This Christmas season the Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad has been transporting riders on an enchanting holiday-themed ride as riders are taken through the snowy mountains surrounding Leadville on the Holiday Express.
Ken Olsen, who has owned the railroad with his family for 33 years, started the holiday ride for the first time this year on Nov. 19.
Olsen says the idea of a holiday train originally spurred from his son about three or four years ago. However, in order to make this idea a reality, Olsen’s crew — which includes hired on staff as well as his son, daughter and their spouses — had to overcome the challenge of running a train in the winter at 10,000 feet above sea level.
“Running a train in the winter in Leadville is no joke,” Olsen said.
Olsen said they were forced to build handcrafted lounge cars that are heated and enclosed to accommodate guests in the cold months. One lounge car was built two winters ago, while the others were built last winter so that the Holiday Express could hit the ground chugging.
Since opening Nov. 19, the Holiday Express has left the station in the middle of Leadville every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. From Dec. 17 to Jan. 8, the train goes out on two trips with one at 1:30 p.m. and the other at 4:30 p.m. The latter includes a train engine lit up, as well as views of a Christmas village made by the Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad out of signal boxes.
Beyond taking guests on a thrilling holiday ride, a unique overall experience remains on the forefront of the Olsens’ minds, as they hope to bring joy to the families that visit their train.
“I really enjoy people having a good time on the railroad,” Olsen said. “People get on that train expecting to have a good time and, more importantly, they get off that train having a good experience.”
Olsen said he will even talk with guests after the train ride to ensure that the Holiday Express is providing that remarkable, holiday experience he and his family are after. The goal is for the train to transform into a fun-filled wintertime fixture in Leadville for years to come.
The train ride must be providing a special experience for its guests, as Olsen said the many trips have been sold out.
“It’s been really awesome to experience the excitement,” said Olsen’s daughter Kirstin Ayers. “We have had people come from Vail, Frisco and a number of locals, which is kind of new to us.”
Ayers says she was born and raised on her family’s railroad, so to be able to run the train together for a extra season this winter has been special.
“Honestly the best part of running this Christmas train this year is having my summer family extended into my winter family,” Ayers said. “I have all the people that I had working this summer working for me this Christmas, and it’s been really amazing. We are all really a close, tightknit group and honestly we’ve been lucky to keep going.”
The Holiday Express requires reservations. Tickets cost $145 for a table for two or $290 for a table of four. Guests have access to concessions that include hot dogs, regular cocoa and peppermint cocoa, as well as a variety of other beverages as the train takes passengers on a two-hour round trip.
Reservations can be booked on the Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad website, Leadville-Train.com or by calling 1-866-386-3936. The winter train season will last until Jan. 15.