Big Thunder Mountain, also known as The Mine Train, is an attraction located in Frontierland within Disneyland Paris. It first opened its doors in 1992 and is inspired by the attraction of the same name in Disney parks in the United States.

The Big Thunder Mountain attraction is one of the most iconic attractions of Disneyland Paris, situated at the heart of Frontierland. This Western-themed roller coaster has become a must-visit for visitors since its opening in 1992, yet few people are aware of its fascinating history. Today, in this article, I invite you to uncover all the secrets surrounding this attraction.

The origin of the attraction

The origins of Big Thunder Mountain date back to the 1970s when Disney began exploring the idea of a Western-themed attraction for its theme parks. The attraction was designed to reflect the history of the American West and the gold rush that took place in California, the region of the world’s first Disney park. Disney imagineers, including the great Tony Baxter, worked hard to create an attraction that would be both thrilling and authentic.

A story intimately linked to the history of Phantom Manor

The story of the Big Thunder Mountain attraction is closely linked to the Ravenswood family, a fictional family who owned the manor, which was created to provide context for the attraction. Imagineers invented a story of a wealthy and influential family that lived in the mining town of Thunder Mesa, where the attraction is located. The family was cursed by a local legend that a giant thunderbird, an Indian spirit, protected the region’s gold mines. According to the legend, anyone who disturbed the thunderbird and plundered its gold would suffer terrible consequences.

The story of the Ravenswood family was developed to add depth to the attraction, with meticulous details and hints of the Ravenswoods’ influence on the mining town. If you want to learn more about the Ravenswood family’s story, feel free to read my dedicated article on the history of the family and their terrifying manor.

An immersion in the heart of the American West

It all begins in the latter half of the 19th century. America is experiencing the gold rush, and everyone hopes to strike it rich in the American Far West. We find ourselves in the heart of a small town named Thunder Mesa, built around the Big Thunder mine, operated by the Thunder Mesa Mining Company, whose owner is none other than Mr. Henry Ravenswood, whom we have already discussed in my article about the history of the Phantom Manor attraction.

The mine is the economic heart of the town, as everything is built around it and it brings fortune to the company. Surrounding the mine, one can find a vast lake traversed by the Molly Brown, a fabulous paddleboat, fishermen’s cabins like Catfish Joe’s, a town with shops, restaurants, and of course, a saloon. Finally, atop the town, visible from everywhere, stands the immense Victorian mansion of the Ravenswood family.

An Indian curse at the origin of the attraction

However, not everything was going to go as planned for the town and its inhabitants… because the mountain and thus the mine it housed were cursed. Indeed, Big Thunder Mountain is protected by an Indian spirit: the Thunderbird. An Indian deity, taking the form of a giant eagle, it guards the fabulous treasure of gold and silver hidden within the mountain, attacking anyone who attempts to seize it.

It was in 1860 that the bird, furious to see its treasures plundered, triggered a massive earthquake, which destroyed the mine, as well as part of the town, and resulted in the deaths of numerous inhabitants, including Mr. and Mrs. Ravenswood.

Anecdotes and secrets about the attraction

References to the gold rush throughout the land

Have you ever noticed all the references to the gold rush throughout the entire land? Well, know that Frontierland is full of references to the mine to underscore the fact that the mine was the economic heart of the town. For example, there’s the Lucky Nuggets, which translates to “The Lucky Nugget” in French, referring to the gold nugget on the restaurant’s facade. The Silver Spur Steakhouse, which references silver. And then there’s the Eureka Mining Supplies shop, a not-so-hidden reference to the famous “Eureka” exclaimed when a gold or silver nugget was found in the mines.

The clothes drying in the attraction belong to a resident

At the beginning of the second ascent of the attraction, there is a clothesline where clothes are hung out to dry. These clothes belong to Catfish Joe, an elderly fisherman. Catfish Joe lives, accompanied by his dog, in a cabin located on the other side of the mountain. If you take a ride around the lake aboard the Molly Brown, you can even catch a glimpse of him fishing on that fateful day in the year 1860 that will ravage the mine.

The importance of animals at the heart of the attraction

There are several animatronics present on Big Thunder Mountain, including a goat named Yon and two donkeys named Beth and Björn. The latter two names were not chosen randomly. Indeed, they refer to two key members of the team who contributed to the creation of the Mine Train attraction. Beth Clapperton was the artistic director and Björn Heerwagen was the production manager during the conception of the attraction. To thank them for their work, the Imagineers thus engraved their names in the attraction.

The Thunderbird hides within the attraction

The Thunderbird is not just a mere legend. It is indeed visible within the attraction, and to find it, you must be very attentive. It is hidden within the mountain, and you can see it by looking down during the turn just before entering the mine, during the explosion following the earthquake.

In the end, the story of the Big Thunder Mountain attraction is a tale of passion and innovation from Disney’s Imagineers. By exploring the history of the Ravenswood family and creating a legend around the Thunderbird, they crafted an attraction that is both thrilling and immersive. Today, Big Thunder Mountain remains one of the most popular attractions and stands as a testament to the ingenuity of Disney’s Imagineers, who succeeded in creating one of the most refined versions of this legendary attraction in our park. For me, it’s my favorite ride in the park! How about you? What’s your favorite attraction?