It was a record-breaking year for Skagway’s Santa Train. The free holiday event attracted nearly 600 passengers eager to meet Santa and ride on the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad.
5-year-old Isaac Powell was the first child in line to meet Mr. Claus.
“I came up here just because for the Santa train,” he said.
Isaac’s family is one of many that traveled from Whitehorse to Skagway.
Before the train ride, each child gets to sit on Santa’s lap and tell him what they want for Christmas.
“I’m going to say I want a train,” Isaac said. “A toy train.”
For kids like Ashlyn Johnson, this event has been their first opportunity to ride a train. She’s excited about that, but she’s more giddy about meeting Santa.
“So I can ask him what I want for Christmas this year,” she said. “You know the Zoomer dog that moves around and acts like a real dog? I want the husky one.”
Skagway Mayor Mark Schaefer is standing near the railroad with his great-niece. They’re waiting for Santa to arrive.
“The Santa train event’s an event that the White Pass and Yukon Railroad puts on to bring Santa to town to see the children,” Schaefer said. “And then they give a train ride up to Clifton.”
Clifton is 8-and-a-half miles away. The train moves very slowly for the ride, so it takes about an hour round-trip.
Skagway historian Carl Mulvihill remembers the Santa Train running as far back as 1961. The railroad was originally built for and used by gold miners in the late 1800’s.
“Most of them came back from the gold rush broke with no gold, but they had a wonderful adventure,” Mulvihill said.
During the summer, the train takes tens of thousands of tourists on a scenic ride over White Pass. But this is the only time it’s used during the winter.
Children standing on the platform greet Santa with a mix of excitement and hesitation. Then, Santa sits on a festively decorated bench in the railroad gift shop. And along with his little sister River, 5-year-old Isaac’s big moment arrives.
“I would like a toy train,” he tells Santa.
The train crew waits outside the gift shop. Pete Griffin is the conductor and Spencer Morgan is the brakeman.
“Well we have 14 cars today, split into two groups, seven cars for naughty and seven for nice,” Griffin said.
“As a matter of fact the naughty cars are completely full right now,” Morgan added.
They’re actually divided into adult and family cars.
Once every child gets a chance to talk to Santa, passengers start boarding the train. And slowly, slowly it starts rolling. The windows are fogged-up, and parents and kids wipe circles in the condensation so they can see the mountains as the train chugs along.
Railroad Marketing Director Allison Haas says this is her favorite part:
“I love when Santa busts into car and kids see him coming in, and they’re like ‘Ah Santa!'”
“Santa Hi!” Kids shout when Santa enters the train car to greet
When the ride is over, Haas says the number of passengers this year grew by more than a hundred from 2013.
“There were 590 people on board. Last year was a record for us at 476. So this year was huge. Next year we might have to do something different, maybe two departures, because it grows and grows each year.
Haas says Santa is worn out by the end of the train ride, but he enjoys coming to Skagway.
“He’s like, ‘This is the best feeling, I love this day. I feel full, I feel full of joy and happiness,'” Haas said.
Shannon Farr came to Skagway from Juneau with her husband and son. It’s their third year riding the Santa train.
“It’s very magical,” Farr said. “I feel like a little kid coming here, it just brings back those memories of a child. I want him to remember this forever.”
Farr says they’ll be back next December. Riding the Santa Train has become a holiday tradition for their family.