When I was a kid growing up in a small Michigan farming community, I used to love the sound of the train running through town. You could hear the whistle far off in the distance, and we’d run downtown just in time to put a penny on the track, standing motionless as the swaying beast rumbled by, sounding its powerful clacking on the rails with enormous noise and excitement. We’d marvel at the shiny flattened pennies created by the force of it all.Trains can go where cars cannot, and this is especially true throughout the miles of remote outposts in Alaska.
You can ride the rails from town to town, or depart from Talkeetna and jump on and off at various unmarked destinations where locals who live in the bush use the train as a vital link to goods and services. Locals have been known to flag down the train and hand the engineer homemade cookies to share with the passengers! I love the Alaska railroad, it’s rich history and folksy appeal. With so many scenic areas only accessible by train, you ride in comfort through canyons, over mountains, and along riverbeds, where not much separates you from the view but glass.
We hopped the Ski Train to the Curry Ski Hill, about 22 miles north of Talkeetna. Back in the day, circa 1947, there was a small hotel there that accommodated skiers. The hotel burned down in 1957, and today there are no services or buildings standing except for an old small log ski hut. The skiing is great with a 200′ vertical drop from the top, just perfect for cross country skiers to catch a small thrill. Or you can ski the flats, meandering through timber and along a creekbed. We had 4 hours to explore when the train arrived in Curry under sunny blue skies.
The Ski Train is not just any locomotive, and here’s where things get crazy. On the trip back to Anchorage, wine and kegs of homebrew are staged, along with a rowdy dancing car and polka band.
As you pass from car to car, sashaying over the inter-car metal plates where you can see the ground rushing by below your feet, the real party begins. Eat, dance, drink, mingle, eat, dance, drink…oh, and hey look, Denali’s (Mt. McKinley) out…grab your camera quick and hang your head out a window and SNAP.
And you’re not the least bit surprised to see Big Bird himself, on the infamous Ski Train!