Winter Fun – Ski Trains

New wealth of the 1920s jump-started ski clubs and skiers’ rode trains to the Laurentians, the Adirondacks, the Rockies, the Sierra. The Great Depression cut into railroad revenues, creative railroad marketing managers and travel agents in New England and elsewhere hit upon the idea of special weekend excursion trains. In that era most railroads had a surplus of passenger equipment held in reserve for peak season travel and special events. To assemble early ski trains, railroads normally tapped the vast yards of commuter equipment that laid dormant on weekends. Motive power was plentiful due the ample reserve most railroads maintained that was enlarged due to the drop in traffic that occurred in the early 1930s.

Boston & Maine ran its first ski train out of Boston to Warner, New Hampshire on January 11, 1931, carrying 197 members of the AMC, Dartmouth Outing Club and Harvard Mountaineering Club. Many non-skiers came not to ski but to party and amidst the merriment many short-term and lifetime romances began. Many Inns and other attractions that had cut back their hours due to the sour economy reopened for the winter weekends. In January 1932, the new trend headed west when the Rio Grande Railway ran special trains from Salt Lake to Park City.

Back in New England the Boston & Maine hired ski instructors and put in a stock of rental skis, racked in the baggage car. In 1935 the New York, New Haven & Hartford sent trains north from Grand Central Station. Averell Harriman, president of the Union Pacific, took note and build the Sun Valley resort. By 1936, an estimated 70,000 skiers’ rode trains out of New York in January, February, and March alone.

Earlier a Colorado legend was born when the Denver, Northwestern & Pacific Railway was founded and soon started a revolution in Rocky Mountain skiing. In 1902, David Halliday Moffat, Jr. developed a plan for a six-mile tunnel under Rollins Pass. He pushed a temporary line over the pass, at 11,660 feet on Colorado’s Continental Divide. The Moffat Road would require a sizeable crew and so the company built a dormitory at the summit, dubbed the Corona Station. The DN&P business plan was to haul coal eastward from the Yampa Valley, and eventually to run the line out to Salt Lake City. In the meantime, the DN&P main revenue stream came from tourism: The railroad marketed the spectacular ride up Boulder Creek to the Top of the World and expanded the Corona dormitory into a hotel.

On December 30, 1911, a DN&P train pulled out of the North Denver station for the long climb to Corona. It carried a load of New Year’s Eve celebrants bound for the Winter Carnival. Skiing was part of that Carnival and thus became a dominant attraction in the Rockies. The route was eventually taken over by the Denver & Salt Lake Railroad. After World War II, skiing and ski trains resumed. The Denver & Salt Lake merged into the Denver & Rio Grande. In 1947, the new railroad entered a 40-year partnership with the Eskimo Ski Club and Winter Park. D&RG management learned from the professional skier’s how to equip special trains to handle hundreds of skiers, rebuilding baggage cars with ski racks, and providing one car with a snack bar. Today the ski train tradition continues and a refurbished fleet of 17 lightweight passenger coaches offer passengers a luxurious experience, with three classes of service and elaborate dining facilities.

Special passenger excursions were and are operated for many occasions so consider your operation and see if that unique service might add color to your model railroad empire. If you do elect to model a ski train, remember, no slippery slope when you start that project at where the selection is plentiful, the pricing competitive and every member on our team remains continually grateful for your patronage.