Sunday, January 20, 2008

Ski Areas of Today Served By Rails of Long Ago

There's only a few practical routes through the Colorado Rocky Mountains, and railroads were among the first to locate and use them. Hardscrabble wagon roads gave way to steel wheel on steel rail in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, guaranteeing the towns and services along the routes a good chance at sustainable success. Where rails were pulled up, asphalt was laid down and nearly all the routes have seen continued use with highways. The only notable exception is Rollins Pass, which was put out of service when the Moffat Tunnel opened. Perhaps because of this, Winter Park, which lies at the far end of the tunnel, is the only ski area currently served by a ski train.

It should come as little surprise that a majority of Colorado ski areas are sited near present day railroads or ghost railroads that have long been silent. Here's a listing of ski areas and the railroad grades that run nearby.
  • Arapahoe Basin - only a few miles separates the highest ski area in Colorado from the highest railroad in Colorado*, the Argentine Central. What's a few mountain peaks in the way?
  • Aspen Snowmass - Back in the day when it was a mining town, Aspen was served by both the Rio Grande and the Colorado Midland. Only last year were the rails of this branch finally and completely removed
  • Beaver Creek - On the dormant Tennessee Pass route of the old D&RGW between Minturn and Dotsero
  • Breckenridge - On the old Colorado & Southern over Boreas Pass
  • Copper Mountain - On the Blue River arm of the Denver & Rio Grande over Fremont Pass
  • Crested Butte - A former mining town once served by the narrow gauge Gunnison branch of the D&RGW
  • Loveland - A few miles from the end of track for the Colorado & Southern's effort to reach Leadville by way of Georgetown
  • Monarch - The old Monarch branch to the quarry below the ski area was removed in the mid-1980s
  • Purgatory (a.k.a. Durango Mountain, a.k.a. Flaming Gates of Hell - a direct translation of "Purgatory" in some languages) - The legendary Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad runs over the same rails that the Rio Grande laid over 125 years ago. Now if the resort could just pick a name...
  • Ski Cooper - This little ski area somehow manages to survive a remote location and competition from larger resorts. Its the nearest area to Camp Hale, the original camp of the 10th Mountain Division (skiing soldiers--biathalon anyone?) whose soldiers returned from WWII to Colorado to jump-start the state's ski industry. It also sits near the dormant Tennessee Pass line
  • Steamboat - On the original route of the Denver & Salt Lake, it is conceivable that a charter excursion could reach this fabled resort town, if it can dodge all the coal trains on the Craig branch
  • Telluride - Theatrically pronounced by the conductors of the Rio Grande Southern, "T'-Hell-You-Ride," this mining town earned a reputation long before the skiers made it a premier resort. Why not go a little further and visit Pandora?
  • Vail - Just around the corner from Minturn and Rio Grande's Tennessee Pass, this resort is one beautiful, legendary experience
  • Winter Park - The only resort served by the Ski Train, it has been long viewed as Denver's best source for packed powder, known to corrupt eastern skiers even in bad years
* The Argentine Central was the highest adhesion-worked railroad in Colorado, what most people would call a railroad. The highest railroad was and remains the Cog Wheel Route of the Manitou & Pikes Peak Railway

No comments: