Sunday, February 12, 2012

Gore Mountain Snow Train: 02/11/2012

The Gore Mountain Snow Train at the Saratoga Springs train station early Saturday morning, Feb. 12. 

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A dusting of snow at the Saratoga train station Saturday morning

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.

Coach and dome car at the boarding platform

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.

Snow Train locomotive just before departure

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.

Breakfast in the dome car

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.

All food is prepared in the dome car's galley

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.

Hickory Ski Center across a frozen Hudson River

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!

Enjoying the ride as we roll towards North Creek

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.

Unloading at the North Creek train station

The shuttle bus brought us right to the unloading area at the Northwoods lodge, just like when we arrive in our own car.

The skiing
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.

The mountain was clouded in above the top of the gondola until mid-morning

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.

Excellent snow on Open Pit

Beth and Daniel looking down Lies

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.

Tree skiing this year has been mostly limited to trailside trees like this path along Foxlair

Chatiemac and the entrance to the Straightbrook Glade

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.

Skies briefly cleared around lunchtime

Beth and Daniel on Open Pit

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.

Skiers on Lies

Beth on Lies: "Get me to the ski train!"

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.

Relaxing onboard as we pull out of North Creek. Plenty of room for a Lego project.

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.


  1. Nice report Jeff! Looks like a great way to get to the slopes. Wish there was a train from central NY! Too bad Gore didn't get any of the snow we got off the lakes this weekend. It was a great improvement for us in CNY. Hoping Gore gets some natural snow too. It's been too long!

    1. Thanks Powderqueen, send some of that snow our way... PLEASE!

  2. Thanks Jeff, great insight into the Snow Train. Like you, I hope it succeeds, but I have my doubts. The 920am arrival they advertise (or even the 900am you experienced) is too late for families with children in any of the ski programs (NYSEF, Mountain Adventure, etc). It is also too late for the racers that Gore hosts. It makes no sense for any of the NY/NJ Metro area skiers; why would they drive 3+ hrs Fri eve, stop an hour short of Gore, get a Saratoga-area hotel, then take the train Saturday AM? They'll just keep driving. And there is no Amtrak service out of NY-Penn to get you to Saratoga (or even Albany) that early.
    That leaves what you witnessed this weekend; a few dozen Capital District area residents looking for an alternative to the Gore drive. As someone who makes that drive every Sat & Sun for 4 months, I can appreciate the Snow Train option. But at $100 (coach) to $190 (dome) for my young family of 4, it might be a once a year thing, at most.
    Just my 2 cents....hope I am wrong.

    1. Good points Craig. Like you, our family already has Gore season passes, so taking the Snow Train is strictly a "splurge." But if you're purchasing a Gore lift ticket, the train/lift package price (in coach) is $70. That's $5 LESS than the price of a weekend Gore lift ticket. You're getting the train ride free, not to mention 2 free drinks onboard and $5 back in your pocket. I think there's enough of a market of potential riders in the Cap Dist that the Snow Train could be viable. Thanks again for your input.

  3. Last year I was talking in the Gore gondola with a family from NYC who stay in North Creek about the likelihood that they would use the Snow Train. They said they were enthusiastically looking forward to the Snow Train because they have one family car and often times the dad has to stay late in the city finishing up work which delays the departure out of the city for the entire family. With the Snow Train, the mom can drive up to North Creek with the kids as soon as everyone is done with school Friday afternoon. Dad takes the train out of the city on Saturday to Saratoga and then takes the snow train to North Creek. He meets the family at the lodge sometime on Saturday, changes into his ski gear and then has a wonderful rest of the weekend together with his family. The mom said she was really looking forward to the Snow Train option because the train will afford the dad a relaxing time to catch up on his reading and kids won’t be sitting around the apartment Friday night and Saturday morning mad at the poor hard working dad. She said it was more affordable and easier than renting an additional car for the weekend which was their only other option.

    1. Thanks BDM, you should give it a try yourself if you live in the area, it's really a fun experience.

    2. It sounds good in theory, BDM, but it doesn't work. The earliest train from NYC (NYP) to Saratoga leaves Saturdays at 815am, arriving Saratoga at Noon, 5 hours after the Snow Train has left. Even if there was Snow Train at, say, 1230p, you'd get to Gore by around 245p, just in time for a few last runs before the lifts close. And even that assumes all trains are on time, and if you use Amtrak much, know the deal.

      Even if you took the earliest NYP->Albany and then cabbed it to Saratoga, it leaves at 715am and arrives Albany at 945am. Again, far too late to catch the Snow Train.

    3. BDM's example notwhithstanding, I think SSNC RR's focus so far is on travel originating/ending in Saratoga. Iowa Pacific (SSNC RR's parent co) seems quite committed to making the rail line successful year-round, so it wouldn't surprise me to see a viable NYC connection at some point in the future, if there is sufficient demand.