The Polar Express makes a stop in Heber

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The North Pole — or at least a surprisingly believable version — is just a jaunt up the canyon, accessible solely through a ride on the Polar Express.

The North Pole Express, a recreation of a Polar Express experience, is a 16-mile train ride through the canyon on the Heber Valley Railroad.  The ride is complete with elves, hot chocolate, show choirs and a pit stop in the “North Pole,” where Santa waves hello and proceeds to join the ride.  The North Pole Express is quickly becoming a Christmas tradition for Utah Valley families, providing a whimsical holiday activity.

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One little passenger gets a visit from Mrs. Claus on The Polar Express on the Heber Valley Railroad.
Dustin Montoya, from West Jordan, brought his family the week before Thanksgiving, despite a strict no-Christmas-before-Thanksgiving policy. Montoya rode with his wife, father-in-law and three children, two of whom came dressed in their Captain America pajamas, eager to see Santa Claus.

“I haven’t ridden the Heber Creeper since I was a kid,” Montoya said. “A friend told us about the North Pole Express and we thought it would be a fun kick-start to our holiday activities. We might make a tradition.”

Montoya’s father-in-law is a devout fan of the children’s book, owning more than 20 editions of “The Polar Express.” The book and subsequent movie feature a young boy whisked away on a train ride to the North Pole on Christmas Eve. Upon arriving in the North Pole, the young boy is gifted a silver bell that can only be heard by those who believe in Santa Claus.  Appropriately, when Santa joins the train ride halfway through the canyon, he passes out silver bells.

The highlight of the North Pole Express is inarguably when Santa waves hello from a snowbank and joins the festivities on the train.  Isabella Healy, a 15-year-old from Heber, works as an elf on the North Pole Express, making and serving hot chocolate to passengers.  Healy counts Santa’s visit each night as her favorite part of the ride.

“I like to see the joy on the kids’ faces when they see Santa, it’s the best when everyone gets so excited,” Healy said. “There’s screaming, sometimes crying. Working here helps you get in the Christmas spirit.”

Employees and passengers alike consider the North Pole Express the perfect gateway to a Christmas state of mind. For Bill Pekny, a conductor on the Heber Creeper since 2004, this Christmas event allows him to do his everyday job in a more theatrical, festive manner.

“I keep coming back for the kids and those delighted smiles,” Pekny said. “It gets me in the Christmas spirit and I get to practice being a grandpa.”

The North Pole Express provides an undeniably fun atmosphere for families. Even Santa was quick to proclaim his love for the job and experience, but unfortunately declined further comment on account of his allegiance to the University of Utah.

“It’s fun as heck, I have a blast every night,” he said.

The North Pole Express runs from Dec. 1 through the 23rd, departing twice each night at 5 and 7 p.m.  Tickets are $32 for adults and $21 for children under 12.

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