From New England to across the pond, Cape Cod Ski Club finds adventure and comradery on the slopes
Photos courtesy of the Cape Cod Ski Club
“Snow trains,” now legendary amongst skiers, used to transport adventure seekers from cities directly to mountain town destinations. While one is unlikely to associate ski industry growth with the Great Depression, it was this era that brought about the inception of snow trains. Companies introduced these services in the 1930s to increase passengers, and according to Trains magazine, some operators, such as Union Pacific, even constructed resorts. Probably the most famous of these is Sun Valley, Idaho, the first “Hollywood” hill. In addition to providing the service that delivered passengers to snow country, Union Pacific also invented the apparatus that would deposit skiers at the tops of mountains—the chairlift, the first of which opened in Sun Valley for the 1936-37 season.
Correspondent T.D. Thornton reported in a 2013 Boston Globe article that “America’s first dedicated snow train debuted on Jan. 11, 1931, when the Boston & Maine Railroad’s ‘Sunday Winter Snow Sports Train’ took 197 passengers from North Station to Warner, N.H.” By season’s end, this popular service would carry over 8,000 skiers to White Mountains. In a few years’ time, Thornton noted, North Station would regularly overflow with enthusiasts as “thousands of sports fans jammed two 12-car snow trains until all standing room was gone.”
The heyday of snow trains ran for about a decade, and companies offered a variety of services for their guests. In 1937 Union Pacific unveiled its fastest new train, the “City of Los Angeles,” with a 40-hour, red-carpet-style party from New York to Sun Valley that featured a full-blown fashion show during which models strutted the finest new ski apparel on stage for 200 exclusive guests. Out in Seattle, the snow train to Snoqualmie Ski Bowl provided a “recreation car” with a “Wurlitzer nickelodeon going full blast.” Here in New England, Boston & Maine offered skiing lessons and converted one of its cars into a ski rental shop. Regardless of location, however, the main purpose of the snow train was the same: to offer skiers a fun, social and relaxed way of reaching the slopes. Automobile travel was still cumbersome, and skiing was new and exciting. The demands of World War II put the snow train services on hold, and afterward they never regained their previous levels of success. Due to a number of factors—eventually including the advent and popularity of Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System—they gradually faded into the occasional attempt at revival and into nostalgia.
Some of the essential concepts behind the snow trains have endured, however, in a variety of organizations dedicated to stoking the passions of winter sports lovers, of which the Cape Cod Ski Club is a dynamic example. Since 1978, the Cape Cod Ski Club has been fulfilling many of the old snow trains’ promises for thousands of skiers and snowboarders. It’s a long drive from the dunes to the slopes of northern New England, and it’s an expensive proposition to fly from Hyannis to the Rockies or the Alps, but the Cape Cod Ski Club has been able to parlay the value of its membership base into transportation offerings and incredible group discounts. Members no longer ride the rails to destinations of powder (or, frequently in the East, “frozen granular”), but the club does offer regular busses on Wednesdays. Passengers board in Harwich, Barnstable and Sagamore for a relatively hassle-free journey through Boston and up to the mountains beyond. When the lifts close, the skiers and boarders climb back on the bus for a leisurely, if long, ride home. In addition to day trips, the club also offers overnight expeditions of a few days and “fly trips” of about a week.
Cape Cod Ski Club president Nancy Whitehurst has been an active member since 1995. Unsurprisingly, many of her closest friendships have begun and bloomed in this time. The club attracts “great, active people,” she says. “It gives people the opportunity to have fun. The club is social, too.” Whitehurst says that current membership stands at about 400 members. “We did have up to 700 members years ago, but 400 to 500 is better.” With too many people, she notes, it becomes harder to join trips. Over the years, the club has also seen the importance of keeping things simple. Whitehurst says, “We try to stay away from other big travel activities and stick to skiing, but we’ll have some events throughout the year such as kayaking, a clambake, or a movie night.”
The Cape Cod Ski Club releases three “menus” of trips that members can sign up for. First, in August, it announces the fly trips. “These usually sell out right away,” says Whitehurst. These typically include airfare, accommodation in condos or hotels, five days of lift tickets, daily breakfasts, and one or two group dinners or gatherings. “They’re usually priced for groups of 42 to 44,” she continues, “though for popular ones, sometimes we’ll add on.” The next trips the club publicizes will be the overnight ones, then the weekday trips. Typically, by the end of October or early November, the complete menus will be available online.
Many club members began their involvement by taking day trips. These cost $88 and include transportation and lift tickets. As a point of reference, the average price of a day pass in New England is around $90. Brendan Pickett of Dennis says, “I joined in 2014, just doing day trips. I heard from members on the bus rides back to the Cape about the fly trips and overnights, and starting in 2015 I was all in. Now I go on one yearly fly trip, a couple of overnights, and as many day trips with the club as I can in between.” Pickett is a snowboarder but has felt completely welcome. He says, “You can’t really beat the price, plus there’s no stress of driving. You get to the mountain rested and ready to go.” This year, Pickett, 34, accepted an invitation to join the board of directors, where he represents a younger generation. This aligns with one of the club goals, which is, Nancy Whitehurst says, “to attract more millenials.” For the upcoming season, Pickett is most looking forward to the club’s excursion to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. “This is where I took my first fly trip,” he notes, “and I had an amazing time.”
Bob Jensen of Sandwich has been in the club since 2000 and also began participating as a day tripper. The bus leaves Harwich at 4:30 a.m., Barnstable at 4:50 a.m., and Sagamore at 5:10 a.m. on 17 Wednesdays beginning in December. “It’s a long day, but it’s worth it,” says Jensen. “When we first board the bus, it’s quiet time. Then the sun comes up, people start waking up; we offer donuts and begin socializing.” Prior to moving to the Cape, he lived in Wareham for 20 years. He recalls, “I didn’t know I could join the club, but we have no limits for membership. We even have three guys from the Netherlands who meet up with us, so we joke that we’re an international ski club.”
Jensen, who has served on the board for nine years, is currently the vice president, but he will succeed Whitehurst as president for in the 2019-20 season. He was also the travel chairman for five years. In this capacity, he researched trips, negotiated contracts with tour operators, and attended an annual Mountain Travel Symposium. “It was lots of fun,” he says. “I learned a lot about the ski industry.” Most of the fly trips stay within a range of $1,500-$2,500, although trips to Europe can be more expensive. The club has visited most of the major resorts out West, but Jensen says, “We haven’t explored British Columbia and Alberta as well as we could—Revelstoke, Kicking Horse, Sun Peaks. There are some fantastic mountains out there that we skiers in the East have never even heard about.” This year’s fly trips will take members to Jackson Hole, Steamboat in Colorado, Mt. Bachelor in Oregon, and St. Anton in Austria. Overnight destinations will include Jay Peak, Sugarloaf, and an exploration of Wildcat, Attitash and Sunday River.
For just $50 a year, anyone can join the Cape Cod Ski Club. If one factors in the cost of driving to the mountains, just two day trips would offset the annual membership fee. One can also try out the club as a day trip guest for a fee of $15 on top of the regular member price of $88. For many members, the value runs much deeper than even Utah blower powder, as lifelong friendships often develop. Robert Jensen, for example, frequently bikes and golfs with ski club friends in the off seasons. He says, “The club is social, but it’s not a big partying scene. People just want to ski, have a beer, and go to bed. We just like to have a good time.”
To learn more about Cape Cod Ski Club and sign up for a ski trip, visit capecodskiclub.com.