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Ski Trips You Can Take on a Train

No sense driving to the ski hill when you can take a train instead.

The train is worth the effort (Ferran Traité Soler/iStock)

No sense driving to the ski hill when you can take a train instead.

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. 

Filed To: Train Travel / Travel
Nicolas Henderson/Creative Commons )

San Marcos, Texas

Billed as the world’s toughest canoe race, the Texas Water Safari, held each June, is a four-day, 260-mile jaunt from the headwaters of the San Marcos River northeast of San Antonio to the small shrimping town of Seadrift on the Gulf Coast. There’s no prize money—just bragging rights for the winner. Any boat without a motor is allowed, and you’ll have to carry your own equipment and overnight gear. Food and water are provided at aid stations along the way. Entry fees start at $175 and increase as race day approaches.

The Ring

(Courtesy Quatro Hubbard)

Strasburg, Virginia

The Ring is a 71-mile trail running race in early September along the entire length of Virginia’s rough and rocky Massanutten Trail loop. To qualify, you need to have run a 50- or 100-mile race before the event and win a spot through the lottery system. Entry is free. Complete the run and you’ll become part of the tight-knit Fellowship of the Ring and be eligible for the Reverse Ring, which entails running the trail backwards in the middle of winter.


(David Silver)

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Each spring, competitors gather in Santa Fe’s historic plaza with a simple goal: be the first to reach 12,308-foot Deception Peak, 17 miles and 5,000 feet of elevation gain away. Competitors run or bike the first 15 miles to the local ski area before transitioning to their waiting ski-touring setups for the final push to the top. Time stops only when they’ve skied back down to the tailgate in the resort’s parking lot, which is funded by the modest entry fee of around $25. To add to the sufferfest, some participants sign up for the Expedition category, in which they strap their skis, skins, boots, and poles to their bikes for the long ride up. Start dates vary depending on snow conditions, but look for the event page to be posted on Facebook in late March or early April.

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