In Europe, train travel into the mountains is the smartest way to go: it’s faster, less expensive, and less of a headache than driving. But in the U.S., our dwindling passenger train system can make it tough to plan any kind of ski vacation that involves a train. Tough—but not impossible. Here are four snowy destinations worth traveling by train to.
Seattle to Leavenworth, Washington
Amtrak’s Empire Builder train departs from downtown Seattle every afternoon and takes you east into the Cascade Mountains, arriving at Leavenworth’s Icicle Station some three and half hours later (admittedly, about an hour longer than driving). You’ll be treated to views of the Skykomish River, no sketchy driving over an icy Highway 2, and cocktails from the dining car. The train began stopping in Leavenworth in 2009 and is a welcomed treat for skiers—you can catch a shuttle to the ski area of Stevens Pass.
Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Whitefish, Montana
You’ll depart Minneapolis at 10 p.m. and arrive in snowy Whitefish the following evening aboard Amtrak’s westbound Empire Builder train. Along the way, the train cross the flats of North Dakota before plunging into the Rocky Mountains. Some hotels in town offer a free shuttle from the Whitefish Train Depot, then you’ll need to catch a lift to powder stashes at the nearby Whitefish Mountain Resort.
Denver to Winter Park, Colorado
The Ski Train from Denver’s Union Station to Winter Park began as a skier’s ritual in 1940 and had a long legacy until the train service was discontinued in 2009. There’s a movement underway to bring the Ski Train back but not until 2017 at the earliest. But you can hop aboard Amtrak’s westbound California Zephyr train in Denver, which travels between San Francisco and Chicago, and offers daily stops in nearby Fraser, just neighboring Winter Park. The ski area offers a shuttle from the Fraser station and lodging and lift tickets package if you arrive by train from Chicago, San Francisco, or points in between.
San Francisco to Truckee, California
It’ll take five and a half hours to get from Emeryville, outside of San Francisco, to the train station in downtown Truckee, which is minutes from the wide-open bowls at Northstar, Sugar Bowl, and Squaw Valley. And sure, that’s longer than it usually takes to drive the 180 miles, but if there’s traffic on Interstate 80, you’ll be thankful to be riding the eastbound California Zephyr train, which departs daily. Now that Uber is operating in Tahoe, as of December, you can easily catch a ride from the Truckee train station to wherever you need to go.
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