I went skiing the last two days at Winter Park Ski Resort, which takes me about 1 hour, 45 minutes driving time each way. But the great irony is that the distance as the crow flies is only 12 miles, or by train is only about 30 minutes. If only I were a hobo and could jump on a freight train at nearby Rollinsville, which is about 15 minutes away. The train then goes through the mountain via the Moffatt Tunnel, and magically comes out the other side at the ski slopes of Winter Park Ski Resort in a mere 15 minutes. But alas, that option is not one that is viable for me, but was for millions of Denverites for many years via The Ski Train.
The railroad tracks that are used by Amtrak to take people from Denver to San Francisco via the California Zephyr climbs up into the Flatiron Mountains outside of Boulder, and then on to Winter Park. Using those same tracks, for 69 years, Denver residents could take The Ski Train, a 14-car train made of 1915 vintage passenger cars, that carried up to 750 passengers from Denver’s Union Station to Winter Park Ski Resort. Passengers boarded the ski train in Denver around 7:15 a.m. and arrived in Winter Park two hours later, just steps from the ski lifts. The train made the return trip picking up skiers at around 3:45 p.m. taking them back down, arriving just before dinnertime. As well as passenger cars, the ski train also had Club cars and Cafe cars. From the stories I’ve heard from Ski Train riders, it was quite the party heading back down the mountain on the afternoon run, with many enjoying a mini-Happy Hour post skiing.
Unfortunately, the Ski Train suffered great financial difficulty during the 1980s, and even though a new investment company revitalized it and increased ridership during the 1990s, it operated at a loss the last twenty-one years. Because of legal disputes with Amtrak over use of the tracks, as well as financial difficulties, the Ski Train took its last run on March 29, 2009.
With no other options, millions of skiers take to Interstate 70 on the weekends, creating miles of traffic jams each Friday and Sunday. As I inch along I-70, I can’t help but lament the loss of the Ski Train. It seems like there should have been a greater effort put forth to save this historic and fun alternative to getting up to the mountains for a day of skiing. In a time of concern over climate change, increasing energy consumption, and wear and tear on our highways, it seems the Ski Train was the perfect alternative method of getting Front Range residents up to the ski slopes. As I spend time in my car making the trek over to Winter Park, I sure wish I had another way to get there, as I’m sure plenty of nostalgic Denverites do as well. Anyone up for a Ski Train revival?