On the weekend of March 14 - 15, the Winter Park Ski Train departed from Union Station in Denver with its cars full of excited skiers and snowboarders. It was a blast from the past--six years past, as a matter of fact. The Winter Park Ski Train stopped its weekly runs from Denver to Winter Park Ski Resort in 2009, after high insurance rates and other costs made it too expensive to run. However, after about 900 people took advantage of this two-day run to help celebrate the resort's 75th anniversary, there are now talks of bringing the Ski Train back.
What is it that is so fascinating about trains?
Is it a reminder of a childhood fascination brought to life? Is it the complete relaxation while someone else does the driving and you recline in your super comfy chair complete with extendable footrest? Or is it that smug little smile that spreads across your face when you realize that everyone else is currently stuck in traffic and you'll be arriving at the ski resort, as scheduled, without searching for parking? Whatever the motivation may be, riding on a train is fun, but riding on a train to go skiing is even more fun.
We took off from Union Station in Denver at 7 a.m. as the sun was rising and rolled through the outskirts of the city towards the mountains, waving at folks who stopped to take pictures as we passed. My friend and I had come prepared for the ride with ingredients for mimosas. We shared with our train neighbors, one who was celebrating her birthday with her family. About two hours later, rested and refreshed, we arrived at the base of Winter Park Resort. Literally, at the base: we walked around the corner and were in the village. Ten minutes later, we were riding up the Zephyr lift in the sunshine.
Although riding the train to a ski resort is fairly common in Europe, it's less so in North America. However, it's not unheard of. Here are a few options to get your own ticket to ride: lift tickets are required.
1. Gore Mountain, NY
Located in the Adirondack Mountains, Gore Mountain has more skiable acres than any other mountain in the Empire State with a high percentage of intermediate runs. The Saratoga & North Creek Railway Snow Train makes Gore Mountain accessible by railroad, connecting Saratoga Springs with North Creek and the railway operates a complimentary shuttle service between North Creek Station and Gore Mountain's Base Lodge. Saratoga Springs Station is also served by Amtrak's Adirondack and Ethan Allen Express trains, making the Snow Train accessible to even more skiers and riders hailing from the Big Apple to Montréal.
2. Thunder Ridge, NY
Escape the Big Apple and ride the Metro-North Ski Train from New York City to Thunder Ridge. The resort offers a "Thunder Ski package," which is a discounted combo train and lift ticket.
You'll travel to the Patterson, NY train station where a free shuttle will pick you up at the station to drive you the mile to the ski resort. Traveling mid-week? Not a problem--call the resort from the train station and they'll send the shuttle to pick you up. After you're done on the hill, you'll travel in relaxed comfort back to New York City.
3. Wachusett Mountain, MA
People in Boston are used to taking the "T" to get around. During the ski season, Boston skiers and snowboarders can take the commuter rail, which includes a designated "ski" car for equipment. This line takes you from Boston's North Station to Fitchburg, MA to enjoy the massive amounts of snow that were not as appreciated in the city.
At the station in Fitchburg, a free shuttle will take you to Wachusett Mountain, which is about 20 minutes away. The "Ski Train" runs on Saturdays and Sundays through March 31.
4. Mount Snow and Killington, VT
For skiers and riders in Washington D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, NYC and beyond, a trip to Mount Snow is as easy as jumping on Amtrak's Vermonter. Disembark in Brattleboro, Vermont and free local MOOver shuttles will connect you with base area as well as lodging options.
Amtrak is also making it easy for New Yorkers to ski at Killington, the largest ski resort in the east, for the weekend. The daily Ethan Allen Express service connects NYC with Rutland, Vermont via Albany in about 5.5 hours--Killington is half an hour from the depot via the Killington Express Shuttle.
5. Whitefish Mountain Resort, MT
Whitefish is a legend in Montana, known as the "Big Mountain." With more than 3,000 acres of terrain (most of it accessible with after a 7.5 minute lift ride), Whitefish is a snow-lovers resort, featuring amazing views of the Canadian Rockies and nearby Glacier National Park.
To reach Whitefish by train, take Amtrak's Empire Builder, which travels daily between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest, both Portland and Seattle. The free SNOW Bus service will take from the depot to the resort's lodges.
6. Snowbasin, UT
Snowbasin hosted the alpine downhill races when Salt Lake City hosted the Winter Olympics in 2002, but it didn't get a big head. Instead, this resort remains a gem, with 3000 acres of skiing and almost 3000 feet of vertical rise.
You can get to Snowbasin from Salt Lake City via the UTA Front Runner trains. From downtown Salt Lake's North Temple Station (connect via the light rail from the airport), it's less than an hour to Ogden where you can catch Ski Service buses to Snowbasin.
View Snowbasin lift tickets.
7. Take the Long Way 'Round
If these small day trips aren't enough of a journey for you, consider a trip on the California Zephyr and see how many resorts you can visit. Run by Amtrak, the Zephyr runs daily between Chicago and San Francisco, meandering through the plains of Nebraska to Denver, across the Rockies to Salt Lake City and then through Reno and Sacramento into Emeryville/San Francisco.
You can depart in Frasier, Colorado and ski Winter Park. Disembark in Glenwood Springs, Colorado and you're about an hour's drive to Aspen, Snowmass, Buttermilk and the Highlands (there's also a bus, if you're so inclined). Stop in Salt Lake City and you can take the train to Snowbasin (see above), or rent a car and visit resorts like Deer Valley, Alta and Snowbird. Stop in Truckee and you'll have access to the many resorts in the Lake Tahoe area, like Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows--just jump on a local TART (Tahoe Area Transit) to the resorts. The coach seats are roomy and spacious, but if you're going the distance, reserve a roomette or bedroom in one of the Superliner Sleeping Cars.