The Annual Alaska Ski Train
Stretching the boundaries of a typical ski or snowshoe trek, The Nordic Ski Association of Anchorage, in Alaska, has hosted the annual Ski Train since 1972, and has created the perfect way to usher in an Alaska spring.
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Held each March, when days are longer and Alaskans are absolutely giddy at the thought of winter’s final exit, the Alaska Ski Train is more than a day of outdoor recreation; it’s a vacation. I say “vacation” because that’s what it feels like; 700+ adults, children, and a few avalanche dogs stuffed inside a series of snaking Alaska Railroad cars, happily eating and drinking and dancing to the sounds of a polka band from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.It’s a departure from the usual way most folks Nordic ski or snowshoe; no driving the car and putting on boots in a frigid parking lot, no crowded trails, and definitely no worries. The Alaska Ski Train takes passengers out, dumps them off, and sits a patient four hours before chugging back to Anchorage.
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Past Alaska Ski Train routes headed south along Turnagain Arm to the Grandview area, a remote section of wilderness that dished powerful fun for backcountry skiers but also left NSAA staff concerned about avalanches. After discontinuing this southern route, organizers looked north to the remote, historic townsite of Curry (also the original Alaska Ski Train destination back in ’72), and the party was on.Frankly, I’d make the Alaska Ski Train part of a weeklong Alaska adventure, wrapping the day around other late-winter experiences like dog mushing with Salmon Berry Tours, snowshoeing around Campbell Creek Science Center, or exploring gorgeous Girdwood and Alyeska Resort. Fitting in a day aboard the Alaska Railroad and receiving a local’s view to boot can top off one fabulous 49th state trip. The Alaska Ski Train is garnering more attention from out-of-state visitors, and I’ll bet my Xtra Tuffs more are on the way. So here’s how to make it happen for you:
Buying Tickets For the Alaska Ski Train
On sale mid-October for Nordic Ski Association of Anchorage members. Not a member? Sign up and spend $50 on a family membership for the double benefit of early ticket purchase and support of a fabulous organization. Tickets are $120/members, $160 non-members, and worth every penny. Non-members must wait until early November to purchase tickets, and I guarantee you, there won’t be many left. Out of town? Visit the NSAA website, download the form, and fax it in.
Flights to Anchorage
Alaska Airlines takes up the bulk of wintertime air travel to and from Alaska, but Delta does provide some competitive pricing. Remember to allow extra time on either end of the Ski Train, since the event takes up a full day.
Preparing For the Alaska Ski Train
Do note the Ski Train does not offer tracked, groomed skiing. It is the backcountry, and while we managed nicely with our son during his early years, it was indeed a little tricky for short legs to cut through the spring snow.
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Many participants bring snowshoes or sleds and hoof it, finding this mode to be more successful with kids. Keep tabs on our website, AKontheGO for regular Alaska Ski Train updates and a complete list of items to bring along.
The historic townsite of Curry is located north of Anchorage, about a four-hour train ride. Just west of the tiny town of Talkeetna, Curry served as a stopover for passengers on the way to Fairbanks in the 1950’s, with a beautiful hotel and resort-like atmosphere. Curry now sits deserted and desolate save for a few seasonal cabins along the Talkeetna river. Where guests once fished for grayling and trout, the river quietly flows along, with only rusty memories remaining in a place once known as a “palace in the wilderness.” Watch for views of Denali from the train windows, see moose moving about the boreal forestland, and savor the peaceful wintertime scenery.
While children of any age are more than welcome on the Ski Train, I’d forego tiny family members who are old enough to wiggle and toddle, due to a serious lack of room for either. Children six and older should appreciate both the train ride and three hours of skiing and sledding.
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Plus, the train stays in Curry while passengers ski, and nobody cares at all if kids climb on, off, on, and off, over and over and over. We brought a pillow, fleece blanket, and the DVD player for the tired ride home, and all was peaceful and cozy when we arrived back in Anchorage, sun-kissed and full of memories.
Erin Kirkland is Managing Editor of Outdoor Families Magazine, publisher of AKontheGO, and author of Alaska On the Go: Exploring the 49th state with children. She lives in Anchorage, Alaska with her family.