The Canadian Bucket List is a big fan of unusual rides. Like cycling between trees in a forest canopy, ziplining between mountains and waterfalls, or ice-canoeing across the St Lawrence. I’d heard about Revelstoke’s Pipe Mountain Coaster for some time, and finally had the opportunity to drive up from Vancouver to this mountain town, transit hub and ski resort this summer. The first alpine coaster was unveiled in 1997, taking advantage of existing ski resort facilities to attract summer visitors. Essentially, the pipe is a single metal track that twists and turns down the mountain. Riders hop into a go-kart like contraption, strap in, and let gravity do the rest. A braking mechanism sits between your legs like a joystick, allowing you to slow yourself down if it gets a little too intense. As for safety, the contraption limits the maximum speed, so you won’t exceed 42 km/hr, which is, trust me, plenty fast enough. Revelstoke Mountain Resort installed its 1.4 kilometre-long Pipe Mountain Coaster in 2016, and it has quickly become a must-do attraction in the region. So much so that line-ups get pretty intense during the big summer holidays, with a computerized numbered waiting system ensures you don’t have to hang around in a queue all day without losing your place. But does the ride deserve a place on our national bucket list?
Rain was forecast the day my family arrived at the base of the Revelstoke Mountain Resort, and the Pipe Mountain Coaster doesn’t operate in rain. Or high wind. Fortunately, the clouds remained high enough to enjoy the view of the Columbia River from mid-mountain, if not to continue on the gondola to the top of the fog shrouded ski hill. Given its popularity, it’s not surprising to find a slick system in place for Coaster riders. You pull a numbered ticket (like a deli counter), scan your ticket, and take the fully enclosed gondola to mid-mountain. Once there, a monitor informs which numbers are called for the line-up. They can process about 100 riders an hour. Fortunately for us, there wasn’t any line-up whatsoever this grey Friday morning, which meant we could leisurely stroll up for the briefing, and strap into a yellow cart. Riders must be at least 8 years old to pilot their own cart, but it’s no problem to put younger kids between your legs providing they’re at least 93cm tall (just under the height of my three-year old son). I climbed into the mechanism with my six-year-old daughter who shares my tendency (that is, a need) for speed. A green light and attendant signalled we’re clear to go, so I pushed the joystick brake forward allowing gravity to slowly slide us down to the…..whooooooa!
The coaster glides effortlessly along the track, screaming into a metal tunnel and dipping down with enough force to feel it in your stomach (but not terrify a six year old). Given the narrow track, it feels like it shouldn’t be as safe as it is, and part of the thrill is trusting the work of the Montana-based engineers who clearly know what they’re doing. The track banks hard left and right, and on our first run, I’m using the brake because it feels like we’ll go flying off the rails. There’s a few terrific twists and with enough speed I definitely felt some G force. I intended to time how long it took to get to the bottom but never got to it because I was having way too much fun getting there. We eventually pop out of the trees for a long straight descent to the ending line. I brake the cart and gently come to a stop. My daughter has a huge smile on her face and says only one word: “Again!”
The carts are sent to the top on the same gondolas as passengers, and though it’s starting to fill up with passengers, we don’t have to wait too long for our sophomore ride on the coaster. An elderly lady is nervously waiting behind us. I tell her she can control her speed, and not to worry, it’s perfectly safe! This time, my daughter and I agree not to brake at all and just go full tilt. My thighs are slamming against the sides of the cart and we basically scream all the way down. We’re still high fiving when the lady behind us comes to the finish line with a big smile on her face. “That was fun!” she says! I should hope so, because the Pipe Mountain Coaster has just been added to The Great Canadian Bucket List.