Beautiful and Bountiful Alaska with White Pass & Yukon Route
Once again we found ourselves surrounded by the white-capped Rocky Mountains far north of my home latitude.
Driving south from Whitehorse we passed through the magnificent White Pass – the only way people are able to drive into Skagway, Alaska. I was immediately struck again by the surrounding beauty of Alaska – having traveled here in 2013. It was simply – Awe.
The landscape is inspiring and reminds me why so many people dream of making this trip into the Alaskan wild. I was so fortunate to back again – this time for an iconic scenic railway. When arriving on site and seeing the narrow gauge railroad, my inner child wanted to leap out of me – having both dreamed about being a train conductor and a gold rush pioneer as a kid.
Our client, White Pass & Yukon Route offers passenger experiences “to the White Pass Summit, passing Bridal Veil Falls, Inspiration Point and Dead Horse Gulch” where people enjoy “breathtaking panorama of mountains, glaciers, gorges, waterfalls, tunnels, trestles and historic sites.”
When I was in Alaska for the first time, I jumped at the opportunity to ride on this train. The trestles, gorges, waterfalls and glaciers were spectacular. And you get to see the original “Klondike Trail of ‘98 worn into the rocks, a permanent tribute to the thousands of souls who passed this way in search of fortune.” It’s a once in a life time experience!
GPS Tour Systems Deliver One of Seven Languages
While I would have loved to ride the train again, I was in Skagway to provide support for the installation of our GPS Commentary Systems in many of their vintage passenger coaches.
These vintage coaches are pulled by diesel-electric locomotives that wind up and around the Klondike mountain region, into British Columbia as well as into the Yukon in northern Canada. It’s amazing to think about the “tens of thousands of men and 450 tons of explosives” that were used to overcome this relentless geography to create the “railway built of gold”.
While in Skagway, I had the opportunity to take photos and I’ve included a couple of photos for you. I promise they don’t come close to the enormity and the majesty of experiencing these mountain ranges for yourself.
Servicing Foreign Language Travellers With Better Tours
For the team at White Pass & Yukon Route, this multilingual GPS tour project was a departure from their standard operations.
On any given day staff members would provide professional (English speaking) live guides in many of the vintage train coaches – with potentially one train car broadcasting to several other cars over a wireless microphone system. This was a challenge at the railroad due to an increasing trend of foreign language travellers arriving for the Klondike Gold Rush train experience.
During my visit, I spent my time supporting the installation of several GPS tour systems, including GPS receivers and Guide Control Panels used by staff to select any language for their tours. The entire experience is completely automated, providing passengers with enhanced tour entertainment in several languages.
The new audio commentaries were also tested on the train route, created hand-in-hand by our script writers and White Pass & Yukon Route staff.
Now that our GPS tour systems are installed, any guide is able deliver one of seven languages in each of the train coaches outfitted with our system. This provides passengers with engaging audio tours, including English, French, German, Japanese, Mandarin, Portuguese and Spanish.
The GPS tour system automates the delivery of commentary on route. While this new service was provided at the end of this season, a few end of season trials showed that the audio commentary was a big hit with foreign language passengers.
My favourite story was hearing about Japanese tour groups and their reaction to the tour commentary. Passengers were standing up and shaking hands on cue as they danced to the “Summit Shuffle” at the top of the White Pass. What a blast!
This was the first time Japanese travellers were able to understand and participate in this wonderful tradition. This is what makes our on-sites so meaningful!
Overcoming Challenges for PA System Announcements
Early on in our technical planning process, we took note of a challenge. The White Pass & Yukon Route staff holds the safety of all passengers as their number one priority. Train cars rely on wireless microphones to deliver emergency messages to passengers on every car.
What could we do to accommodate this request with our single language GPS commentary systems?
To overcome this challenge – we added an additional system component.
I’d like to provide a brief introduction to what’s called an “Audio Ducker“.
Taking only half an amp of power, this is a small but useful piece of equipment to mix and temporarily mute audio channels as required. Here is what an audio ducker does: The ducker allows a commentary system to be muted if there is an incoming microphone signal, allowing all passengers to hear live guide announcements as required over a Public Address (“PA”) System.
By adding an audio ducker during the integration of the GPS commentary system we were able to meet the need for emergency and other live guide announcements as required.
What this means is, if a guide needs to deliver an announcement to passengers using a microphone, their voice is heard immediately over the PA System. Audio commentaries are muted until the microphone is turned off.
My Last Day in Skagway
Wrapping up technical support and training was bittersweet. The project with White Pass & Yukon Route was an amazing opportunity to get back to a part of the world I love. And working side by side with train staff was a great experience. I got to spend my time with people who really love what they do and really care about their customers.
But as a person who appreciates the great outdoors and everything it offers – it was hard to leave Skagway’s historic stores, saloons, its wildlife and beauty.
I’m always sad when I have to leave the mountains, especially in Skagway, Alaska. There are sights, sounds, history and people that you can only find in some of the last untamed lands in North America. Just ask the bears that stop by the train yard.