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Colorado is trying to get drivers off I-70 by busing skiers to the slopes. Will it work?

Of the inaugural run of CDOT’s new Snowstang buses, one was late and the other got stuck on Loveland Pass. But for those riding it -- including out of towners -- it was a blast.

Reed Terrell of Longmont, left, loads his ski gear next to Nate McLean of Thornton, right, as they board CDOT's new Snowstang bus at the Federal Center Station bus depot during the line's inaugural trip to Loveland Ski Area on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019. (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun)

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.

CDOT motor coach operator Kevin Matzdorff gestures broadly as he greets Sarah Oshana, left, the first rider of CDOT’s new Snowstang bus route to Loveland Ski Area at Denver’s Union Station bus depot on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019. Oshana and her friend Mouna Chahin were visiting Colorado from Illinois to ski and opted to book Snowstang tickets the previous night, rather than driving to the ski resort. (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun)

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. 

Daniel Garzon of Dallas gazes out the window CDOT’s new Snowstang bus somewhere on Interstate 70 while riding the line’s inaugural trip to Loveland Ski Area on Saturday, December 14, 2019. Garzon and his girlfriend Vicky Arteaga were visiting Colorado for the first time and wanted to learn how to ski. (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun)

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.

Read more skiing stories from The Colorado Sun

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. 

Snow falls around Kris Van Buren, left, and his wife Cher Van Buren, center, and Loveland Ski Area marketing assistant Sage McCririck, right, as they step out of CDOT’s Snowstang bus after riding aboard the line’s inaugural trip to the Clear Creek County ski area on Saturday, December 14, 2019. The Van Burens said they had never skied before and chose to ride the bus rather than drive. (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun)

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/.

Interstate 70 gridlock surrounds CDOT’s new Snowstang bus to Arapahoe Basin Ski Area during its inaugural trip, photographed aboard its sister bus to the Loveland Ski Area on Saturday, December 14, 2019. (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun)

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