The 626

About the Column

For years, Jeff Heimbuch has been writing about Disney. Many of his articles have appeared in Celebrations Magazine. But Jeff has always had a little '626' inside him anxious to come out. Unlike his column's namesake, Stitch, he might not paint the Castle blue, but he will paint the park red with entertaining stories, fascinating insights, and daring ... experiments.

Learn about the author, too!

Disney Swag: The T-Shirt

Get yours now!

Subscribe to Disney Dispatch Digest

And receive a daily email summary of new stuff on the site.

One Man's Yearning for a Yeti

Jeff Heimbuch tells the legend of the Yeti that used to work

In just under a month, Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom will celebrate the 5th anniversary of their big E-ticket attraction, Expedition Everest. Disney will mark the occasion with special events.

One such special event, scheduled for Saturday, March 5, is for Disney Annual Passholders. If you're a Passholder, you can stay in the Animal Kingdom for three hours after it closes at 6:00 PM and ride Expedition Everest as much as you want.

Treats like this are rarely offered at the Animal Kingdom, so if you're a Passholder, it's definitely worth the free cost of admission.

While we're on the topic of Expedition Everest, let's talk about something that has been a huge point of contention for 4 years, 7 months, 3 days, and 13 hours (and counting).

The Yeti

I know, the Yeti has been debated, complained about, and kvetched about for as long as the ride has been in its current state (in other words, for most of its life). But with the ride's anniversary just ahead, I think it's worth a revisit.

For those of you who have been living in the Himalayans for the past 5 years, the Yeti has not worked correctly for a long, long time. In its original, vastly superior form, the Yeti would lunge toward the cars of the passenger train, reaching out to grab any unsuspecting passenger as the trains sped past. It was truly a thrill, and one I remember fondly from the only time I rode Everest when the Yeti actually worked.

Nowadays, the Yeti is immobile. A seizure-inducing strobe light brightens the cavern to feign the Yeti in motion. Hence, the ever-so-loving name by which we've come to know him over the years: Disco Yeti.

While about 97% of guests never notice the difference, we Disney-philes have been up in arms over it forever. So just what seems to be the problem here?

The Yeti's History

To answer that question, we have to return to when the ride was being developed.

Animal Kingdom opened in April 1998 with few 'major' rides. Sure, I enjoy Kilimanjaro Safari and Dinosaur (or Countdown to Extinction, whatever you prefer) as much as the next guy, but many people viewed Animal Kingdom (and still do) as a half-day park due to its lack of attractions.

This was especially true because some of the REALLY good rides were canned when Disney decided not to finish the Beastly Kingdom section of the park. Lack of attendance just wouldn't do in the eyes of the company, so Disney set out to build a major E-ticket attraction to lure more people into Animal Kingdom.

Enter Expedition Everest.

It was the thrill ride that Animal Kingdom severely lacked. Imagineers pulled out all the stops on this one. They thoroughly researched Asian culture and architecture to make the ride and its surrounding town of Serka Zong as authentic as possible. In fact, a Discovery Channel special called 'Everest: Journey To Sacred Lands' was made about the Imagineers' trip to the Himalayas where they did painstaking research in order to get everything right.

The decision to include the Yeti in the ride was a very valid one. Attendance at Disneyland's Matterhorn had spiked since the installation of the Abominable Snowman, so adding a Yeti to Expedition Everest was a no-brainer. Aside from that, the legend of the Yeti is very closely intertwined with the culture. It made perfect sense - from every perspective - to include the mythical beast.

So, the Imagineers set out to make their most ambitious Audio Animatronic, ever. And ambitious, it was - so big and dynamic that it couldn't be built as the Imagineers had built other Animatronics, using legs to support movement. Not this monstrosity.

The Yeti was nearly 25 feet tall and designed with horizontal and vertical slides as well as a long boom that went into its back. When suspended from this boom, the Yeti could move 5 feet in and out, and about 18 inches up and down.

