The train to winter

Ride the rails to snowy bliss in the Canadian Rockies and beyond

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FROM RECKLESSNESS TO REALITY

Like most of the West's great rail routes, the one the Canadian travels has a riveting history. When, in the late 1800s, Canadian Prime Minister John A. McDonald proposed that a Canadian transcontinental railway stretch west from Ottawa to entice distant British Columbia to join the fledgling union, the plan was called "an act of insane recklessness." And looking at the geography involved, the plan still seems crazy. The government sought to construct a railroad almost 1,000 miles longer than any yet built, through land still largely unsettled by white people, and wanted it completed within 10 years.

In the end, they built two transcontinental routes: a government-funded, more southerly one through Banff, Alberta, and a privately built northern one through Edmonton ― the route I took.

The years of work were worth it, I decided after a dinner of wild salmon and British Columbia wine. In the dome car later, while a movie played in the lounge below, I pondered the scenery yet to come. I watched the locomotive's beam highlighting craggy rock walls and dark conifers, mesmerized as the vintage stainless steel cars ahead glinted periodically in the glow of the signal lights.

It was hard to rouse myself from the down duvet-covered bed in the morning, but a 7:30 breakfast proved to be perfect timing. I caught a glimpse of the angular peaks of the Monashee Mountain Range out the west windows of the dining car, just before the river canyon below us filled with misty clouds pumping out snow.

So that eastbound riders can savor the scenery during daylight before arriving in the town of Jasper, Alberta, the train intentionally adopts a slower speed in the mountains. After breakfast, the majority of the 15 or so passengers in the posh Silver and Blue sleeping class staked out seats in the dome, where the unique pop-up design provides 360° views, or in the lower-level bullet car, which offers wraparound vistas out the back of the train.

 

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