Wake-Up Call: End of the line for the Ski Train

My first look at Colorado was from a train. When I was a kid, my family was part of a group that would pile onto the Denver Zephyr in Chicago late on a winter afternoon. While the parents sat up all night in a coach car, our cadre of kids would commandeer the dome, sleeping under seats, on the floor -- and waking up in Colorado, with the mountains far off in the distance.

A few hours later, we'd arrive at Union Station, in Denver, like magic.

From there, we'd catch the Yampa Valley Mail train, which made deliveries in Grand County. We'd change into our ski clothes in the last car, by the sacks of mail and containers of dairy products. We didn't want to miss a second on the slopes. And then, a few hours later, we'd arrive at Winter Park. Like magic.

I didn't discover the Winter Park Ski Train until I moved to Colorado. But it, too, was magic.

Since 1940, the train had been taking skiers from Union Station to Winter Park every weekend. When Phil Anschutz bought his railroads, he kept the Ski Train tradition alive, and for two decades the service kept getting better -- and more extensive, with days added in the winter and weekend trips in the summer. Just last December, the Ski Train was touted as an integral part of the Colorado scene in the holiday tableau that the city created outside the Good Morning America studio in New York City.

But now the Ski Train has reached the end of the line, with the equipment sold to a Canadian outfit and no hope of it getting back on track. Ironically, the redevelopment of Union Station into a major commercial and transportation hub is partly to blame. For at least a few years, the Ski Train was going to be without a home. No morning trip through Union Station. No magic.

The solution to that quandary was a sad, if inevitable, one: It's the end of the line for another Colorado institution.

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