The Yeti's fur was made of about 6,000 pounds of different furs woven together into a gigantic coat. Overall, the coat was about 1,000 square feet and held in place by over 1,000 snaps and 250 zippers. A layer of spandex under the fur protected it from the beast's inner workings.

For power, the Imagineers installed a 3,000 psi hydraulic thruster which could recharge itself every 20 seconds in readiness for the constant stream of passenger trains. The thrust behind the cylinders was MORE than that of a 747 jet engine. It was definitely one powerful ape.

And that's where its problems began.

The Yeti's Problem

You see, the YETI was SO powerful that it couldn't be attached to the structure of the building itself; it had to be its own separate entity. If attached, it literally would have pulled the 'mountain' apart, which was NOT something Disney had envisioned.

So, instead, they made the Yeti its own separate structure inside the mountain. But because it was so large and sophisticated, the Imagineers had to build the mountain around the monster.

That's right, folks: the Yeti is quite literally trapped inside its own mountain!

After running the Yeti in its normal mode for awhile, the Imagineers began to notice a bit of strain on its structural support. "Pish posh," they thought: "Merely growing pains and settling in! It'll work out."

Obviously, they were wrong.

This mechanical Yeti was almost as powerful as its rumored living relative; it was tearing itself out of its structure. Which, when you think of it, is quite frightening. No real reason has ever been given for this major design flaw. Maybe the Yeti was upset by its imprisonment and wished to escape.

The Imagineers, not wanting a 20,000 pound animatronic beast to literally FALL on guests, turned him off.

And so the Yeti has sat dormant for years. And years. And years. Sure, every once in awhile we've heard rumors of him running in "A Mode". But for most of his existence, Disco Yeti has been trapped in "B Mode."

Yakkin' 'bout the Yeti

Disney fans, of course, cried foul: How could Disney let such a major part of their most expensive attraction continue not to work? But Disney has remained tight-lipped about the entire experience.

There are a couple of long running, very plausible theories.

First, to fix such a thing would be very expensive. Expedition Everest is rumored to have cost Disney in the $100 million range, so I'm sure Disney executives see throwing more money at it to fix a mechanical ape as an unwarranted cost, especially since they have a 'temporary' fix in place (which seems more and more like a permanent fix every day) that seems to be doing the job just fine.

Secondly, Disney would have to close their biggest attraction at Animal Kingdom for an unspecified period. While rides go down for routine maintenance and rehab all the time, this would be a much LONGER instance. Years, possibly. It would be bad for business to shut down the park's 'biggest draw'.

Disney can't simply replace the Yeti with a new one, either. To even take the old Yeti out, they'd have to take apart the mountain. Say that with me now: TAKE. APART. THE MOUNTAIN. That combines the first two factors of cost and downtime, and makes execs heads spin.

Alas, not all hope is lost.

While the Yeti likely will never return to its original operating mode, rumors have been circulating that Imagineers have a plan. Supposedly, they are designing a system for replacing the outstretched arm of the Yeti. Instead of the entire Yeti grabbing for the guests, the arm would do all of the work.

Supposedly, the swiping arm was a major part of the problem to begin with, but this arm would weigh significantly less and not strain the structure nearly as much as the Yeti did when he was at the height of his power. While not a perfect solution, it is a step in the right direction.

There is no news as to when or even if this change will take place.

The Yeti in Perspective

For now, we're stuck with a malfunctioning creature. Am I that broken up by it? Not really.

Even without the original Yeti, Expedition Everest is one of my all-time favorite coasters. Its design and attention to detail are fantastic, and when the train hurtles backwards I still get a lump in my throat.

Animal Kingdom guests must think the same because Expedition Everest continues to draw 2 hour plus lines almost every day. It must be doing something right.

But deep down inside, I hope that one day Disney does find the time, the money, and a feasible solution to their Yeti problem. In the meantime, I'll continue to enjoy seeing the Yeti in its finest polyester suit whenever my train rumbles past.

Don't stop there! Check out more The 626...

[an error occurred while processing this directive]