Transit Adventures

Sleeping well on an Amtrak Rommette from snowy Alta to needs snow Squaw, with a visit from a Reno drug detective

This is the forth part of my (anti-) Epic Ski Bum Trip. It covers January 14th through 15th, 2015.

I wake-up for my final day of skiing knowing I’ll finally be getting on Amtrak to head to Tahoe where it despirately needs snow tonight. I’m still only ticketed to Reno but with so little time in Tahoe have realized I want to get there has quickly as possible. I check the app and discovered that a Sleeper to Truckee is now low-bucket and just $32 more (including coach fare) my current ticket to Reno (and staying in my room instead of switching to coach is just $12 more). The decision is easy, unforchunately Amtrak’s IT doesn’t let you change your destinations in the app or online when I pull it up on my iPad. I try calling Amtrak to do the change but can’t get through to anyone. Luckily eVouchers can now be redeemed online so I cancel my entire reservation to Reno, and rebook a new reservation to Truckee using my $195 eVoucher to pay most of my new $227.00 rail fare ($84 for travel, $143 for the Roomette, slightly pricey but sleep after what I know will be another exhausting day of skiing is important).

I then pack-up and go downstairs to enjoy Crystal Inn’s delicious hot breakfast. I check out around 8:00 with about ten minutes to spare for the 8:07 scheduled departure time of SkiBus Route 951, the direct from Downtown Bus. Unforchunately the front desk person is on the phone clearly dealing with a customer who’s making a reservation, asking questions and won’t stop talking. She discretely checks another woman out and then me as I drop off my luggage and assume not coming back till 9:00-ish tonight (why wander around Downtown Salt Lake City with my luggage if I don’t have to) is okay. I then head outside to the SkiBus that I’m having issues tracking.

I get to the stop and wait and wait, getting nervous and I’m on the verge of calling UTA. The bus finally shows up around 8:30 about 20 minutes late. I get on. Luckily there’s a lot less traffic and I’m back at Alta picking up my skis for my final day at 9:30am.

I have an excellent final day mainly skiing Alta. With the Mountain Collective I have a combined half price ticket (costing $54) on my Mountain Collective. Sadly, can’t just buy a half-price Alta or a half-price Snowbird Ticket (a small way the Mountain Collective is a sight rip-off at this resort). I head over to Snowbird briefly to do a few runs through the Mineral Basin that I really enjoy. I’ve noticed a line of people waiting at the gate to the Road to Provo, a bowl on the frontside of the mountain that has been closed due to avalanche danger since the storm. I do another short run, and as I get up to the top Little Cloud Lift I see ski patrol open the gate and I join the line of people heading out to enjoy a fresh powder run. I do Road to Provo twice, get sick of the lines that have now formed for Little Cloud, and ski back to Alta to ski all over that mountain. I finally remember to snap some photos with my phone:

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I have a couple of fun last runs and head back to return my skis at 4:40, after the lifts have closed. I pay the ballance of my bill ($125 for two days of demo skis and one day of beginner skis) I then realize that I’m at 20 minute gab in SkiBus service with the next 990 not until 5:10 and the rest of the routes finished for the day. All the previous days I stopped and made the series of buses on three routes between 4:30 to 4:45. I finally though have a chance to enjoy the neat Goldminers Daughter Bus stop. It’s a slight walk from the lifts, primarily because of the lack of a decent place for a bus to turnaround in the parking lot. It’s a fully enclosed room and shelter with a heater.

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I get on the 5:10 bus that’s nice and empty and have enjoyable company for my last ride down Little Cottonwood Canyon. I get to Midvale-Fort Union and yet again have just missed the Blue Line, waiting 15 minutes for it.

Im on TRAX heading downtown and as we approach Temple Square a little after 6:30 and remember that the various Visitor Centers around Temple Square are open until 8:00 to 9:00pm. I’m curious enough to head inside and see how the Mormon’s Market there religion. The south visitors center mainly concerns how great Mormonism is for ‘Families,’ with a couple other odd little exhibits. I then decide to visit Brigham Young’s House, the Beehive House where he lived was Governor that even served as almost an interim state capital. The only problem with this tour is I’m alone with two Mormon Missionaries. I make it clear very quickly I’m not planning to convert and basically enjoy the tour. The most memorable moment is when I ask if Birmingham Young practiced  polygamy, the response is “Yes he was married 55 times, but remember back then there were very few men around, it was different time.” It made my day. I also visited the final, north visitor’s center that is full of murals from the Old Testament, New Testament and Book of Mormon. It was a bit much but definitely a relatively enjoyable way to enjoy an evening in Salt Lake City without a hotel room or other place to call my own and hang out in.

