Ski train’s first stop was Hot Sulphur Springs carnival |

Ski train’s first stop was Hot Sulphur Springs carnival

Tim Nicklas
Grand County Historical Association
Grand County, CO Colorado
Grand County Historical Association

A beloved Colorado tradition made its final run on March 9, 2009.

The Winter Park Ski Train came to an end just shy of what many claim to be its 70th annual run. In actuality the iconic line carried skiers longer than its 69 years of travel to the base of Winter Park. In 1936, the Rocky Mountain News sponsored the Snow Train to carry passengers to the 25th Hot Sulphur Springs Winter Sports Carnival. Though this special excursion was the inauguration of the Ski Train, the true beginning dates further back to the first Hot Sulphur Springs Winter Sports Carnival and the event where it all began.

On more than one occasion the question has been asked, “Why did Colorado’s ski industry take root in Hot Sulphur Springs?” The answer has more than one answer; snow, people, and a train.

The snow is a simple natural resource that is plentiful in Colorado’s winters. Before 1911, that resource was an economic bust for Colorado’s mountain towns and a reason that people would stay away from towns that would see an influx of tourists in the summer.

In October 1911 a group of far-sighted citizens in the quaint burg of Hot Sulphur, a traditional mecca for summer visitors, decided to organize an event to bring people to the town’s empty winter time hotels and restaurants. Monopolizing upon the rail line that made its entrance into Grand’s county seat just a few years earlier in 1905, these town boosters advertised the first winter sports carnival west of the Mississippi along the length of the Denver, Northwestern, and Pacific Railroad as a unique winter excursion. The promotion worked!

The railroad did indeed bring the tourists to town to take part in Colorado’s first winter sports carnival. Among those who came from Denver were two remarkable ski exhibitionists, Carl Howelson and Angell Schmidt. Though they embarked on their journey like the other Denverites, the two men did what none of the others dared to do. Upon reaching the top of the Continental Divide at Corona Station, Howelson and Schmidt exited the train, donned 30 pound backpacks, rifles, and skis and slid the next 44 miles across the snow to Hot Sulphur Springs. The day after arriving in town the pair put their skis on again and went sailing through the air, presenting ski jumping to an awestruck crowd.

The Hot Sulphur Springs Winter Sports Carnival of 1911 created so much enthusiasm that the organizers decided to hurriedly hold the 1st Annual Hot Sulphur Winter Sports Carnival just six weeks later in February 1912. Even more spectators showed for this event, which included Howelson and Schmidt re-enacting their trek from Corona and demonstration of ski jumping.

The winter sports carnivals of Hot Sulphur continued to attract more attention and tourists through the years, peaking in the 25th Annual Hot Sulphur Springs Winter Carnival and the Rocky Mountain News sponsored Snow Train on the Denver and Salt Lake Railway. The Snow Train brought at least 2,500 spectators a day from Denver and another 500 from Steamboat Springs. In all, at least 7,000 visitors a day crowded tiny Hot Sulphur Springs during the three-day event.

The same train that brought travelers to Hot Sulphur Springs and Colorado’s first ski area gradually gave birth to an even more enduring ski destination. After the completion of the Moffat Tunnel, skiers would literally jump off the trains on their way to Hot Sulphur Springs as they exited the west end of the tunnel. This site would eventually become Winter Park Ski Resort, which opened in 1940. Ironically, the opening of Winter Park would result in a shift of skiers away from Hot Sulphur Springs and the diversion of the Snow Train to be rechristened the Winter Park Ski Train, ending the run of “Where It All Began.”

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