Know any avid back country skiers or snow shoe enthusiasts? We have an annual event here known simply as the Ski Train, sponsored by Nordic Skiing Assn of Anchorage every March. It really is a train, chartered by the group for a day-long party in the back country of Southcentral Alaska. The train includes a fair number of regular passenger cars, a food and beverage car, and best of all, a POLKA car complete with a live polka band and a dance floor that literally rocks!
Folks board at 6am, checking their skis and other equipment at the ski car with the attendants there. The train makes one stop at a second boarding depot and then heads on to the back country, which used to be Grandview, high in the mountains between Anchorage and Seward. Now they go to Curry which is on the northern line towards Fairbanks.
The trip out takes about four hours and is relatively quiet. Folks are excited but still in morning mode. Many have coolers with breakfast and other snacks and drinks to supplement purchases made in the food car. Upon arrival, the skiers spill out of the cars and line up to collect their gear and hit the trails.
The train pulls out on its return trip at 4pm and that’s when things get rowdy. To date the polka car has never derailed itself and I’m not sure how that’s possible. In years past the wine and beer flowed in impressive amounts and the dancing and singing could be heard several cars away. I say the dancing could be heard…and I meant it. These folks dance with athletic energy and the wooden floor boards vibrate with the rhythm like a rail-car sized drum. The whole car sways from side to side in an alarming fashion, but pretty soon you find yourself jumping and stomping along to the primal beat of music you can’t even hear anymore!
Many years ago I joined a group of friends for this experience. I had a bum knee, so opted not to ski or snow shoe, instead bringing a paperback to read while I waited for the group to come back from skiing. Friends would ski for awhile then come back in to warm up and get something to eat or drink before heading back out to try another trail. Eventually most of them were back on the train, changing into dry clothes and preparing for the ride home. Most …
Three of our ladies were yet unaccounted for and the clock was rolling down towards the all-aboard whistle. Finally, just as we were beginning to gear up to go looking, they showed up, red faced, sweating and swearing in equal measure. They had gotten down into a bowl of snow that was a little off from where everyone else was skiing. They could just see the train, but kept punching through the crust so couldn’t make any real time climbing back out of the bowl. Once they made it to the rim, they had to really hustle to make it back to the train.
I can still hear C’s drawling voice as she stated “Y’all shouldn’ta let the girl from Tennessee tell you where the trail was!”
I still don’t ski. Although my knee has been repaired, I don’t trust it much and I actually worry a little about my future winters at the cabin where skis and snow shoes will be my best bet for getting around. Anyway, these days the Ski Train sells out every year, so I don’t feel right about taking a seat when a real skier has likely been denied a ticket.
The March 2013 train has long since sold out, but if you’re thinking this would be a fun thing to do one day, I recommend joining the Nordic Skiing Association and getting on their email list. (Plus you can get discounted Ski Train tickets that way!) Tickets back when I went were about $45. These days they go for $140, but if you join you can get them for $110.
Skiing, beer and live polka…who could ask for more?