I’ve been tracking my train and am happy to find it running on time, if not early. Around 8:30 I start wandering to find dinner and find that nearly everything I really want is closed. I end up at California Pizza Kitchen, not really worth it. At least it’s a leisurely place but not a chain I’ll probably return to. I then head back to the Crystal Inn to retrieve my luggage at about 9:40, and wander over to the Amtrak Station, getting there at 9:58. The train has left Provo on time and I know with padding it might arrive in Salt Lake as early as 10:30pm. I wait outside with a guy that has skis (going to Squaw to ski with some buddies, something he’s dreading after a few great days in Jackson and at Big Sky). I notice that there is now an electric gate out to the Amtrak platform beyond the FrontRunner platform.

The staff opens the AmShack Temporary Station(4 Photos) with no permanent structure in the plans promptly at 10:00pm, when its scheduled to open, not a minute before. I go pick up my paper ticket for the hell of it and were all told the train might arrive as early as 10:30 but to not expect to board until 11:00pm. The fuel man (a contractor waring the jacket of a local petroleum distributor) also stops inside the station to ask about the status of the train. The new conductors slowly circle the waiting room (with maybe a dozen passengers) scanning tickets, the stack is small and when he comes to me I get the only red (Sleeper) seat check. He also explains that he doesn’t quite know the consist yet because it’s been shrunk for the winter. The train arrives really early at 10:22pm. Arriving passengers slowly walk into the station. Were told to head outside at 10:30 to wait. At 10:35 were allowed out onto the train, nearly an hour early! We cross the now open gates (one is controlled like a garage door). The California Zephyr has gotten smaller losing its Crew Dorm and Baggage Car is gone, it’s now just six cars, with two Sleepers in the front mine, Car 0532, Room 002 is just behind the engine, followed by the dining car, lounge car, and just two coaches, one regular one a baggage coach which has replaced the full baggage car. It feels small.


I board my Sleeper in the Front, telling a nervous coach passenger to keep walking and not follow me. I don’t see an attendant but find him on the upper level. He confirms I’m going to Truckee and asks if I’ve taken the train before. I respond yes and am left undisturbed. I hang up my ski coat in the closet to dry out and head downstairs with my backpack to change and take a well-needed shower (my favorite Roomette feature) I’m in bed and reading before we finally depart on time at 11:30pm.

I sleep decently, going to bed earlier than I might when I realize I’m on the South side of the train and won’t get any dark views of Great Salt Lake (I remember noticing the lake on a coach trip a few years ago). I soon fall asleep. I definitely wake up a few times, especially in Winnemucca when we arrive nearly a half hour early of our 5:40am departure time. I wake up to calls for breakfast from the diner at about 7:00am and finally have the will to get out of bed at 7:30. I go down to the shower and find all the towels gone, I ask the attendant and he heads to the next car to grab me another. I enjoy a second shower on this train bring my backpack upstairs to pack and head to the dining car.

It’s an uneventful breakfast with only a little bit of chatting (no long conversations) and I enjoy the most expensive thing on the menu, a cheese omelet with a biscuit (I later see that the croissants have gotten bigger and will have to try one on at my next Amtrak Breakfast). We finish as we arrive in Reno(2 Photos) at 8:25am a bit early. I head back to my sleeper and step out for some air.

