For traveling skiers, the choice between trains, planes, and automobiles usually amounts to driving or flying. Traveling skiers should reconsider.
Late afternoon on a winter day in Vancouver, British Columbia, and it's raining like...well, like it rains on winter days in Vancouver. I'm seriously ready to get out of town, but it's coming down so hard there are whitecaps in the runoff flowing past my feet. Forget driving or flying in this weather, I could leave town on the next ark.
Instead, I walk up to the ticket agent at Pacific Central Station and say, "One for Jasper, please." The Canadian, run by VIA Rail, is leaving in an hour, and I intend to be on it. After all, today's rain in Vancouver could be tomorrow's freshies at Marmot Basin, Alberta, and it's going to take more than hellish traffic or high water to stop me.
There's a lot to be said for taking the train to the slopes. Simply put, riding the rails is a license to chill. Go for the day or weekend and you avoid the stress-fest of the Interstate; go farther and you get to see the world in a new way.
The Canadian, for example, pulls out of Vancouver at 5:30 p.m., and arrives in Jasper, a few miles from Marmot, at 11:15 the next morning. If you don't mind sleeping in your seat, go Economy class. If you'd rather ride in style, go for the Silver and Blue class, which combines the classic appeal of rail travel -- personalized service, all meals, sleeping units -- with soon-to-be added amenities like microbrews and e-mail availability. Trust me, sipping a cold porter in the art deco-inspired Bullet Lounge beats a Bud Light at 30,000 feet any day.
Besides, once you get into the rhythm of the rails, time flies. On the Canadian, I hit the sack somewhere in southern B.C. and had my morning coffee gazing at Mount Robson, highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. Two hours later, I was hopping on Marmot's Eagle Express -- and there were plenty of good powder shots left.
Interested in rolling down the tracks? Consider getting on board for the rail-friendly resorts below.
Marmot Basin: The Canadian leaves Vancouver Friday, Sunday, and Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. Economy seats are C$117-C$139 one way; Silver & Blue service, including meals and sleeping space, starts at C$298. (Eastern skiers can also leave from Toronto.) Contact: VIA Rail (888-VIA-RAIL) or John Steel Rail Tours (800-988-5778).
Killington: Amtrak's Ethan Allen Express leaves New York's Penn Station daily with special skier-friendly service on weekends. On Friday, the last train departs at 6:40 p.m., arriving in Rutland at 11:30. Round-trip fares are $128, including bus transfers to the slopes. Contact: Killington (800-621-MTNS) or Amtrak (866-SKI-AMTRAK).
Whistler/Blackcomb: Leaving North Vancouver daily at 7:00 a.m., the Caribou Prospector arrives at Whistler at 9:45 a.m. One-way fares are C$39-$41; round-trips, C$69-C$71. Breakfast, dinner, and taxes are included. Contact: B.C. Rail (800-663-8238).
Winter Park: The Ski Train leaves Denver's Union Station Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 7:15 a.m. and drops skiers slopeside two hours later. Regular fares are $45 round-trip; Club Car fares, including breakfast and après-ski snacks, are $70. Contact: The Ski Train (303-296-I-SKI).
Finally, note that Amtrak also offers special rates and ski packages to resorts throughout its transcontinental route system. Contact: 866-SKI-AMTRAK.