Skagway’s annual Santa Train took over 500 passengers up White Pass this weekend. Turnout was uncommonly low; station employees guess that storm forecasts kept Canadian tourists at home.
The green engine is decked with a red holiday ribbon. Rosy cheeked kids press their noses to foggy windows as the Santa train pulls into the Skagway station. They’ve spent the last hour eating holiday treats while Santa tours the cars and the train crawls up to Rocky Point.
Allyson Nannini is in charge of reservations at White Pass and Yukon Route Railway. She’s worked the Santa train since she started.
“It’s loud and it’s a lot of fun! Santa comes in … he sees all the kids and we start boarding the train.”
Each year at Christmastime the station fills families from Haines, Juneau, Whitehorse and beyond. Hundreds of children crowd into the station hall which is strung in lights and ornaments. Parents crowd the coffee shop for last minute espressos. Christmas trees and presents spill from every corner. And Santa perches in a snowy, north pole themed scene before riding up the mountain with the kids. It’s Nannini’s favorite time of year.
“I love decorating the depot. Our depot is decked out for the holidays. It takes about a month to get it ready and everyone in town can see it we leave it lit up at night so you can see it… We start after Halloween every year getting the depot decorated.”
It’s a labor of love: the Santa Train runs when the season is closed, so all the railway employees volunteer their time. Everyone rides free. It usually costs over $100 dollars for a train ticket. Ridership was down this year though. Nannini thinks storm warnings and road conditions from Whitehorse are part of the reason.
“People are concerned they might get stuck in Skagway, which is kind of understandable!” Naninni laughed.”But it was nice to have a little bit of elbow room on the train.”
The train was still full with 521 passengers. That’s because it’s not just tourists. Santa train attracts locals, too.
“Lots of locals come out. It’s a two night event for us us actually. Santa meet and greet for locals helps with the lines in here. It gets hectic with hundreds of people waiting to see santa and get on the train,” Nannini said.
It turns out no one has kept track of the exact date the Santa train tradition began, but local historian Carl Mulvihill says he remembers Santa riding the train almost fifty years ago.
“It’s one of those things that in the 1960s. They just put him on at the shops. It was the regular train and there was no people riding from Whitehorse to Skagway,” said Mulvihill.
Santa didn’t start riding with the passengers until after the railroad reopened as a tourist train in 1988. Mulvihill was once the chief train dispatcher. He never rode the Santa train though.
“Someone has to work was everyone was playing!”
The tradition is likely even older than that. Some railway employees have heard rumors that the santa train has roots that stretch back to the 1940s.
If you remember the first Santa train, let us know! You can reach the newsroom at 907-766-2020 or email@example.com.