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.
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?