NC’s first alpine coaster opens in Banner Elk. Here’s how to make a weekend out of it

Laveta Brigham

For many of us, we have a lot of angst and energy built up after nearly three months of staying in place and working from home. Our freshly repainted walls and finished projects are already looking old and stale. It’s time for a getaway. But where can you get away […]

For many of us, we have a lot of angst and energy built up after nearly three months of staying in place and working from home. Our freshly repainted walls and finished projects are already looking old and stale. It’s time for a getaway.

But where can you get away from Charlotte and still stay away from others?

Some of the pictures and videos of the beach and some pools look downright scary in this pandemic era. That’s why more people are looking for a more secluded location to have some fun, especially in the North Carolina mountains.

New alpine coaster

Those screams and laughter you hear in the woods near Banner Elk come from a new adventure activity that opened just a month ago: the Wilderness Run Mountain Rollercoaster. It’s the first alpine coaster in North Carolina, and it’s located across the road from Sugar Mountain. That’s a little more than two hours away from Charlotte.

“You’re looping, dipping or turning. There is no point where you are just riding,” co-owner Eric Bechard said. “It’s very fast and a whole lot of fun.”

Riders navigate the track in individual carts that accommodate up to two people.

Wilderness Run is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week, year-round. Advance reservations are required Friday, Saturday and Sunday until July 12.
Wilderness Run is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week, year-round. Advance reservations are required Friday, Saturday and Sunday until July 12.

The 3,160-foot run begins with a cable-pulled ascent of 770 feet. At that point, the alpine coaster differs from a roller coaster as the remainder of the ride is gravity-fed, with riders in control of two braking handles. Top speed is 27 miles per hour.

Visitors say they love the ride, but the biggest complaint so far is the crowds — even with a requirement for advance reservations on the weekends through mid-July. But there’s also room to spread out on the 6-acre attraction, which includes a clubhouse, observation deck and gift shop.

“We have been extremely busy,” said Ashley Brown with Wilderness Run. “We have had to change how we operate a few times and appreciate the public being understanding through this fluid situation.”

To help prevent spreading coronavirus, each sled is wiped down and sanitized in between riders. The owners also put in markers 6 feet apart in the ticket and ride lines to try to keep visitors socially distant.

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