Conductor Brad’s last run on the Amtrak ski train

Amtrak Conductor Brad Swartzwelter played a big role in the rebirth (the resurrection, some of us might say) of the ski train that runs on winter weekends from Denver to the Winter Park ski area. This grand, old, Colorado institution died in 2009 from lack of love from its owner, billionaire Philip Anschutz who owned the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad. The railroad had run the train since 1940. It sometimes made a little money. It was a source of pride for the company and for Colorado.

In 2014, ColoRail Passenger, the newsletter of Colorado Rail Passenger Association, published “Bring Back the Ski Train” by Robert Brewster. The article inspired Brad and others and people got together to convince Amtrak to run the train. Brad drafted a business plan and pushed it up the Amtrak management. The Winter Park Resort, led by Gary Defrange, offered much help. ColoRail escorted Amtrak management to the ski area, outbound via the California Zephyr and return by a bus charted by ColoRail. The bus got stuck in I-70 traffic. Management was convinced. In 2015 they ran two demo trains, both of which immediately sold out. In 2017 the train was back for real.

The ski train revived as the Winter Park Express. It’s one of Amtrak’s most successful trains. Brad has conducted most of the runs.

He is retiring this coming fall. So this was his last day as conductor of the famed train. (Brad also conducts the California Zephyr, which runs every day from Chicago to Denver to Salt Lake to Oakland.) Friends and family rode the train with him, including yours truly. I had a fabulous time socializing with great people, enjoying the train ride, and skiing that fabulous ski area.

Thank you Brad Swartzwelter for your safe and excellent management of the Winter Park Express. Thank you for your colorful commentary along the way, which entertained and educated many people. We look forward to working with you in your “civilian” role as an advocate for passenger trains.

Some Links:

A good article about Brad from his alma mater Metropolitan State University, “The Winter Park Express is a runaway success story”

The Denver Post, August, 2016, “Thanks to the Winter Park Express, Denver just became a ski-in, ski-out town”, reported by Jason Blevins

Rocky Mountain PBS covered the train in January, 2024, a history

Denverite web journal, 2016: “What killed the Denver ski train, what brought it back and how to catch a ride”

Amtrak’s Winter Park Express web site. Tickets for next winter go on sale in December.

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