Saturday, January 5, 2019

From Ice Slide to Roller Coaster

16th Century Russian Ice Slides. Public Domain

by Anita Mae Draper

While researching for my posts on sledding, toboggan runs and playground slides, I discovered the fascinating world of Russian ice slides. Not for the faint-of-heart, these slides were built at a 50 degree angle which enabled people to reach speeds of 50 miles an hour from a height starting at 60-80 feet. It was all the more thrilling because they sat on a block of ice set on a wooden sleigh, with only a slip of burlap to warm their bottom and no way to steer their downward slide.

Although the ramps were first built in one direction, smart craftsmen soon built the ramps facing each other so participants wouldn't waste time and energy running back to the start.

17th Century Russian Ice Slides. Public Domain

The thrill of the ice slide spread into France where cities were quick to create ice mountains which they called "roller coasters". One of the first rides was in 1817, when the Promenade Aeriennes, Jardin Baujon (Folie Beaujon Aerial Walks Roller Coaster) opened for business. Riders would start at the central tower and coast down either side on a curved track before ascending back up the central incline. Locked onto the track, the cars reached speeds of 40 mph. 

Promenade Aeriennes, Jardin Baujon, Paris, c 1820. Public Domain, wikimedia

This 1817 illustration from the French periodical, Le Bon Genre shows a close up of the base of the Promenades Aeriennes

"Promenades Aeriennes",1817 illustration from the French periodical Le Bon Genre. Public Domain

Compared to the safety features of today's roller coasters, the carts of early roller coasters were dangerous and often spilled their occupants if they weren't on guard, but the thrill and romance of the sport was too heady to keep people of all ages away. 

Early Roller Coaster. Public Domain, wikimedia

From my research, Russians of all stations were fascinated by sliding, including Catherine the Great (1729-1796) who had a giant ice slide built on the River Neva near the Winter Palace. In 1788, the artist, Benjamin Patersson (1748-1815) signed this watercolour of Catherine the Great being led across the frozen River Neva.

Catherine the Great Visiting the Ice Mountain, Neva River. Public Domain

In fact, Catherine's love of sliding was so great that she built a roller coaster at Katalnaya Gorka, also known as Sliding Hill, on the Oranienbaum estate among the series of royal palaces and pavilions. A pavilion resembling a wedding cake was built at the pinnacle of her sliding ice hill. In this pavilion, the court and principal nobility could take rest and refreshment after amusing themselves on the slides and tracks, regardless of the season.

Katalnaya Gorka Pavilion, Oranienbaum, Russia. Public Domain wikimedia

The slides, called the 'flying mountain' was dismantled in the mid-19th century after it fell into disrepair and was deemed too dangerous to leave standing. With an eye to beauty, the grounds were cleared and planted with fir trees, but leaving the impression of where the slides had once stood. 

Katalnaya Gorka Pavilion, Oranienbaum, Russia. Public Domain wikimedia

However, the pavilion has been preserved and today's visitors can tour the elaborate building and catch a glimpse of Catherine's world from the interior where they'll also find a scale model of what the switchback roller coaster looked like in its glory days. 

Katalnaya Gorka Pavilion, Oranienbaum, Russia. Public Domain wikimedia

If you had a chance to see Catherine II's ice mountain pavilion, would you be more interested in the decorated interior, or the scale model of the slide?

If you're interested in sliding sports, check out my post, Romance on a Toboggan.


Anita Mae Draper's historical romances are written under the western skies of the Saskatchewan prairie where her love of research and genealogy yield fascinating truths that layer her stories with rich historical details.  Anita's short story, Here We Come A-Wassailing, was a finalist for the Word Guild's 2015 Word Awards. Her novellas are included in Austen in Austin Volume 1, The American Heiress Brides Collection, and The Secret Admirer Romance Collection. Readers can check out Anita's Pinterest boards for a visual idea of her stories to enrich their reading experience.  Discover more at:


  1. If I had a chance to see that I would enjoy all of it! That room is stunning! Thanks for posting and Happy New Year!

    1. I agree with you there. Happy New Year to you as well, Connie. You're my first comment for 2019! :)

  2. I'm sure I'd love seeing both the model and the room, which is beautiful. Thanks for an interesting post. I've always loved slides and roller coasters.

    1. You're very welcome, KayM. Thanks for stopping by and sharing. Happy New Year right back at you. :)