Imagine skiing alongside a locomotive, bright red train as you descend the sparkling snow covered White Mountains. Sounds above and beyond the average day on the slopes, right?! This winter, you can do it, in New Hampshire – the Live Free or Die State.
After over a century of summer operation, the famous Cog Railway is chugging up The Mount in winter – for skiers and riders. The monumental Mount Washington climbing train made history when it opened in 1869 as the first mountain climbing train in the world. History-making continues as Cog rail riders can ski down1,300′ vertical of the East’s tallest peak, served by the legendary locomotive.
I was totally “on board” (train pun) to ski the Cog Railway with my family. This unique winter adventure starts out much like the summer experience, at the Cog Railway’s 2,700′ base, just minutes from Bretton Woods and the Omni Mount Washington Resort.
With Cog tickets from the Marshfield Station and museum, my family and I stepped outside and approached the railcar, which sat quietly like a restored carnival ride surrounded by snow. The engineer indicated where we board with our skis, and we took our seats in the heated railway coach.
In classic train fashion, the whistle blows and the Cog starts to churn and chug its way up the tracks of the mighty Mount. The Cog is the only coal-fired steam railway still in operation, evident as smoke swirled around the train windows.
As the engine methodically pushes the cogwheel train up Mount Washington, our bench seats afforded us uninterrupted views up the tracks toward the summit. It is a 30-minute ascent in wtiner, not to the summit, and while it is no high-speed detachable quad (2.9 mph), the classic train ride entertains with “clickety clacks” and “choo choos” as you rise into the magnificent White Mountain National Forest. The Cog is the second-steepest track railway in the world, second only to the Pitalus Railway in Switzerland.
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 and snowboard down the one trail that runs parallel to the trestles on each side. But first, hot drinks are served by a fire pit.
A skier’s natural instinct is to immediately push off and earn first tracks down the 1,300’ vertical. If you do so, you will beat your train down without contest. What we learned however is to wait for the train’s departure, and ski alongside this piece of history – faster than a locomotive, right?!
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 red rail car next to you.
Folks that remained on board waved and took photos. We raced the train, passed the train in a dozen swift turns (it goes 4mph in its descent), then stopped to do it again multiple times as we skied the snow-covered trail toward the base station.
The 1-mile snow trail that borders the tracks has the pitch of a novice run, although because of the narrow width (about 30-feet across), skiing is best suited for intermediates. The terrain has limited grooming.
This is not of Tuckerman’s Ravine caliber, nor is the train a vehicle to access the Ravine or the summit of Mount Washington. You do not come here to rack up vertical. It is purely a nostalgic, fun day and a very memorable experience.
“To find a similar ski train, you would have to go ski Europe,” says The Cog Railway marketing director. “This is an exciting event in history for the Cog Railway, and for New England skiers it’s an incredibly unique experience.”
Prices for the ski train are $41. This train plans to operate all winter weather permitting.
The Cog Railway is owned and operated by Wayne Presby, who purchased the Cog in 1983. Joel Bedor and Presby are no strangers to ski area management as owners of adjacent Bretton Woods Ski Area, an area they have purchased in 1997, until 2017 when the Hotel Mount Washington and Bretton Woods were sold to Omni.
Mount Washington Cog Railway, Route 302, Bretton Woods, NH