I don’t have my coat on and reboard sooner (not my usual wait for the All Aboard call, I’ve been through Reno enough times before that I don’t feel the need). I head back up to my room and a man in plane cloths with a police badge asks me if I’m Jeremiah. He informs me that I’m being investigated for being a drug mule since I only bought my ticket for a Roomette on the day of departure. He also creepy knows that I’m from New York City (my billing information perhaps? or maybe my Grand Central Centennial Luggage tag). I explain I’m just a college student on a ski trip and didn’t buy my ticket at the last minute but changed it because there was great snow in Utah and poor snow in Lake Tahoe! This enough to persuade him and he still asks my permission to search my room. He also explains that he’s looking for only huge amounts of drugs and not small amounts for personal use (No, I don’t have any pot on me). He also wants to know how much cash I have on me. I’m very tempted to say no, where’s your warrant and your only a county officer, and why isn’t an Amtrak cop with you? I end up obliging, I can’t say he’s all that thorough but does frisk my ski jacket still in the closet with overstuffed pockets, briefly searches my backpack and bends over looks under the bed. He doesn’t bring down the upper bunk. He gets off with the attendant almost scolding me. I explain that I was supposed to be on the train last night but decided to rebook because the skiing was perfect in Utah and sounds awful in Tahoe.

The train leaves Reno 3 minutes late at 8:39am for an uneventful ride starting through the Sierras to Truckee, I just stay in my room on my horizontal bed and relax. The conductor comes to spot the sleeper first and I head downstairs. As we arrive, 4 minutes early at 9:32, as the 9:30 TART bus to Squaw Valley and Tahoe Transit Center leaves.  I hear him radio the engine “Remember were riding the austerity express, were stopping the car directly behind the locomotives.” My sleeper is spotted correctly. I get off in Truckee(8 Photos) and run up towards the front of the locomotives to try and get some front of train photos as the coaches detrain and board. The Zephyr fades into the distance on time at 9:37am.


I head back to the Depot and the 10:00am TART bus to Kings Beach where the Tahoe Hostel that I’m staying in is. I buy my first of two $3.50 24 hour passes. It’s a nice empty ride with a few deviations, particularly into Northstar down to Kings Beach (where at one point we wait for a timepoint) and I arrive at the hostel at 10:50am. I’ve had to eat last nights bed (I am still unsure of this Hostel’s cancelation policy) so I’m checked in immediately. The big debate is when to use my second free ski day, today, or Saturday morning of MLK Day before taking the latest bus (now at 3:00pm, extremely early) down to the bay area, the long weekend. The girl running the hostel says the last time you want to ever ski here in Tahoe is on a Saturday with all the weekenders.

I go to my room and decide what the hell, its a beautiful day, warm enough that the limited snow (it hasn’t snowed since December 27th) changing into my ski stuff. The next Mainline bus to Tahoe City to connect with the Squaw Valley bus isn’t until Noon. I head out and walk down the 10 minutes to the nearest off-Mountain ski shop, spending $55 on skis for the next to days (a single day ski rental at Squaw Valley would cost more than this). My plan is to walk back to the hostel and change from ski boots and not bring my shoes but the 11:00am bus starts rolling down the road at 11:45, apparently there’s a cash down the route in incline and the schedule is a total mess!

I get on, it’s a half-hour ride with frustrating passengers over the lateness, we get to the Tahoe Transit Center at 12:20 for a layover until the regularly scheduled 12:30 Squaw Valley/Truckee Bus. I actually but my ski boots on then and carry my shoes with me. I’m at the Mountain at 12:50 and pick up my Mountain Collective pass (not leaving a credit card since I’m only here for two days). A mountain information guide recommends leaving my shoes (at my own risk) my the fireplace in Dave’s Deli. I dump them behind a chair and take the risk.

I’m on the Gold Coast Funitel at 1:00. I have a good 3:00 hours of sunny skiing on extremely poor snow (basically only sticking to groomed trails) mainly on the top of Squaw Valley with a couple good runs down the front of the Mountain. It’s a fun day but very sloppy snow. It’s a complete difference from the powder only yesterday in Salt Lake City.

I finish at 4:10 (making a last lift that closes at 4:00 at 3:58). The next bus isn’t until 5:05. For tomorrow I know not to do a last lift run. I leisurely change my shoes and head out to the bus stop. The bus comes and it’s relatively crowded, we make a few more stops, including one across from a shuttle bus from Alpine Meadows and it becomes packed. It’s an extremely unique crowd, with numerous languages spoken. Nearly all the passengers are seasonal international employees (18 to 20 somethings) of the resort that lack vehicles. We get to Tahoe City at 5:30 and all trundle across the transit center to the Incline Village Mainline Route Bus. It’s packed like sardines crowded. It empties out before I get off at the hostel a little after 6:00.

I grab an excellent BBQ dinner from a hole in the wall place just down the road from the Hostel.