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Anyone who’s ever experienced the horrors of I-70—be it ski-, accident-, or weather-related traffic jams (or if you happened to be driving up two weekends ago, all three)—knows to try and avoid the highway at all costs. When a drive that should only be an hour and a half turns into eight long ones, a two-hour train ride starts to look incredibly appealing.
Enter Amtrak’s latest partnership with Winter Park Resorts: the Winter Park Express will depart Denver’s Union Station for the resort on March 14 and 15, returning that same night. Initially scheduled just for the 14th, and billed as a one-time-only event, each round-trip adult ticket cost $75 (including a $15 gift voucher to use at the resort). All 400 tickets sold-out in a mere ten hours, however, encouraging the organizers to first add another car, and eventually, to add a second date on the 15th. The 450 seats for the March 15 train sold out in just four hours.
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Winter Park Resort’s creation was dependent on the railroad, and as the ski area celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, it only makes sense that they do so with a dedicated train. The Express is scheduled to depart Union Station at 7 a.m. (leaving you just enough time to squeeze in a breakfast sandwich at Snooze), arriving in Winter Park by 9 a.m and leaving for Denver that same day at 4:15 p.m. While there was a ski train that used to run direct to Winter Park for nearly 70 years, it was a private enterprise and dissolved in 2009. Today, Amtrak’s California Zephyr services Fraser (where a free shuttle will take you to the resort), but those passengers don’t get to ride through the historic Moffat Tunnel (completed in 1927), or experience the ease of being dropped off at the resort—ski gear in tow. The Winter Park Express was also scheduled to coincide with ski times, unlike the Zephyr, which puts patrons at the resort later in the day and requires them to leave earlier. The Express will operate in addition to the Zephyr on March 14 and 15, and will include all the comforts you expect from an Amtrak train.
The unprecedented success of the Winter Park Express has Denver residents dizzy with the prospect a permanent way to avoid stop-and-go ski traffic, not to mention dangerous winter driving conditions. Winter Park Resort is currently working with Amtrak and Union Pacific to bring the ski train back for next season, though there’s no guarantee. The ski train originally closed thanks to shrinking profits, the rising cost of liability coverage, and because of operating issues with freight trains that share the line. For now, we’re keeping our fingers crossed.