Sunday, February 12, 2012
Gore Mountain Snow Train: 02/11/2012
When the Saratoga North Creek Railroad announced that they'd be running Snow Trains from Saratoga Springs to Gore Mountain this winter, we knew we'd have to give it a try. We set our alarm clocks to get up early Saturday morning, and arrived at the Saratoga Springs train station about 15 minutes before the 7am departure.
Beth and the kids purchased our tickets inside the station while I unloaded our skis and bags. Snow Train crew members loaded everything into the baggage car. Within a few minutes we boarded the train and found our seats in the dome car. The train was already moving as we sat down. I checked my watch: 7:02am, right on time.
Our seating was spacious and comfortable - essentially an uphoulstered couch that wrapped around two small tables. In a space that could easily accomodate 6, our family of 4 had plenty of elbow room. Menus were already on the tables, and within a few minutes crew members came around to offer drinks and take our breakfast order.
Food onboard the train was excellent: we enjoyed tasty omelettes, bacon, toast, orange juice and coffee. Crew members were professional, friendly, and enthusiastic about the Snow Train. Most of the 50-60 other passengers - but not all - were skiers, and one crew member told us that this was the most riders onboard the ski train so far this winter. Passengers were divided roughly evenly between the dome car and a coach.
The tracks are surrounded mostly by woods for the first half of the trip, but at around the 1-hour mark the train crosses a bridge 140' above the Sacandaga River, just upstream of its junction with the Hudson. From that point on, the Hudson River is in view all the way to North Creek.
I must have driven Route 28 between Warrensburg and North Creek hundreds of times over the past couple decades, yet the landscape from the train seemed completely new. 20 years ago I rode the famous Winter Park ski train out of Denver, and this trip through the southern Adirondacks seemed every bit as scenic to me, even on a cloudy (and not nearly snowy enough) winter morning. The kids enjoyed the ride too - there wasn't a single "how much longer" from either kid on the ride up or back, and that's saying a lot for ages 4 and 7!
Even though I was excited to ski, the trip was so relaxing and enjoyable I almost didn't want it to end. The two hours passed quickly, and we rolled into the North Creek rail station at exactly 9:00. The train crew unloaded our skis and bags, and we piled into a shuttle bus for the five minute ride up to the ski area.
The shuttle bus brought us right to the unloading area at the Northwoods lodge, just like when we arrive in our own car.
We knew the skiing would be pretty good this weekend. No new snow (do I really even need to say that this winter?...), but the week had essentially been thaw-free, allowing snowmaking and grooming crews to get the mountain into good shape for the weekend.
After our usual warm-up lap on the lower mountain we headed for the summit area. Snow conditions started out good up top and held up well enough that we spent the majority of our day on the summit black diamonds.
Unlike last weekend when we skied soft bumps of man-made snow under the guns on Hawkeye and Lies, the summit black diamonds were groomed out today. Surfaces were firm but edgeable, and there was plenty of good snow to be found all day on Lies (my pick of the day), Open Pit (Beth's pick) and Hawkeye. Chatiemac was open as well (natural snow), as were the Straightbrook Glades.
Daniel and I made a run through the Straightbrook Glades, and as desperate for some tree skiing as we are, they didn't warrant a return visit. They're skied out and scraped up more than last weekend, but we appreciate the fact that at least they're open.
Snowmaking crews had the guns going all day on Uncas (and perhaps elsewhere on the mountain?), which made for some fun skiing there. The big question on skiers' minds is whether Rumor (and other still closed terrain) will open. Given the unfavorable weather pattern we've endured all winter, it seems unlikely that crews will push to expand available terrain. However, "rumor" on the hill is that an attempt may be made to get Rumor open for the February vacation week. A little help from Mother Nature would go a long way.
Other than coming down to the base for lunch, we stayed up top all day. As we usually do, we picked up Sylvie around 3pm from the daycare so we could ski with her at the end of the ski day. She's making real progress now with her snowplow.
We boarded the shuttle bus at 4pm for the short ride back down to the train station. We were onboard by 4:15 and the train pulled out right on time at 4:30.
The ride back to Saratoga Springs was just as enjoyable as the ride up. As Beth commented, it's kind of like enjoying apres ski drinks and snacks (the 4 of us split two club sandwiches, excellent), and when it's over you're home (well, almost)!
Though we can make the trip from home to Gore in half the time (an hour by car versus two hours by train), that difference is narrrowed when you take into consideration the fact that you can have your meals onboard. And owing to the early departure from Saratoga Springs, we got to the mountain just as early or earlier than we would on a "normal" weekend. As for the economics of travelling by train, the four of us would certainly travel less expensively in a single automobile, but a single person would likely save money by taking the train (you can travel in coach for as little as $20 round trip). For skiers without a season pass to Gore, there are very attractive train/lift ticket packages available.
I admit that I'm biased: I love skiing and I love trains. I would really like to see the Snow Train succeed and North Creek prosper. But I can tell you that when the train started rolling, there wasn't anybody onboard who wasn't smiling. Will we ride the Snow Train again? You bet.