Imagine soaring through a mountain landscape, wildflowers alongside, vistas of towering peaks at every turn, while the crisp alpine air rushes through your hair.
No, you’re not on a zip line, a gondola or even a mountain bike--you’ve hopped aboard an alpine coaster, a unique brand of roller coaster featuring an elevated track that sends you soaring down an incline.
Alpine coasters-- also known as mountain coasters-- were invented in the mid 1990s in Europe. Each sled usually accommodates just one or two passengers in gravity-propelled individually-controlled cars so riders can ideally control the speed at which they zoom-- a far cry from the high-tech coasters dominating theme parks today.
Here are the top alpine coasters around the U.S., from the mountains of Utah to Vermont:
1. Glenwood Caverns, Colorado
The first mountain coaster in the U.S., Glenwood Caverns’ alpine coaster (which opened in 2005) celebrated its one-millionth rider in 2015 and has been named one of the 10 best roller coaster rides of your life by Park World magazine.
Paving the way for all future alpine coasters, Glenwood Caverns’ coaster zips through a pinon and juniper forest down Iron Mountain, turning and twisting around tons of trees. Last winter, the ride was upgraded with new cars and a braking system.
The views are second to none with mountains on all sides, including the twin peaks of Mt. Sopris, the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys, as well as the City of Glenwood Springs. Take a nighttime ride when the coaster is lighted.
2. Vail, Colorado
New to the coaster scene is Forest Flyer, Vail Resort’s first foray into mountain coasters and part of the resort’s Epic Discovery program. Launched in partnership with The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Forest Service, this program provides a variety of on-mountain activities like zip-lining, summer tubing and wildlife trails with the goal of allowing visitors to better understand their natural surroundin
The coaster winds its way down the mountain, providing views of the town below and plenty of aspen whizzing by. If you’ve got a child who isn’t 54 inches-- the requirement to ride alone-- but is at least 3 years old and 38 inches tall, he or she can hop a ride with a parent.
3. Lake Tahoe, California
Heavenly Ski Resort in Lake Tahoe has its own Epic Discovery program that features the Ridge Rider Mountain Coaster, which opened in June.
With spectacular views of Lake Tahoe and surrounded by boulders, the coaster shoots riders down 300 vertical feet, reaching speeds of up to 55 miles per hour. The coaster winds around 3400 feet of track, much of it a straight shot, but it's broken up by two lateral loops.
Other adventures at Heavenly’s Epic Discovery include a Skyway Canopy tour, ropes course, zip line and climbing wall.
4. Jackson Hole, Wyoming
The Cowboy Coaster is known for its incredible vistas of the Tetons. Open both summer and winter, the coaster takes riders more than 400 feet up the mountain and then travels down a series of 360-degrees corkscrew twists and turns at more than four stories above the ground at some points.
Visitors can also take a go on the resort’s Alpine Slide, where riders navigate down a luge-like chute.
5. Snowbird, Utah
Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort’s Mountain Coaster operates at a high altitude of 8500 feet above sea level. Two people can ride each cart, which barrel through a forest of pine trees and aspens, along with a meadow, landing at the base of the mountain.
Located less than 30 miles from Salt Lake City International Airport, in the heart of the Wasatch Mountains, the resort offers a variety of warm-weather activities including an alpine slide, an aerial tram to the 11,000-foot summit of Hidden Peak, the Mountain Flyer ride and the Vertical Drop with a 9-foot freefall.
6. Mt Washington Valley, New Hampshire
Enjoy two mountain coasters in Mount Washington Valley, home to 13 ski resorts with views of Mount Washington and surrounded by more than 600,000 acres of White Mountain Natural Forest.
At Cranmore Adventure Park, board the curvy half-mile Mountain Coaster, which operates in winter (bring your coat, hat and gloves!), summer and fall with fantastic autumn foliage scenery all around. The park’s most popular year-round adventure, the coaster soars through the woods with views of Mount Washington.
At Attitash Mountain Resort, hop on a two-person cart on the Attitash Nor’Easter Mountain Coaster. Start with a 1400-foot scenic trip uphill followed by a thrilling nearly 3000-foot dash through the forest past curves and plenty of dips.
The coaster is open in summer and fall and weather-dependent in winter.
7. Killington, Vermont
Can you handle 360-degree corkscrews along Killington Resort’s 4800-foot-long Beast Mountain Coaster, which twists and turns down Vermont’s Green Mountains?
Built along a retired mountain bike trail, riders soar through a tree canopy using a rider-controlled braking system. The backup “smart” brake system prevents collisions on the track in case you get too close to the rider ahead.
While on the mountain, visit other Adventure Center activities including the 100-foot high Skyeride, 5000-square-foot Terra-Maze and gem mining.
8. Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
A beautiful autumn is in store at one of two alpine coasters in Pigeon Forge, close to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, America’s most visited national park. Fly through the brightly-colored fall foliage for a thrilling ride and scenic landscapes.
9. Breckenridge, Colorado
If it's warm or cold, you can race down Breckenridge Resort’s Gold Runner Coaster all by your lonesome or with a friend. The 2500-foot elevated track is located within the resort’s Summer Fun Park and accessible via a free gondola ride from the Town of Breckenridge.
When riding the coaster in winter, keep your eyes open for top-notch skiers-- on the way up, you'll have a great view of the resort’s famous Freeway Terrain Park where professional athletes train throughout the ski season.
10. Park City, Utah
You’ll find Utah’s largest alpine coaster in Park City, the single largest ski and snowboard resort in the U.S. The coaster winds for a mile through a forest filled with aspens and provides magnificent ski resort views, reaching speeds of up to 30 miles per hour.
Hold on tight through hairpin turns and steep descents as you reach the end.
11. Spirit, Minnesota
At more than three stories high, the Timber Twister entertains guests along Lake Superior at Spirit Mountain in Minnesota.
With vast vistas of the lake, the St. Louis River and the City of Duluth, the coaster speeds down the mountain through a forest. The coaster is part of Spirit’s Adventure Park with a zip line, jumping pillow, mini golf and disc golf.
Lyn Mettler is an Indianapolis, Ind.-based travel writer. She is the author of The Step-by-Step Guide to Earning Your Southwest Companion Pass. You can find her at www.GotoTravelGal.com or on Twitter at @GotoTravelGal.