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Skiing Mount Washington - The Cog Railway

Maine l Vermont l New Hampshire l Massachusetts

Imagine skiing faster than a locomotive. I had my chance in 2004, as the first ski train in North America debuted on Mount Washington. The Cog remained open for skiing for only two seasons.

My family and I participated in the trial run in 2004 as we rode the first Cog Railway ski train during our stay at the Hotel Mount Washington and Bretton Woods. This one-of-a-kind adventure starts at the Marshfield Railway Station at 2,700-feet elevation, on the western flanks of Mount Washington. You board the train, dressed for skiing, and take a seat in heated comfort of the historic railway coach, which holds about 70 passengers.

In classic train fashion, the whistle blows and the Cog starts to churn and chug its way up the track of the Northeast’s highest peak. The Cog is the only railway still operating entirely by coal-fired steam, which you are reminded of as smoke swirls around the train windows.

The cogwheel train is pushed methodically up Mount Washington by an engine car behind, giving passengers an uninterrupted view up the tracks toward the summit. Along the 15-minute ascent, this is no high-speed quad, the views of the surrounding White Mountain National Forest open up. It is a nostalgic ride; the same journey people have been making on this train for 135 years, only you are making your mark as one of the first generation to ride in winter and to ski down.

The novelty of this “rail riding” was certainly more thrilling than any terrain park for my children. Kids love trains, and a ski train is super exciting since there is the anticipation of the ensuing run on snow.

With a final shrill and a huff, the train stops at the 3,800-foot Waumbeg Station, about a third of the way up the Cog’s summer route to the 6,288-foot summit. With skis in hand, we disembark onto the platform, ready to ski down one of the two trails that run parallel to the tracks on each side.

A skier’s natural instinct is to immediately push off and earn first tracks down the 1,100 vertical. If you do so, you will beat your train down without contest. What is truly unique however is to wait for the train’s departure, and ski alongside this piece of history.

It is a rush to hear the clicking of the tracks and smell the steam of the engine, while you carve your own tracks right in time to the brightly colored rail car next to you.

The folks that remain on board wave and take photos. My kids raced the train, passed the train in a dozen swift turns, then stopped to do it again multiple times as we descended the mile-long snow-covered trail toward the base station.

The Cog Railway was the first mountain climbing train in the world when it opened in 1869. “To find a similar ski train experience, you would have to go to Europe,” said Doug Waites, The Cog Railway marketing director. “This is an exciting event in history for the Cog Railway, and for New England skiers it is an incredibly unique experience.”

The snow trails that border each side of the tracks have the pitch of a novice run, although because of their narrow width, about 30-feet across, skiing here is best suited for intermediate and advanced skiers and riders. Beginners found it challenging, since the trails are considerably tighter than today’s average ski area boulevard. The terrain was groomed, and snowmaking was added.

I should explain that this downhill experience is not of Tuckerman’s Ravine caliber, nor is the train a vehicle to access the Ravine or any of the other high-alpine terrain on Washington. You do not come here to rack up vertical either. This is not backcountry by rail. It is purely a nostalgic, fun day and a very memorable experience.

Since the sale of Bretton Woods and Hotel Mount Washington to Omni, the Cog is no longer operating in winter for skiing so you will have to hike Tuckerman's to ski the highest peak in New England.

Destinations l New England l Rockies l Canada l Europe

All Stories by Heather Burke All Photography by Greg Burke

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