Friday, December 9, 2011
Ski Train: January 1991, Winter Park, CO
The Saratoga North Creek Railroad's Snow Trains are set to begin rolling later this month, and recent press coverage (Saratogian, Times Union, and Post-Star) about the railroad's success during its first several months of operation prompted me to dig out photos from my January 1991 trip aboard the Denver to Winter Park, Colorado ski train. The combination of spectacular scenery with fun and relaxing travel (coffee and pastries in the morning, cocktails in the afternoon), plus a great day of skiing, was fantastic. The fact that I'm something of a train buff put the experience over the top.
The Denver to Winter Park ski train operated for almost 70 years (1940 - 2009). From Denver’s Union Station, the 56 mile route heads west, climbing about 4,000 feet and passing through 28 tunnels before crossing under the Continental Divide via the 6.2 mile long Moffat Tunnel - the highest railroad tunnel in the United States. The train stops less than 100 yards from the base of the ski lifts of Winter Park.
Travel time is just over 2 hours each way, roughly the same time it takes to travel between Denver and Winter Park by car. The ski train's final trip was on March 29, 2009, when operation ended due to several factors including conflict with freight train operations, increasing costs, and complications arising from redevelopment of Denver's Union Station. Later in 2009, Iowa Pacific, the parent company of the Saratoga North Creek Railroad, made a bid to take over operation, but additional conflicts arose with Amtrak, and the plans to revive the ski train for what would have been its 70th season were scuttled.
By all accounts, the Saratoga North Creek Railroad's Snow Trains are poised for success. Ridership on the rail line since service was initiated in July has exceeded Iowa Pacific's expectations by more than 50%, with nearly 60,000 riders expected by 12/31. The railroad has been credited with breathing new life into downtown North Creek, and Iowa Pacific has ambitious plans for evaluating the viability of future freight service as well as commuter service between Saratoga Springs and Albany (see the three newspaper articles linked at the beginning of this post).
The appeal of SNCRR's Snow Trains and the key to their success will be that the experience is more than just about transportation and skiing - it will be an experience unto itself. Passengers will not ride the Snow Trains for convenience or for monetary savings over driving. The Snow Trains will bring Gore and North Creek an opportunity to offer an experience that is not available anywhere else. My own experience aboard the Winter Park ski train, coupled with the strong ridership SNCRR has experienced so far, has me convinced that there is a market for the Snow Train, and I look forward to riding the Snow Train myself this winter.