomed.
Visitors can ride solo in the carts as long as they are at least 54 inches tall. Riders who are at least three years old and at least 38 inches tall can ride while sitting in front of a rider who is 16 years old or older.
The maximum weight is 375 pounds per cart.
There are about 30 alpine coasters across the U.S., with many more in Europe, Bechard said.
Brown said her family enjoyed riding alpine coasters when they were stationed in Germany and now that her parents are retired, they wanted to bring an attraction to the area that families could do in their down time when visiting the mountains.
“Tara and I put our life savings and our hearts and souls into this whole thing,” Bechard said.
Bechard also said they are looking to hire as many as 21 people.
For further information about the Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster, visit its Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/wildernessrunalpinecoaster/ or the website at www.wildernessrunalpinecoaster.com.