All Aboard for the Winter Park Express
Just Seven Weekends Remain for the Preeminent Colorado Rail Experience
Story and photos by Lisa McIntyre
Early morning sunlight bounced off the locomotives as the train zigzagged across the foothills westward from Denver. Only 67 miles to go as the rails head into the faded blue mountains separating the plains from the Winter Park Resort.
A family of seven with grandparents, parents and children, peered out the windows from the Winter Park Express lounge car to witness the landscape transform from prairies of golden grasses to snow-covered rocky cliffs and towering pines.
A railcar of visiting business travelers pushed their boots and parkas into storage spaces, then grabbed bloody marys in anticipation of their workday excursion.
“It is the only train in North America that delivers passengers directly to the slopes,” said Winter Park Express Conductor Brad Swartzwelter.
The Ski Train ran the Denver-Winter Park route for 69 years before shutting down in 2009 when Union Station underwent its extensive remodel. Not long after the train stopped running, a team of believers began working to bring it back. After a sold-out test run in 2015, Amtrak officials declared it “a go.”
Swartzwelter and seven RailColo volunteers greet each of the 400 passengers as they load their gear onto the ski racks in luggage compartments.
The conductor announces fun facts and historic tidbits about the railway as the train rushes along the track through 29 tunnels, including the 6.2-mile historic Moffat Tunnel.
In Winter Park, the staff awaits the arrival of the train and assists folks with their questions. Most passengers are then directed to the nearest lift, a mere 75-feet away.
Steve Hurlburt, director of public relations and communications at Winter Park Resort says, “We want to make it a great experience for everyone.” Got kids? Too much equipment? Free red wagons are available to tote your gear and the kiddos.
Approximately 30 percent of those taking the train aren’t skiers at all. They go to ride, to have lunch in town, or take the 10-minute gondola ride to the top of the mountain for spectacular views of the Fraser Valley. Also available is The Lift, a free shuttle that runs every 30 minutes from the ski area to the towns of Winter Park and Fraser.
This year Amtrak added the lounge car with expansive views, curved windows, big chairs and booths for gathering. Beer, wine, bloody marys, coffee and snacks are sold on the lower level. There are plans to add Colorado craft brews next year.
Now in its third season, Amtrak and Winter Park Resort revitalized the epic seasonal experience, making it easy and enjoyable. It departs Track 5 from Union Station in Denver at 7 a.m., loaded with gear, grannies and groups looking for a full day of adventure.
Only seven weekends remain for this Colorado adventure. The train runs weekends and some Fridays through March. Click here for ticket information!