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It was Christmas week of 1940 when the first ski train to Winter Park pulled out of Denver’s Union Station. 

Now 81 years later, the train—now called the Winter Park Express—is still chugging west over the 56-mile route that climbs 4,000 feet before reaching the base of Winter Park Ski Resort.

Riders pass through 29 tunnels, including the 6.2-mile-long Moffat Tunnel under the Continental Divide, the highest railroad tunnel in the country. 

The ski area, too, is reaching great heights. Named “Best Ski Resort in North America” by readers of USA Today for the second consecutive year, 3,000-acre Winter Park—formerly owned by the city of Denver—is now owned and operated by Alterra Mountain Company based in Denver. 

Historical Winter Park skiers. Photo courtesy of Winter Park Resort
Historical Winter Park skiers. Photo courtesy of Winter Park Resort

Ski Train History

The train did not run uninterrupted all those years. It ceased operating when World War ll broke out; then it ran from 1947 until 2009 when Denver billionaire owner Philip Anschutz, who bought it in the mid-80s, decided to close it down due to rising costs.

He sold our beloved train to a Canadian railroad. We missed it mightily! It wasn’t until Winter Park struck a deal with Amtrak in 2016 when it began its service again. Then came COVID. Once again, the train stopped in its tracks. It started up again for 2022.

Train interior. Photo courtesy of Winter Park Resort
Train interior. Photo courtesy of Winter Park Resort

The Early Years of the Ski Train

Every skier who grew up in Denver in the 40s and 50s remembers the early days of the ski train. Not only was Winter Park one of a handful of ski areas in Colorado, the train was the only form of transportation for many of us to get up to the mountains.

Frank Buckley’s Eskimo Ski Club filled most of the cars that delivered hordes of youngsters to the popular ski area. I was one of them.

A couple of years ago I stepped back in time when I rode the train on its regular weekend run to Winter Park. As I sipped wine in my plush chair and looked at spectacular mountain scenery scrolling by outside a large picture window, I took a nostalgic trip down the tracks. 

Back then, our ski day started in the dark when we awoke with excitement. Our parents—some still in their pajamas—drove us to Union Station where we schlepped our skis, boots and bags through the long, dark underground corridor to the track.

Then, we climbed up the stairs to the waiting train for the two-hour trip.  Our old train had wooden slat seats and the aisles were narrow and cramped. But we weren’t concerned about comfort. It was all about being with our friends. 

Gondolas at Winter Park. Photo courtesy of Winter Park Resort
Gondolas at Winter Park. Photo courtesy of Winter Park Resort

I remember the scene: teenagers unleashed. Smells of wet wool, peanut butter and potato chips permeated the air. Sounds of boisterous laughter punctuated tall tales of daring feats on the mountain. Boys scrambled to hide under the seats and in the skinny bathrooms to avoid the conductor checking tickets that cost about $2. 

Mostly, I remember the sudden silence during the 10-minute ride through the Moffat Tunnel as some of us found the darkness a great opportunity to, um, make out! 

After the train emerged from the tunnel, we had a few minutes to pull on our boots (the lace-up kind), find our skis and hop off right at the base of the mountain. We didn’t see the train again until we heard its whistle blow around 4 p.m., signaling it was time to board for the sleepy ride back home. 

Snowboarder at Winter Park. Photo courtesy of Winter Park Resort
Snowboarder at Winter Park. Photo courtesy of Winter Park Resort

Ski Train Today

The Winter Park Express still calls Union Station home, but the 118-year-old landmark is very different than the one we experienced. Called “Denver’s Living Room,” it was rehabilitated in 2014 and includes 11 eateries and bars, five unique shops, and the Crawford Hotel, named after Denver preservationist Dana Crawford.

The transit station serves not only as the hub for the ski train but also for the region’s Light Rail, free bus services around downtown and the train from Denver International Airport. You can fly into Denver, spend the night at the Crawford and head for the slopes the next morning, all without having to leave downtown.

The Amtrak boarding area is just outside the back door of Union Station. 

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Dates, Hours and Fares

The train runs every Friday, Saturday and Sunday starting Jan. 14 through April 3, 2022. It leaves the station at 7 a.m.; departs Winter Park at 4:30 p.m. It’s approximately a two-hour ride. 

One-way coach fare starts at $29 for adults; kids (2-12) $14.50. This includes ski storage and an option to sit in the Sightseeing Lounge. Snacks and drinks are sold in the Cafe Car. 

One-way fares give you the flexibility to stay as long as you want in the Winter Park/Fraser area where there’s plenty of winter fun

And you can still make out in the tunnel!

Book This Trip

Ready to plan a winter getaway to the Colorado Rocky Mountains? Start preparing with insider tips on the best views, hotel and VRBO accommodations, local restaurant reviews and more through TripAdvisor and Travelocity.

Have even more fun on your Rocky Mountain vacation by booking some snowy Colorado activities, expert-led tours and skip-the-line tickets to popular attractions through GetYourGuide. Find more information on tours and book your dates here.

Read about other exciting destinations in our articles below:

Author Bio: Claudia Carbone is a Denver-based award-winning travel writer and member of the Society of American Travel Writers, North American Travel Journalists Assoc. and Denver Woman’s Press Club. Currently, her work is published in The Denver Post, Colorado Expression Magazine, London Sunday Telegraph, GoWorldTravel.com and RealFoodTraveler.com. Her blog Sleepin’ Around covers any place you can sleep on vacation.

Claudia Carbone

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