The Ski Train served the Winter Park ski area from Denver for 69 years. Re-equipped in 1988 and operated by the Ansco company, it retained the gold and silver colors of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad’s proud passenger fleet. It was one of the most scenic and comfortable rides imaginable.
An excellent book on the Ski Train (“The Ski Train”, by Patterson and Forrest) is available from the Colorado Railroad Museum.
On April 21, 2009, Ansco announced the sale of the train to Algoma Central Railway in Ontario, a subsidiary of CN, ending the operation along the Moffat line. The train’s equipment was moved to Canada on May 8th. It has been dearly missed in Colorado. Thankfully, after a hiatus of nearly eight years, a new “Ski Train” began operations between Denver and Winter Park in January 2017. Operated by Amtrak, this train is known as the Winter Park Express. It operates on the same route and nearly the same schedule as the original Ski Train. Partially sponsored by the Winter Park resort, who installed a new heated platform at the Winter Park stop, it’s been a solid success in its first three seasons.
The Ski Train boarded at Union Station in downtown Denver and unloaded its passengers at Winter Park some two hours later. During those two hours, it passed through a transition of landscape that must be experienced to be believed. Much of the terrain is not accessible except by train, or by a strenuous hike on foot. A total of 29 tunnels penetrate rocky obstacles, including the 6.2-mile Moffat Tunnel under the Continental Divide.
Leaving the railyards of Denver, the Ski Train wound through the sprawling suburban area towards the north-west until emerging on the sloping knees of the Rockies. The tracks make use of the uneven topography to gain elevation, winding around a mesa at Rocky and into the mouth of Coal Creek Canyon, until they head north across the face of the Front Range. A number of tunnels provide passage through the escarpments and rock slabs, until South Boulder canyon is reached. The tracks then turn west, looping in and out of side canyons and tunneling through rock buttresses, climbing constantly. The canyon floor rises to meet the railroad grade at Pinecliffe, some 34 miles from Denver by rail, and from this point westward the tracks are never far from the creek.
The Moffat Tunnel was built between 1923 and 1927, and is one of the great engineering feats of the early 20th century. It eliminated the need to cross the Continental Divide at Rollins Pass, which was some 2,000 feet higher and 23 miles longer. Once emerging from the west portal of the tunnel, the Ski Train would stop–right at the base of the slopes at Winter Park. Passengers were let off the train, which would then proceed down the valley to be turned at Tabernash and stored until the return trip (usually at Fraser).
For more details, see the Route Maps.