FAST TRAIN TO WINTER PARK
28th January 2017 | Jane Peel, Colorado
Last modified on February 5th, 2020
Downtown Denver to the ski slopes in little more than 90 minutes. The Winter Park Express is back and suddenly it’s a whole lot easier to go skiing in Colorado. PlanetSKI steps on board.
No one travels by train in the USA.
It’s too slow and, anyway, Americans love their cars.
Tell that to the 500-plus skiers and snowboarders who join me on the 7am Saturday morning service from Denver’s Union Station.
Every seat on the train has been sold.
We are on our way to the closest major ski resort to the city.
Most on board are Denver locals heading to Winter Park for the day or the weekend.
But the ski train – re-introduced on January 7th after a gap of 8 years – is also ideal for foreigners like me who don’t want the hassle of hiring a car, not to mention the often slow drive along the notoriously snowy I-70 Interstate.
Besides, the train manager who welcomes us aboard assures us we are taking one of the best rail routes (pronouced rowts) “in the country, in fact on the planet!”
I’m not sure the Swiss would agree, but there’s no doubt that it’s a pleasant experience.
My journey to Winter Park had begun little more than 24 hours earlier at London’s Heathrow airport on the direct British Airways flight to Denver.
A commuter train from the airport to the refurbished and beautifully restored Union Station was followed by an overnight stop at the Crawford Hotel.
The hotel is right inside the station from where I would be leaving the next morning, along with restaurants, bars and shops. It could hardly have been more convenient.
Denver is roughly 1600 metres above sea level – it’s known as the mile-high-city – so it was also an advantage to spend the first night there acclimatising before heading to the super high altitude of Winter Park.
The resort base is at 2,745 metres with skiing all the way up to 3,673 metres. The combination of altitude and jet lag can hit hard.
I discovered that drinking lots of water (and limiting the alcohol intake) helps, along with using a room humidifier to compensate for the extremely dry air.
But it’s well worth it to experience the cold, dry snow for which Colorado is famous – and which is so rare in Europe – while avoiding the state’s more upmarket resorts such as Vail or Aspen.
And the Winter Park Express is literally your lift to the lifts.
As it emerges from the Moffat tunnel – the last of 28 tunnels it passes through – you are in the resort and just a few short steps from the slopes.
On the heated platform, volunteer hosts are on hand with information. If you have luggage a shuttle service will take it from the train to your lodgings.
So far so good, but what’s the skiing like, I hear you ask?
Colorado has benefited from masses of early snow this winter and the conditions at Winter Park – which generally has one of the best snowfall records in the state thanks to its proximity to the Continental Divide – were nothing less than perfect on my visit.
The 3,000 skiable acres make Winter Park big by US standards.
The ski area is split into seven “territories” linked by lifts and each offering something a bit different.
There are easy groomed slopes, wide open bowls, runs through the glades, powder stashes, a terrain park, steep chutes and a lot of moguls.
Trees are everywhere – all the way up to and beyond 3,000 metres – that’s not something you see in the Alps.
It’s easy to find your way around with some memorably named lifts and runs, such as the High Lonesome Express chair, which serves slopes called Stagecoach, Quickdraw, Sundance and Shootout.
And, because it’s America, there are patrolled and avalanche-protected out-of-bounds (off piste) routes too.
I discovered two downsides.
One – the weekend lift queues can be long, although loading is super-efficient and organised and everyone is incredibly polite. Surprisingly, though, the slopes never felt that busy, despite the numbers.
Two – there are not enough eateries on the mountain or in the resort to cope with weekend crowds, so it’s best to avoid a lunchtime stop.
Neither is a good enough reason to stay away.
If you fancy skiing or snowboarding in Colorado, Winter Park is well worth a visit.
And now you can do it by plane, train and no automobile.
PlanetSKI went Snowcat skiing in Colorado too – it’s a real backcountry experience without all that hiking uphill. You can read it here.
PlanetSKI’s trip was provided by the trade organisation Colorado Ski Country which represents 21 resorts in the state.
The Winter Park Express runs from Denver Union Station to the resort every Saturday and Sunday morning, with return trips on both days. Prices are from $39 one-way.
For more information on Winter Park, visit the resort website.