IT WAS A chilly morning last March when our family hauled bags of food from the car, shouldered skis and snowshoes, and trudged across the Alaska Railroad Depot parking lot to a snaking series of passenger cars, bound for paradise. Anxiously waiting for this day since the previous October, it was finally time to ride the Ski Train!
A signature event since 1972, the Ski Train is part vacation, part outdoor adventure, and a whole lot of fun. Organized by the Nordic Ski Association of Anchorage, and meant simply to transport skiers and snowshoers with a serious case of the winter blahs to a remote destination for a few hours of breaking trail. Back then, the Ski Train cost a mere $5, and gradually grew into a standing-room-only wintertime event that attracts outdoor enthusiasts of all ages and abilities. For the past two years, we have joined the circle of intrepid backcountry explorers for a day in historic Curry, 110 miles from Anchorage near the boundary of Denali National Park.
It’s decidedly cool, this trip. Worried slightly about our son’s ability to ski through untracked, ungroomed spring snow with little or no assistance, we were still confident enough to purchase our $100 tickets on October first, as members of NSAA (non-members pay $140 and must wait until November to purchase their tickets). Departing Anchorage at 7 a.m. and returning at 8 p.m., the Ski Train is indeed a long, exhausting day for most kids. However, the excitement of a four-hour train ride coupled with a rousing ompah band and 600 or so other excited souls eating and drinking and singing, more than made up for mild crankiness caused by a lot of exercise, food, and sun.
Kids are always welcome to participate, but for those wondering if the hefty ticket price is worth the effort, check out the NSAA Ski Train page on the organization’s website. Full of “need to know” stuff like a seating chart, timeline for the day, and suggestions for activities, this is a great guideline to follow in determining your family’s plan for take off on Saturday, March 23, 2013. You’ll also need to consider the following points, as well:
Bring food. Unlike many AKRR trains, there is little food for sale on board the train, so plan on bringing breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We filled soft-sided coolers with wraps, smoked salmon, gourmet cheeses, sandwiches, and hearty muffins. Don’t forget water, either.
Bring the good gear. The Ski Train itself usually remains in Curry for the duration, allowing access to bathroom breaks and warm-ups. The sun shone brightly in 2012, but I do not expect such luxury in 2013, so pack hand-warmers, extra socks, mittens, and layers. Also bring extra clothes for the ride home, and a blanket or pillow for tired kiddos.
Know your family’s abilities. The great thing about the Ski Train, we’ve learned, is the access to all sorts of outdoor fun, not just Nordic skiing. This is ungroomed skiing, so consider snowshoeing or sledding, or just playing in the snow for a few hours if ability is an issue.
Ask questions, and buy online! Beginning October first, NSAA members will be able to purchase Ski Train tickets online eliminating the long lines and confusing paperwork. Go this route and pick your seats, too. Questions? Call the NSAA office at 907-276-7609.
Erin Kirkland is the owner and publisher of AKontheGO.com, a website dedicated to Alaska family travel and outdoor recreation. She lives in Anchorage with her husband and youngest son.