Photos by Karen Temple
The lobby of Denver’s Union Station is a hub of activity.
Not an uncommon sight since this grand space is home to trendy cafés, restaurants and shops.
But this is not the usual crowd of people who come to hang out at what has become known as Denver’s living room in the trendy LODO (lower downtown) part of town.
It’s 6:30 a.m. and these folks, carrying skis and boot bags, are heading to the train platform to board the Winter Park Express.
There’s a hip vibe here: Cars are pulling up out front; keys are being handed off for valet parking; people are stopping inside at the Acme Deli to pick up an egg sandwich on a freshly baked biscuit or popping in to PigTrain Coffee for a freshly-brewed cup to go and greeting the many smiling, sign-bearing helpers who ensure that everyone makes it to the train on time.
Beginning in the 1940s, the ski train was a weekend warrior that shuttled Denver kids of the Eskimo Ski Club to Winter Park for their weekly ski lesson.
It was a symbiotic relationship that helped cement the sport of skiing and earned Winter Park the title of the oldest continually operational ski resort in the U.S.
Eventually, buses replaced the train – but in celebration of Winter Park’s 75th anniversary the resort partnered with Amtrak to reinstate the ski train for one Saturday, in 2014. The response was so overwhelming that by 2016 the ski train was running regularly.
It’s a winding two-hour climb up to Winter Park from downtown Denver. On the way, the train hits some 29 tunnels including the grand-daddy of them all: the Moffat Tunnel.
It’s the highest and second longest railway tunnel in the U.S. If nostalgia isn’t your thing, take the train for the sheer beauty of the scenery.
Our conductor Brad was almost giddy with pride as he shared local knowledge, pointed out wildlife and landmarks over the intercom.
Exiting the Moffat tunnel, the train is literally at the base of Winter Park.
A crew of yellow-jacketed, sign-holding helpers greet the train and direct disembarking passengers. They are kind and enthusiastic but are not really necessary; the hill is right there. If you tripped exiting the platform, you might fall into a lift line.
Overnight visitors leave their luggage with the lodging staff right on the platform for forwarding to their rooms, and head straight to the lift lines. Now, that’s service!
Round-trip day skiers can leave their street shoes and any extra gear on the train. Winter Park Express is a weekend-only service.
Next time you are in Denver for a conference, plan to stay for an extra day or two of skiing.
But buy your tickets online before you leave home.
Even though it seats 500 passengers, the Amtrak/Winter Park Express is very popular — you don’t want to be disappointed.