Colorado skiers ea­gerly await re­turn of train to the slopes

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

For decades, a train chugged into the Rocky Moun­tains west from Den­ver, snaking through 29 tun­nels and cross­ing the Con­ti­nen­tal Di­vide be­fore de­liv­er­ing ea­ger skiers to the base of Win­ter Park Re­sort at an el­e­va­tion of 9,000 feet. In­sur­ance woes doomed the ser­vice in 2009, but now - with some help from Am­trak - the ski train is back. The re­turn of the Win­ter Park Ex­press marks one of the more ex­cit­ing de­vel­op­ments for Colorado skiers in years, and re­sort of­fi­cials say it’s al­ready at­tract­ing at­ten­tion world­wide. Steve Hurl­bert, a spokesman for the Den­ver-owned ski re­sort, said peo­ple from as far away as the United King­dom and Aus­tralia have shown in­ter­est in the train, which is set to re­sume sea­sonal week­end pas­sen­ger ser­vice Jan 7.

“You don’t have to worry about traf­fic. You don’t have to worry about weather. You can just sit back and en­joy the view,” he said. “It’s just a re­ally re­lax­ing way to get to the moun­tains.” Pow­ered by two 4,250-horsepower diesel-elec­tric en­gines, the train is pulled from Den­ver’s his­toric and newly ren­o­vated Union Sta­tion about 60 miles and 3,700 ver­ti­cal feet into Colorado’s snow-swept moun­tains. It drops pas­sen­gers off about 100 yards from the lifts af­ter pass­ing through the 6.2-mile Mof­fat Tun­nel, which was fin­ished in 1928 and is cred­ited with open­ing Den­ver up to western com­merce.

Also fea­tured are Am­trak’s Su­per­liner dou­ble-decker cars, which are de­signed for longer dis­tances and are roomier than nor­mal pas­sen­ger train cars. The train can carry more than 500 pas­sen­gers and can be re­sized de­pend­ing on de­mand. But down­siz­ing might not be an is­sue. Hurl­bert said tick­ets for two test runs of the ser­vice in March 2015 sold out in about 14 hours.

“We knew all along that there was a huge de­mand to bring this train back, and that re­ally il­lus­trated to Am­trak that the de­mand is sub­stan­tial,” he said. So far, Am­trak has sold more tick­ets than ex­pected for the train, fu­eled in part by frus­trated skiers and snow­board­ers who dread mak­ing the painfully slow trip to the slopes on traf­fic-choked In­ter­state 70.

The train, which shares tracks with Am­trak’s Cal­i­for­nia Ze­phyr that runs be­tween Chicago and San Fran­cisco, has been a draw since it started run­ning in 1940, the same year the ski re­sort opened. Af­ter the ser­vice was dis­con­tin­ued for a few years dur­ing World War II, it ran al­most ev­ery ski sea­son from 1947 un­til 2009, when bil­lion­aire in­vestor and then owner Philip An­schutz shut it down. “It just be­came cost pro­hib­i­tive to run be­cause some in­sur­ance rates went up,” Hurl­bert said. “Our sense was that it would never come back.”

Avail­able equip­ment

Marc Magliari, a spokesman for Am­trak, said Den­ver-based em­ploy­ees pro­posed res­ur­rect­ing the ski train a cou­ple of years ago, and a con­ver­sa­tion be­gan with Win­ter Park Re­sort and Union Pa­cific, which owns the tracks. It turns out, “the em­ployee-borne idea had some legs to it,” Magliari said. “We have the avail­able equip­ment. We have a will­ing host in Union Pa­cific and we have a great part­ner in Win­ter Park.” A ma­jor piece of the puz­zle was put in place when fund­ing came through for a $3.5 mil­lion heated plat­form that is de­signed to ac­com­mo­date ath­letes at the Na­tional Sports Cen­ter for the Dis­abled, which is based at the re­sort. Con­trib­u­tors in­cluded the re­sort, the city of Den­ver, the town of Win­ter Park, the Colorado Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion and the Colorado Rail Pas­sen­gers As­so­ci­a­tion.

But per­haps a more serendip­i­tous de­vel­op­ment for the ski train was the re­cent com­ple­tion of a pas­sen­ger rail line be­tween Den­ver In­ter­na­tional Air­port and Union Sta­tion. “This is the only ser­vice of its kind in the United States,” Hurl­bert said. “This is the only place you can go from the air­port to the moun­tain by rail. It’s a very Euro­pean model . ... That’s what re­ally makes this ex­cit­ing. It’s so much big­ger in scope. It re­ally kind of opens of the state to a lot of in­ter­na­tional trav­el­ers.”

If You Go...

WIN­TER PARK EX­PRESS: Am­trak train from Den­ver to Win­ter Park, Colorado. Round-trips will run Satur­days and Sun­days be­tween Jan 7 and March 26, with an ad­di­tional trip on Martin Luther King Day and Pres­i­dents Day. Adult tick­ets cost as low as $39 each way and al­ready are on sale. The trains will leave Den­ver’s Union Sta­tion at 7 am. Moun­tain time and will ar­rive at the re­sort at about 9 am. They will leave the re­sort at 4:30 pm and ar­rive in Den­ver at 6:40 pm.

The Win­ter Park ski train is shown out­side Win­ter Park, Colo.

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