Driving on Interstate 70 up to Colorado’s mountains on a winter weekend can be its own kind of hell.
You spend a lot of time in traffic. You might do some screaming. And if you’re especially unlucky, you’re stuck alongside Loveland Ski Area near the Eisenhower Johnson Memorial Tunnels watching people ski and snowboard while you pound your fists.
But now you can let someone else experience the boiling rage of I-70 ski traffic: a Colorado Department of Transportation bus driver.
The inaugural run of CDOT’s new Snowstang bus service last month to Colorado ski areas, as experienced by The Colorado Sun, delivered a lot of firsts. In all, 70 people caught rides to or from Loveland, Arapahoe Basin and Steamboat ski resorts. Many were from out of state. Some had never seen snow, or been on skis or snowboards, let alone experienced winter driving.
Sarah Oshana and Mouna Chanhin, both visiting from Illinois, on Friday night bought $25 round trip tickets to Loveland from Denver Union Station, then watched the scenery — and the heavy snow falling — on Saturday morning from the cozy comfort of front-row seats in the motorcoach. Their experience is exactly what CDOT is hoping for.
“What we are working to do is provide travel alternatives,” Colorado Department of Transportation spokesman Bob Wilson said. “Not everyone wants to drive up. They want to enjoy the slopes, but for a lot of people, the I-70 delays and the adverse weather can be intimidating.”
That’s not to mention reducing traffic.
While the inaugural runs took only a few vehicles off I-70, Wilson said the intent is to build a mass-transit habit on the crowded corridor.
“We are trying to make a change in behavior by providing another option,” he said. “And if the price is right, and people are seriously using that option, we are going to get more vehicles off the road. Gov. Polis was very clear about that: This is about sustainability and this service plays a role in that.”
Snowstang’s projected budget for the 2019-20 ski season is $190,000, with the ski areas it serves picking up about 60% of that bill.
Each 51-seat coach is branded with logos for its ski area destination. The Loveland and A-Basin lines run round trip on Saturdays and Sundays through April 19, and on the major ski holidays, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Presidents Day.
The Steamboat line runs up to the Routt County destination on Saturdays and back on Sundays, with extra service on the holiday weekends, too.
Travelers from the Front Range can board at Denver Union Station or at the Federal Center in Lakewood.
Most people who were on the inaugural trip Dec. 14 opted for round-trip travel to A-Basin and Loveland, but Wilson said there was an expected imbalance of riders booked on the return trip from Steamboat.
“People in Routt and Rio Blanco counties, they want a connection to the Front Range,” he said. “We anticipate this is how people will use the service. If you need to get to the VA hospital and you’re in Craig, we can provide that option.”
Even though there are professionals piloting the Snowstang buses, the weather can still prove to be a showstopper. On the first day of the routes’ operation, the A-Basin Snowstang foundered in deep snow on Loveland Pass and arrived two and a half hours late, after having to be dug out by equipment from Loveland ski area.
The Loveland passengers arrived nearly an hour behind schedule. Still, the deep snow was a boon and many of the 26 riders showed up for the 4 p.m. departure with smiles on their faces.
“Everyone is excited the first day,” CDOT motor coach operator Kevin Matzdorff said from behind the wheel of the brand-new bus on Dec. 14. “And they should be.”
For more on Snowstang service, visit https://ridebustang.com/snowstang/.