When Disneyland Paris opened on April 12, 1992, it was the first Magic Kingdom-style theme park to feature a Big Thunder Mountain (Railroad) on opening day. This location offered Tony Baxter and other Imagineers a unique opportunity to take a new approach to an entire land and a chance to revisit the Thunder Mesa idea.
At Disneyland Paris, Big Thunder Mountain would be the forefront of the new design and idea of presenting the American Frontier to a new audience in Europe, the mythology of the Old West as it is perceived by the Europeans, specifically the French, not Americans. Tony Baxter said, “We knew going in that the Europeans have a penchant for the American West, primarily the Grand Canyon, and Native American culture.” Big Thunder was able to take an even more prominent role in this new Frontierland, thanks to a new creative interpretation of some traditional Disneyland elements. “The other thing that transpired was that Tom Sawyer and Mark Twain are not big items in Europe; so doing Tom Sawyer Island was relatively meaningless,”
Using the idea of a ‘Tom Sawyer Island-esque’ island, the Imagineers thought up an Adventure Isle, which is more of an international fantasy, the dream of going away to a pirate island, or finding buried treasure. This allowed Big Thunder Mountain to take center stage in Disneyland Paris, as there wouldn’t be a Tom Sawyer Island. In all the other parks, it was built after ‘center stage’ was completed, so its always out on the end or a corner. But in Paris, the Imagineers were able to put it in the middle of Fronterland.
Big Thunder Mountain was not only the visual centerpiece of Frontierland, but the narrative focus of the land. Tony and Jeff Burke created a story line which involved the whole land. Frontierland would comprise of one big boomtown area, Thunder Mesa.
The boomtown of Thunder Mesa grew around a gold mine deep within Big Thunder Mountain. The proprietor of that mine, Henry Ravenswood, was a ruthless gold baron behind Thunder Mesa’s rapid growth. Ravenswood also happened to be the owner of the old house on the hill overlooking the Rivers of the Far West—Phantom Manor.
Leaving the station on the mainland, the trains descend into a long and dark tunnel, before making a right hand turn, sharply rising up, and climbing the first lift hill. This tunnel takes guests under the water and onto the island. Stalactites and Stalagmites can be seen growing next to the track. At the top, waterfalls suggest that the tunnel is flooding. Riders leave the first lift hill, slow down, and drop away to the left, before making a right hand turn. If the trains are being dispatched timely, a dueling illusion is made between the guests' train and a train in the helix.
After this turn, the trains pass under the second lift hill and its drop, before making a left hand turn onto a bridge. A vista of the ride can be seen as the trains make a slight right hand turn, before suddenly falling through a washed out section of the bridge. An on-ride camera is present here to take pictures of the riders, which can be purchased after the ride at Big Thunder Photographer. After the washed out bridge, the trains make a left hand turn and start climbing the second lift hill. Anti-rollback dogs on the track during the turn emit a sound that gives the illusion that the bridge is groaning under the weight of the train. Two tied down donkeys can be seen to the riders' right, baying at passing guests, with an empty watering pail in front of them. A goat can be seen pulling on a piece of clothing hanging on a clothesline to the riders' left, as the trains pass a mine elevator and under a water tower.
Cresting the second lift hill, the trains drop away to the left into a short straight segment before rising into a 540 degree downhill helix to the left. As guests rise up the hill into the helix, one might notice a sign reading "BEWARE! BROKEN TRESTLE!" attached to the water tower at the bottom of the second lift hill (this sign is also visible if one sits in the very back of the train and looks backward as the train climbs the second lift hill).
Following the helix, the trains pass through a short cave, go over a quick rise and drop, make a right hand turn atop a bridge into a tunnel (with a sign reading "DANGER! T.N.T." over the entrance) and climb the third lift hill. The turn into the third lift hill, like with that of the second lift hill, has anti-rollback dogs to make it sound like the bridge is straining to hold as the train passes over. As the train starts to climb the third lift hill, an unseen miner can be heard yelling "Fire in the hole!" After that, it becomes evident that the miners are dynamiting the cave the riders are going through, and blasting can be seen on both sides of the train.
Several rocks in the ceiling appear to be shaking, angered by the intrusion, simulating an earthquake, and giving the impression that the tunnel is about to collapse. As the trains crest the lift hill, gold can be seen rushing out of the ceiling before the trains exit the tunnel and travel along a very short straight section of track. The trains then enter a tunnel,this tunnel that takes guests back to the mainland and back to the station. The trains continue to accelerate until suddenly rising out of the ground, now back on the mainland. From here, the trains travel past the station and then turn around to reenter either station track.