Saturday, February 24, 2018

Snow trains

The above photo (which you will want to double click on, to see the entire thing) is from the February, 1948 New Hampshire Troubadour.  The photo is by Boston and Maine Railroad, George Hill.  It pictures skiers leaving the Snow Train in North Conway.  You can see the train cars there at the back of the picture.  I think that the vehicle just behind the skiers may be one to transport them to the actual slopes ... from what I understand, the various ski areas would have transportation waiting when the trains pulled in.

I've been intending to put this post together for awhile.  We'll see how coherent it is or isn't, as I've cobbled it together over a couple of weeks and used a number of resources.

  Of course most people are aware that skiing has a long and fascinating history in New Hampshire, but not everyone realizes that, before the average person was able to afford their own car, skiers came to New Hampshire's mountains by train.  By snow trains, to be exact.

The Conway Scenic Railroad's website states that when Mount Cranmore [located in North Conway] opened for its first season in 1937-1938, snow trains brought skiers from Boston to help fill its slopes.  During the war years in the 1940s, as many as five trains every Sunday brought thousands of skiers to North Conway for a one-day excursion!  At their peak usage, the snow trains transported 24,000 passengers each ski season!

I had known about Snow Trains, of course, and always was intrigued by the idea.  But recently a couple of things have piqued my interest even more.  It was probably last winter when I noticed a poem about the snow train in one of my vintage New Hampshire Troubadour issues, accompanied by the photo above.  I knew that I wanted to share it on my blog.  Here it is:

by Pauline Soroka Chadwell

Even one day among the hills of snow
Has surely wrought a change in them -- they wear
The look of mountains in their eyes, the flow
Of health whipped to new life by crisp, clean air
On glowing faces.  Somehow, voices, too,
Speak with an eager warmth not often heard
In urban groups, as they all scatter through
The station, parting with a friendly word.

No city walls can ever hold them long --
Now that they've known the freedom of the hills,
The brimming rapture of the ski trail's song,
Beauty, so perfect, that it quickens, thrills
The soul -- Leaders of men are taking shape
In youth that turns to mountains for escape.

This was originally published, apparently, in the Portland Oregonian, in a section called "Oregonian Verse".

This poem surely is a powerful reminder of how good it is for us to get sunshine, exercise, and fresh air in the midst of God's glorious creation.   It's not just healthy, it invigorates our thinking and gives us a sense of perspective.  Sometimes I wonder how much better things would be in our land if we (all of us, but thinking of younger people in particular) spent more time in the outdoors, rather than tethered to devices, social media, and video games.  We'll probably never know the answer to that, but it's an interesting question.

Since discovering this poem,  I've also found some wonderful vintage magazine advertisements for the snow trains.

Before reading up on them, I had not realized that the snow trains brought skiers for only a one-day excursion!  I had assumed it was for a weekend.

In  his article "Snow Train Parade", author John Gruber wrote in Trains magazine: "Boston and Maine’s early and long-lived efforts are the best known among snow trains. B&M inaugurated its one-day excursions on January 11, 1931, carrying 196 people to Warner, New Hampshire, a ski resort. The railroad, in cooperation with the Appalachian Ski Club, took more than 8,000 passengers out of Boston in that first, 10-week season."
In that time frame of the early 1930s one could travel round-trip from Boston to the New Hampshire ski slopes on the snow trains for about $1.75.  Even in the early fifties, the snow trains were not expensive: "Lots of fun for little cost" -- as the 1953 advertisement states below.

Traveling on the Snow Train was just plain fun, apparently: a sort of ongoing party until the train reached its destination.  An old poster from the Boston and Maine Railroad advertised:  “See old friends again…meet scores of other ski enthusiasts…visit up and down the aisles as the bright, warm cars roll on toward the glistening slopes and cheerful lodges.”

In an article by Kathi Caldwell-Hopper, published last November in the newspaper The Laker, I read that "The casual atmosphere of the snow trains meant improvising sleeping conditions; sweaters and parkas became pillows and blankets and hot thermos beverages and sandwiches were shared among friends and fellow passengers.  The baggage cars on the snow trains became the storage area for skis and the cars often doubled as ski repair and waxing stations."

But it wasn't only young people who traveled to the mountains on the snow trains.  In an article by Ernest Poole in the January 1948 New Hampshire Troubadour, I read,  "As years passed and the Snow Trains increased, more older people came on these rides.  Most of them came along to ski, but a story is told of one little old lady who took a train each Sunday, rode with the young people up this way and then sat knitting till they returned.  When asked by a girl why she did it, she said: 'Just to be with young folks, dear.  Down there in Boston I get so sick of just sittin' around listenin' to my arteries harden'."   I can see myself in her shoes, taking a snow train north and sitting and crocheting or embroidering in one of the ski lodges.  Far preferable to just sitting around at home.

It all sounds wonderful, doesn't it?  No wonder thousands of skiers came north each winter on the snow trains!  I for one wish the trains were still running.  But then I tend to be sentimental.  How about you?


  1. Well that was sure interesting. A real party train. A great and social adventure. Now people all have their own transportation and probably spend lots more on their gear!

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed this, Judy! It was so interesting to me, and I am glad others have thought so, too.

      Yes, I'm sure people do spend much more on their gear these days. The skis, bindings, and boots were all much simpler back then. And people wore whatever ski clothes they wanted to -- some girls even wore skirts! See Vee's comment below:

  2. Fascinating! Prior to reading this, I was fascinated that many women in the 30s and 40s wore skirts to ski. The museum somewhere along the Kancamagus Highway has a display titled “When Girls Wore Skirts to Ski.” I had to chuckle at the woman who didn’t want to sit home listening to her arteries harden. LOL!

    1. I'm so glad you found this interesting, Vee! I had not realized until very recently that women wore skirts to ski. I was looking through an old Vermont Life magazine at an article about Mad River Glen. It included a photo of two girls on skis, one in shorts and one in a skirt!

      Yes, the old lady's comment made me chuckle too. I give her a lot of credit for going to the time and trouble to get a train to NH every Sunday, just to get out and about!

  3. This is a very interesting post! It's not something I ever thought about before.

    1. I've known for years that snow trains existed, but never knew a lot about them until recently. I found it fascinating and I'm glad others have enjoyed it too!

  4. I loved this. I learned so much and yes, I love that they came for a one day excursion. I would have to think that was much like the old days here when people came for a one day excursion to the beach. The poem was wonderful and I loved the woman who wanted to be with the young people. The picture is pretty cool too!

    1. I'm so happy you enjoyed this post, Sandy! It's a little different than what I ordinarily write, but it was so interesting (in my view, anyway) that I just had to share it! Yes, I loved the photo too. The poem ... oh, you know, I just wish our world was as simple as it was back then. We had been through a truly horrible, horrible war and yet young people coming out of that were still optimistic about the future. They truly were the greatest generation. I just wish we saw more of that idealism today.


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