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Leadville’s Holiday Express train captures holiday spirit, with family at the forefront

The Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad’s Holiday Express sits covered in snow on Christmas Day. The Holiday Express has been successful in its first year with the Olsen family making sure the train ride provides a unique experience for all.
John Hanson/For the Summit Daily News

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.

A snow-covered train engine outside the Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad train station. The Holiday Express train ride has been successful in its first year with the Olsen family making sure the train ride provides a unique experience for all.
John Hanson/For the Summit Daily News

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.

A water tower seen here is part of the Christmas village that has been set up by the Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad crew.
Ken Olsen/Courtesy photo

 

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.

Breckenridge’s 60th anniversary begins with waffles, music and 5 inches of fresh snow

Skiers and snowboarders cheer with excitement as they board the first chair of the season at the base of Peak 8 on opening day Friday at Breckenridge Ski Resort.
Katie Young/Breckenridge Ski Resort

Windy weather and warm waffles was the scene the morning of opening day Friday, Nov. 12, at Breckenridge Ski Resort’s Peak 8. The resort’s 60th anniversary kicked off with the BreckConnect Gondola spinning at 8 a.m. followed by the Colorado SuperChair and 5-Chair firing up at 8:30 to give guests about 50 acres of terrain on the 4 O’Clock and Springmeier trails.

For Shawn Daws, the day began even earlier. He arrived at the base around 5:15 a.m. to be on the first chair of the Colorado SuperChair. The shuttle driver and river guide works nights so he can ride each day, yet Friday was his first day of the season.

“It’s my backyard, and I love it,” Daws said. “I love this mountain. It’s the best mountain.”

It was the third opening day the seven-year Breckenridge resident has attended at the resort. He was on the first chair of Vail Mountain last season and is thrilled that the reservation system to ski is gone. Daws lived in Pennsylvania before Colorado, but grew up riding Taos and Angel Fire Resort in New Mexico.

Joining him Friday was Zion Laman from Castle Rock and his three friends. The two parties rode the first chair at Breckenridge last season, as well. It was Laman’s fourth day of the season, with the other three at Keystone Resort.

“Breck is pretty easy to get first chair,” Laman said. “There are some places where you have to camp multiple nights.”

The 16-year-old and his group stayed overnight at the Grand Lodge on Peak 7 and skied down the road to get in line at about 5:30 a.m., shortly after Daws.

“We were supposed to get here at 4, but we got lazy,” he said.

Skiers and riders who arrived early Friday were greeted with a DJ, free waffles and 5 inches of snow that fell overnight.

“It was awesome,” Laman said after his first run. “There was a little bit of fresh powder at the top. It was sweet. I loved it.”

Matt Baker, a snowboarder who was also one of the first to complete a lap, thanked the Norse god Ullr for the conditions.

“It was great,” Baker said. “Ullr has been kind. It’s a little hard and kind of windy, but Ullr was kind.”

There was a base depth of 18 inches reported, and 15 inches fell throughout the week before Friday morning’s mostly cloudy weather.

Snowboarders ride down Springmeier trail on opening day Friday at Breckenridge Ski Resort.
Spence Linard/Breckenridge Ski Resort

Six-year Breckenridge resident and event producer Cara Loux arrived after the initial surge.

“It’s a lot better than I thought it would be,” Loux said while taking a break on the deck of the Vista Haus between runs.

She doesn’t do opening days often due to work, and Friday was her first day of the season, but she said she came out to meet up with old friends and enjoy her home mountain.

“I did Wake Up Breck yesterday for the first time ever,” Loux said. “It was cool to see almost over 2,000 people line up to watch the opening of a garage, get a mug and activate local businesses. I like to see that.”

Next on her list for the season is Breckenridge’s upper terrain and skinning in the backcountry.

Over at 5-Chair, which wasn’t running during last season’s opening day, was Jennifer Stone and her family from Colorado Springs. It’s been a tradition for the past five years to come out for opening day.

“We took the kids out of school and came up last night,” Stone said. “We just love being in Breck.”

The mountain is where her 13-year-old twins learned to ski, and learning was once again on the agenda as one made the switch to snowboarding. They chose 5-Chair to ease into the new equipment before lessons Saturday at Keystone.

Stone said this season feels more normal when compared with last year. While the ski reservation system is gone, reservations will still be required for on-mountain restaurants as well as proof of vaccination at cafeteria-style eateries. Face coverings are also necessary indoors.

