COLD and hungry, you stand in the dark, waiting to hop on a train out of the city.
Bells clang and the guard whistles and you struggle with heavy bags, but then your buddy shows up with breakfast burritos and steaming coffee. As you climb aboard, dawn breaks over the fine city of Denver.
Last winter, the state of Colorado restarted its train service from Denver to Winter Park, a friendly little ski resort in the Arapaho National Forest, after a 14-year break. Why they waited so long is a mystery — it is one of the best train journeys in America.
Best because it only takes an hour and a half, costs a mere £30 and leaves in the early morning, when the sun glows pink across the prairie before giving way to the foothills of the Rockies; through tunnels blasted out during the goldrush of the Wild West.
It’s the cherry on the cake of Denver’s regeneration.
Union Station, a glorious hulk of Americana that lay dormant and neglected for decades, is now a bustling transport hub. A smart new hotel, The Crawford, occupies the upper floors and bars and restaurants buzz beneath it.
It’s good news, and God knows we could all use a bit of that right now.
Good for Brits too, who can now take a US ski holiday without the cost and hassle of hiring a car, and good for anyone who doesn’t fancy a long drive to the slopes. It can take more than five hours to reach the big-name resorts such as Breckenridge or Vail.
Winter Park is less well known than it should be.
Built as a weekend getaway for Denver locals, it is just big enough for a week’s skiing, mostly thanks to the variety of terrain.
GO: COLORADO SKI TRAIN
GETTING THERE: British Airways has return fares to Denver from £361 see ba.com/denver.
STAYING THERE: Self-catering at the Zephyr Mountain Lodge in Winter Park is from £185 per night in March; and from £210 per night at the Steamboat Grand. See winterparkresort.com and steamboatgrand.com.
GETTING AROUND: The Winter Park Express runs from January-March with advance fares from £22. See amtrak.com/winterparkexpress. The Greyhound from Winter Park to Steamboat is from £13 – see greyhound.com. A four-day lift ticket combining both resorts is from £214; winterparkresort.com.
MORE INFO: coloradoski.com.
There are nursery slopes and big, flattering freeways of snow, where you can cruise your way to confidence with hardly any crowds at all.
Or there are gnarley double black runs that will test your mettle as well as any in the Alps.
Off piste skiing is discouraged in the US, but large chunks of the mountain are left ungroomed, leaving you to chop through bucketloads of powder to the point of exhaustion.
We could have done this all week, but in the name of research we hopped on a Greyhound bus to Steamboat, one of the nearest resorts to Winter Park. They share a lift ticket deal, so you can ski both in a week.
Steamboat is an old Western town, while Winter Park is a purpose-built resort. As such it has lots of cute restaurants and shops, a great live music scene and some fancy hotels.
But the best thing it has going for it are the trees.
Silver grey aspens as far as the eye can see, great swathes of wood breaking up the mountain’s all-white canvas. America is famous for its tree skiing and Steamboat is a fine introduction. You can ski on the piste here, but dashing in and out of the trees is exhilarating and one of those experiences that is hard to find elsewhere.
It helps to have knee-deep powder to enjoy it at its best, but that’s what Colorado is famous for.
We did and considered ourselves lucky; book in January or February and there’s a good chance you will too.