Amtrak ski train between Denver and Winter Park returns for season

CNN  — 

Skiing and snowboarding are a lot of fun.

Getting to the resorts isn’t.

Unless you’re staying in typically pricey slopeside lodgings, driving to the action often involves dicey two-lane roads, not to mention car rental costs.

And at the end of the day, you’re back behind the wheel – fuming, stuck on gridlocked access roads.

With the return of Amtrak’s Winter Park Express seasonal route on January 10, 2020, there’s a better option for travel between the Colorado resort and Denver.

The route launched in 2017, and this year, there’s even more to be excited about.

Linking Denver’s renovated Union Station to the Winter Park Resort, this is ride-in/ride-out skiing – with the option to stay over in Denver with new hotel packages.

For example, Kimpton Hotel Born is introducing a Born to Ski package, which includes roundtrip Winter Park Express train tickets, 20% off equipment rentals at Village Rentals and deluxe accommodations back in Denver.

Folks driving to Denver from other parts of the state or outside of Colorado can stay at The Crawford Hotel or The Oxford Hotel and valet their car in Denver while they hop on a train to the ski resort.

After enjoying Denver’s burgeoning nightlife scene and bedding down for the night, travelers can hop on Amtrak and go skiing the next day.

Kimpton Hotel Born's brand-new Born to Ski package includes train tickets, accommodations in Denver and 20% off rentals.

“It’s the only rail connection that takes you to the ski lifts themselves,” says Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. (A handful of small American resorts, like Massachusetts’ Wachusett, have rail access but they also involve shuttles.)

After a two-hour ride, passengers disembark just yards from the resort’s Gemini Express quad.

“The Winter Park Express is a loved Colorado mountain tradition. It’s an easy, no-fuss way to get to the base of a world-class ski mountain, and then ski, ride or adventure all day before heading back to the city just as easily,” says Jen Miller, Winter Park’s director of communications.

“Now, with the addition of every Friday service, visitors can make a weekend of it, riding up Friday morning and then heading back down Sunday evening without ever having to sit in traffic in a car,” Miller adds.

Reviving the route

Amtrak's Winter Park Express Train, which launched in 2017, has resumed the Denver to Winter Park route for the winter ski season.

The Winter Park Express is the successor to the Ski Train, which was not affiliated with Amtrak and ran the same route from 1940 to 2009, when losses proved too big even for billionaire owner Philip Anschutz.

Reviving the route actually was a grassroots initiative from train employees in the Denver area.

Brad Swartzwelter, a conductor at Amtrak, worked for the Ski Train when he was in college and thought it’d be great to bring it back. He and other conductors presented the plan to Amtrak and Winter Park management, who got on board.

In March 2015, Amtrak ran a couple of test trips that sold out in hours.

“I sensed people were thrilled to death to be on the train,” says James M. Souby, president of the Colorado Rail Passenger Association, who took test journeys in 2015. “They found the equipment spacious and those who were veterans of the previous trains said it was much easier to don boots and grab equipment on the Amtrak Superliner cars.”

After leaving Denver at 7 a.m., the train travels 56 miles, up 4,000 feet and through 29 tunnels – including the 6.2-mile-long Moffat Tunnel, which goes under the Continental Divide.

“The views are stupendous as you look out over Denver and the plains beyond, often by moon and star light,” Souby says.

Making day trips easier

The train is both a relaxing experience and a practical one: Street shoes can be stored onboard once the train arrives at the mountain.

The train arrives at Winter Park at 9 a.m. and leaves for the city at 4:30 p.m.

Aside from the sense of relaxation inherent in rail travel, the Express is practical. For instance, while there are lockers at the resort, passengers can also put on their ski or snowboard boots on the train and leave their street shoes onboard.

Basically, anything skiers and riders don’t need during the day can be retrieved at the end of the day when passengers board the train back to Denver.

Plus, the route encourages group travel.

Says Magliari: “We’ve learned a lot in the first three years and now we are better able to accommodate groups, particularly with the Friday departures every weekend that are attracting more group travel.”

If a club or group books enough seats to fill all or part of a railcar, they’ll be seated together, Magliari explains.

Those looking forward to some après-ski drinking will be happy to hear that beer, wine and spirits are available for purchase in the food and drink car.

BYOB is not permitted, but you can order a Bloody Mary from the bartender.

Amtrak Winter Park Express runs from January 10 through March 29, 2020. The train runs Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays only. Early bird tickets start at $29 one way. Other tickets range from $39-59.

CNN’s Stacey Lastoe contributed to this story. Originally published in 2017, this story was updated in January 2020.