Ski train from Denver to Winter Park sidelined amid pandemic

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In this March 14, 2015 photo provided by Winter Park Ski Resort, a skier heads for his seat on the Winter Park ski train as it waits to leave from Winter Park, Colo., for Denver’s Union Station. The historic train for skiers is resuming service from Denver’s Union Station to the Rocky Mountains through 29 tunnels. (HO, Carl Frey/Winter Park Resort via AP)

DENVER | A train that takes skiers and snowboarders from downtown Denver to Winter Park Resort won’t run this season because of the coronavirus pandemic, Amtrak and resort officials said Wednesday.

“Amtrak and Winter Park Resort evaluated seating options on the Winter Park Express and agreed that with social distancing requirements, it was not possible to operate the train successfully this season,” the partners said in a joint statement.

The service, which typically runs on weekends from January through March, won’t return until 2022. Amtrak and resort officials said that in the meantime they would explore ways to improve the experience.

The train’s hiatus this season is another blow to Colorado’s ski industry, which is trying to figure out how to safely reopen resorts this winter amid the pandemic. Resorts in Colorado were shut down in mid-March just as spring break was ramping up.

For decades, the train chugged into the Rocky Mountains west from Denver, snaking through 29 tunnels and crossing the Continental Divide before delivering eager skiers to the base of the resort at an elevation of 9,000 feet (2,743 meters). Insurance woes doomed the service in 2009, but — with some help from Amtrak — it was resurrected in 2017.

Powered by diesel-electric engines, the train runs from Denver’s historic Union Station about 60 miles (96 kilometers) and 3,700 vertical feet (1,128 vertical meters) into Colorado’s snow-swept mountains. It drops passengers off about 100 yards (91 meters) from the lifts after passing through the 6.2-mile (10-kilometer) Moffat Tunnel, which was finished in 1928 and is credited with opening Denver up to western commerce.

The Winter Park Express features Amtrak’s Superliner double-decker cars, which are designed for longer distances and are roomier than normal passenger train cars.

The train, which shares tracks with Amtrak’s California Zephyr that runs between Chicago and San Francisco, has been a draw since it started running in 1940, the same year the ski resort opened. After the service was discontinued for a few years during World War II, it ran almost every ski season from 1947 until 2009, when billionaire investor and then-owner Philip Anschutz shut it down because it became too expensive to run when insurance rates went up.