Stone is also excited for the new Freedom SuperChair to debut on the north side of Peak 7. The opening of the lift is planned for early December. Spokesperson Sara Lococo said more Peak 8 terrain is the current priority, followed by opening Peak 9 and then Peak 7.

Photos: Readers share images of the Ptarmigan Fire near Silverthorne

Flames from the Ptarmigan Fire are seen on U.S. Forest Service land near Silverthorne on Monday, Sept. 27. Evacuation orders have been issued.
Jeff Scroggins/Courtesy photo
A plane drops fire retardant onto the Ptarmigan Fire.
Will Yahr/Courtesy photo
Ptarmigan Fire flames are seen from Silverthorne.
Joe Staley/Courtesy photo
An air tanker makes a slurry drop on the Ptarmigan Fire.
Joe Staley/Courtesy photo
Smoke from the Ptarmigan Fire is seen from Swan Mountain Road at approximately 5:30 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 27.
Julieanne Gilchrist/Courtesy photo
Firefighting on the Ptarmigan Fire is seen through aspen leaves.
Todd Ulmer/Courtesy photo
The ground smolders from the Ptarmigan Fire on Monday, Sept. 27.
Trevor Rhodes/Courtesy photo
The Ptarmigan Fire is pictured after sunset.
Shane Nance/Courtesy photo

 

After 14 years, Summit Mountain Challenge returns to Copper Mountain Resort

Pro-open men's division and overall winner Truett Bennett leads runner-up Taylor Shelden through the berms of the Lower Elk Alley trail at Wednesday's Copper Mountain Melee, round five of the 2021 Summit Mountain Challenge mountain bike race series.
Photo by John Hanson

The Summit Mountain Challenge made a triumphant return to Copper Mountain Resort on Wednesday, Aug. 11, for the first time in 14 years with the revival of the Copper Mountain Melee cross-country race.

Racers and Maverick Sports Promotions Event Director Jeff Westcott described the Melee course as a classic ski area mountain bike race with a brutally long uphill followed by flowy, yet technical singletrack riding on the way back down.

“Probably some of our most sustained climbing of the summer and, therefore, some of our most sustained downhill on singletrack,” Westcott said about the race.

The Melee was the fifth race in this summer’s mountain bike race series, replacing the Breck Mountain Enduro from previous summers. The Melee featured Copper’s new and improved mountain bike trail network as Westcott said he and the resort worked together to design a fantastic course. With Copper’s recent investment into its mountain bike trails and offerings, Westcott said he thinks there is the potential for a strong future at Copper in both cross-country and downhill mountain biking.

“I think there’s great energy here, and I think they are moving in the right direction,” Westcott said. “Everything feels good here. Everything is fresh. There’s good morale.”

Parker Merrill negotiates the rocks and roots of Copper Mountain's Red Tail trail at Wednesday's Copper Mountain Melee, round five of the 2021 Summit Mountain Challenge mountain bike race series.
Photo by John Hanson

Young Bear National Team rider Truett Bennett, 15, of Vail was the overall and pro-open men’s winner in Wednesday evening’s race, which featured climbing on old mountain roads as well as the new trails in Red Tail, Fawntastic and Elk Alley. Bennett complimented the Mountain Challenge race as being “gnarly, fun and fast” as well as for having a community vibe. Bennett raced to a time of 1 hour, 30 minutes and 39 seconds after claiming the lead from Breckenridge runner-up Taylor Shelden (1:31:07) on the final uphill of the 16.4-mile course.

“I was super stoked to take the win over some super fast competition with the way Taylor Shelden and those boys have been racing all year,” Bennett said.

For Shelden the return of the Melee was very much full circle for him, as he raced it back in high school in 2004 and 2005 before his career as a professional cyclist. Now back to racing the local series after his pro career, Shelden said Bennett’s win as well as the recent victory by Bennett’s Bear National teammate, Breckenridge local Lasse Konecny — wins that have halted Shelden’s multiyear streak — remind him of when he started to podium on pro races in local series 15 years ago.

“I’ve been waiting for some guys to beat me in the last couple of years, and it’s finally happened,” he said with a laugh. “It’s fun. We’re pushing each other and challenging each other. It’s exciting to me to have young guys coming up.”

View the full 2021 Copper Mountain Melee results here.