If you build a train that makes it easier for tourists to get from gateways and airports to resorts, they will come -- or ride -- and be happier for it.
The nation’s only airport-to-ski slope train connection was a hit with tourists this season and is going to keep running from Denver to Winter Park Resort for the foreseeable future.
Amtrak and the ski resort announced end-of-season ridership totals Wednesday. About 18,000 people rode the train from Denver 60 miles west through the Rockies, across the Continental Divide, and to the base of a ski resort at about 9,000 feet above sea level.
The ridership totals met expectations.
“This is like a water dispenser in the desert: People really, really want it,” said Marc Magliari, a spokesman for Amtrak. “We have a lot of support here in Colorado to restore a service that was lost.”
The so-called “ski train” ran on weekends from 1947 until 2009, when insurance woes closed it. The weekend Winter Park train was resumed this season after Denver completed work on a train line from its airport. The final trips for the season will be made this weekend.
Amtrak and Winter Park executives are meeting in Denver this week to talk about possibly expanding the service, which currently runs Saturdays and Sundays in January, February and March. The train formerly offered coffees and alcoholic beverages; some riders this season bemoaned the missing beverage service. There is also talk of Friday service.
Steve Hurlbert of Winter Park Resort said the train service increased resort visitors this season because about 75 percent or more of the train passengers skied or snowboarded when they arrived in Winter Park. The train service also increased overnight hotel stays on Saturday nights, he said, though he didn’t have specifics.
About 70 percent of the riders on the revived ski train this season came from Colorado’s Front Range, a similar demographic to overall visitors to the ski resort, Hurlbert said.
Amtrak and Winter Park plan to increase efforts to attract out-of-state ski visitors next winter with the promise that they won’t have to rent a car or book a van shuttle to get from Denver to the ski slopes, Hurlbert and Magliari said.
Photo credit: Colorado's Winter Park Resort said its visitor total increased 75 percent this year because of the revived Amtrak ski train, pictured here. Associated Press