I was fortunate to get to photograph the Ski Train in both of its later incarnations. The first version in question was built around eight old heavyweight coaches picked up by the Rio Grande in 1960. These former Northern Pacific cars were built around 1910 and so were by no means new– especially by the early ’80s when I began photographing them. Up through the 1987 season these cars (plus one of the two Pullman-Standard combines) made up the Ski Train on its weekend runs to Winter Park. The usual power for this train (except for the 1984 season) would be a pair of freight locomotives in the GP40 series, plus a steam generator car, usually No. 251 and later No. 253.
Not long after Philip Anschutz’s Equus Farms purchased the D&RGW, the decision was made to update the Ski Train. To that end, a fleet of former VIA/CN “Tempo” cars were purchased from Canada, refurbished and modified in some cases, and placed in service for the 1988 season. These cars used electrical rather than steam power, so the steam generator car (No. 253) was converted to a power car with two 500KW Caterpillar generators. From 1998 through 2009 these cars graced the rails between Denver and Winter Park, and sometimes beyond.
Photos of the Heavyweight Ski Train
(See here for additional views and story)
Photos of the Ansco Ski Train
|Board! We’re ready to depart from Union Station, pre-dawn on 12/28/1997. The car is MOUNT BIERSTADT.|
|Preparing for departure, 2/10/2002. These ex-Amtrak F40PH locomotives were acquired by the Ski Train just before the previous season. (Technically they were still under lease at that point in time.)|
|On this date, one of the F40PH locomotives (No. 242) was undergoing maintenance, so an SD40-2 was borrowed from Union Pacific and tacked onto the head end.
(Note: rebuilt from an SD40, which accounts for it being shorter than a standard SD40-2.)
|Here, the eastbound Ski Train is passing the east switch of Rocky siding on 2/25/1996, just west of the Highway 93 overpass. During the later Southern Pacific era, SP system power was common, in this case a pair of GP60s. SP 9738 was frequently assigned between 1992 and 1996.|
|At Little 10 Curve — at the west switch of Rocky siding on 12/28/2000. Rio Grande GP60 No. 3154 is subbing for ailing Ski Train F40PH No. 242. The F40s were just starting their first season on the Ski Train.|
|Climbing into the Big 10 Curves — 12/28/2000. The train heads geographically east for a short time as it loops around the mesa.|
|Exiting Tunnel 1– Westbound on 2/20/1994, we get a good look at the tail end. View is from car 6.|
|The 1997-98 Version — January 2nd, 1998 at Plainview. This season Ansco tried using leased Amtrak F40PH’s for power. These units had onboard HEP generators so the power car was unneeded. But it was quickly learned that two locomotives were inadequate to reliably pull the long train.
Video of this passage here!
|The westbound train is rolling through Rainbow Cut and towards tunnel 2 on 1/02/1998. Thirteen of the Tempo cars as well as diner UTAH are visible in this shot. See the video !|
|The Club Cars — Exiting tunnel 16 during the westbound climb on 12/28/1997. Tunnel 16 is located at the apex of South Draw, where the railroad folds back on itself while climbing South Boulder canyon.|
|Another view in nearly the same place, 1/29/2000. The private cars were recently repainted and show off their fresh darker orange paint (and the restored “Rio Grande” heralds).|
|Turning around, the head end power is just entering the cut known as Old Tunnel 17. (Trivia: before the hillside was cut back, the track was routed around the right side of the little hummock on a “temporary” 5-mph shoo-fly that lasted from 1903 to 1938.)|
|Entering east Crescent. The Continental Divide comes into view right about here… (1/29/2000)|
|Rolling around the curve at Crescent siding; Gross dam is visible down to the right.
(During this period I had an arrangement with Ski Train management that allowed me to open the vestibules and photograph / video.)
|Entering Tunnel 19 — just west of Crescent is a dense concentration of tunnels. (1/29/2000)|
|Entering Tunnel 22; note the intermediate signal (since removed by UP). MOUNT ELBERT is about to pass into the tunnel, followed by NORTH PARK. (12/28/2000)
See here for the Rio Grande Zephyr at the same spot.
|February 20, 1994– the Ski Train is running an hour behind schedule as it enters Tunnel 29. SP No. 8355 (visible) had dropped its load somewhere around Tunnel 13, leaving a lone GP40M for power. The train slowed to a crawl and we limped into Crescent siding to await help. Dispatch radioed a freight waiting up at Pinecliffe, and that train cut off a pair of locos to come to our rescue. As a result, there were four units on the point for the rest of the trip up. Unfortunately I was never able to get a photo of them, but the two loaners were both Espee speed-lettered units, just like No. 8355.|
|West of Tunnel 30 and before Rollinsville, there’s a short, inaccessible canyon penetrated by the tracks. In the wintertime, sunlight does not penetrate to the bottom much, and South Boulder creek is frozen and snow-covered. (1/29/2000)|
|Here are a few shots of the train itself at Winter Park. The train was so long that the power had to pull past the east switch of Winter Park siding in order for all cars to clear the tunnel and the bridge.|
|December 2000 was the debut of the Ski Train’s own F40PH fleet. Unfortunately, one of them (No. 242) had mechanical trouble almost immediately. As a result, Ansco borrowed D&RGW No. 3154 from UP to head up the train. Here’s the train’s power on the 28th, moments before pulling away from the resort after unloading.|
|Looking south from the opposite side of the train, on February 10, 2002.|
|Although the Armour-yellow freight unit does nothing for the train’s esthetics on this day, it was better to be a little ugly and on time, than to arrive late.|
|A close-up of the nose of F40PH No. 283. These locomotives kept their original Amtrak numbers. They look really nice in traditional Rio Grande colors.|
|Car No. 1, coach LA PLATA PEAK, with the slopes of Winter Park Ski Resort visible in the background|
|After unloading all passengers, the train pulls away from the base of the resort. The private cars bring up the rear.|
|The private cars wait near the tunnel mouth, next to the resort. See the equipment page for more information on these cars. Note that the dome car was absent on this trip. (12/29/2004)|
|The train heads down the valley, where it will be turned around and held until later in the afternoon. The observation car on the rear (KANSAS) was formerly Rio Grande’s business car WILSON McCARTHY.|
|Shuttle buses such as this one would take you anywhere you want to go in the valley, for no charge. The service still runs today, but with upgraded buses. (12/29/2004)|
|The train waits to load skiers for the return trip, 12/29/1994. The locomotives are stopped just short of the west portal of Moffat Tunnel.|
|At Winter Park — The eastbound train is stretched around the curve at the base of Winter Park’s ski slopes, waiting to load passengers. (12/29/1994)|
Here’s a composite panorama of the train and the resort, waiting to load passengers for the return trip on 12/29/1994. Southern Pacific GP60s 9752 and 9755 did the honors that day. This image expands to very large size.
(Yes, I was watching the time– I did not want to get stranded up there that day.)
|After returning to Denver and unloading its passengers, the Ski Train backs out of Union Station to turn around and be ready for the following day’s run. (12/23/2003)
We had actually just arrived on Amtrak 6 and were waiting for the light rail while this activity was going on.