Skis + trains

Some people love trains. Some people love skiing. Two great experiences that go great together, like the taste of peanut butter and chocolate (or Oreos). In the US, there’s a just a few train routes that go from city to slope. And while they exist to serve the downhill skier/rider market, in some cases they help both.

The good 'ol ski train days
The good ‘ol ski train days (from

The Denver-Winter Park train resumed a few years ago and has gotten some press because it stops close to the slope as it gets. There’s another Amtrak train from Seattle to Leavenworth, with a shuttle from there to Stevens pass. There are cross-country ski trails right in Leavenworth, so this is actually one ski train for Seattleite cross-country skiers.

Leavenworth itself has 26k of ski trails, and more in parks and other areas a driveable distance away, like Lake Wenatchee state park and Plain valley, Methow valley, Stevens Pass, and Snoqualmie pass.

Winter Park resort in Colorado has some cross-country skiing, with more available in the Fraser valley near Granby, like Snow Mountain ranch and Devil’s Thumb ranch. You’ll need some wheels to get around though.

The options above appear in Choo! Choo! Your Way To The Slopes. Two other areas in the article, Smuggler’s Notch VT and Squaw Valley CA, are so distant from the nearest train station that I wouldn’t call them ‘accessible’.

OK Boomer

With their (our) creaky joints, need for frequent rest stops, and declining night vision, older folk like to ride rather than drive when they (we) can. The Ski Trains Return! lists some trains for Alpine skiers; I reviewed and altered the options to suit Nordic skiing.

In Utah, UTA Frontrunner regional rail service gets you from Salt Lake City to Provo (with a UTA ski shuttle bus to Sundance Mtn resort). For these other cases you need to get a ride from an Amtrak station: Shuttle from Portland ME station to Bethel Inn (some trails in Bethel itself); North Creek Snow Train runs from Saratoga Springs to North Creek (RIP: ceased operation ca. 2016-2018); MOOver shuttle bus (you gotta know it’s Vermont) from Brattleboro to Timber Creek); and the Killington shuttle (alternatively the aptly named Gramp’s Shuttle) from Rutland Amtrak station (Mountain Meadows is across the road from Killington).

Bah Humbug. Enough with the small-bore train accommodations to skiing. For about the same cost and time required to take Amtrak from New York to Montreal, Eurostar trains whisk weekenders overnight from London, direct to the French Alps. Now that’s a ski train!

Eurostar train in terminal
The lucky ducks in London get to ride this all the way to the Alps

Mind the gap

And that brings me to the ‘last mile’ problem (more like the ‘last twenty miles’). In the old photo above, some skiers departing the train in North Conway are probably walking to Mount Cranmore, literally just a mile away.

Even in Europe ski areas aren’t known for being right next to train stations (Åre Sweden and Geilo Norway being a couple of exceptions). Let’s also not talk about Oslo, from which 1600k of hiking and cross-country trails are accessible, starting with a 30-minute tram ride from downtown, or via regional train to satellite towns.

In North America, commerce, nightlife, and lodging are dispersed, courtesy of highway funding and local zoning. The economic model for a cross-country ski center isn’t compatible with proximity to population hubs or traffic corridors without the resolve of government to set land aside and fund outdoor activities. For example, Hennepin and Ramsey county parks (encompassing the Minneapolis and St. Paul area) have groomed and lit trails; Theodore Wirth park has snowmaking as well.

In tech, the ‘last-mile problem’ is a holdover term regarding the cost to wire individual homes or remote locations off of trunk lines carrying high-speed internet. An outdoors venturer using mass transit in the USA remains highly dependent on taxis and Uber/Lyft to get to and from the trailhead, which tend to be many miles from the closest regional train or bus station. But even from the limited examples in the US, we see that tying the ‘last-mile problem’ to individuals in the name of choice isn’t the only way to go.