All Aboard to Snow Country
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.
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