Car alternatives growing to get from the city to the Vail Valley, other ski resorts
EAGLE COUNTY — Hotels in Vail often tell guests they don’t need to bring their cars, especially during ski season. Over the past few years, alternatives have grown to taking the family car to the high country.
The I-70 Coalition, a nonprofit group of governments and businesses along the Interstate 70 mountain corridor, has for several years been urging visitors to change the times they drive from the mountains to the city. The coalition has also recently launched a web-based tool for travelers to explore alternatives — http://www.goI70.com/transit.
The website directs visitors to a number of alternatives, including:
• Bustang: The bus service run by the Colorado Department of Transportation was started as a way to get people to the Denver area from different parts of the state. The success of that Denver-focused service led the transportation department to launch weekend service from the city to outlying areas, including the mountains.
According to the I-70 Coalition, Bustang ridership grew more than 50 percent from 2016 to 2017.
That growth “is exciting,” I-70 Coalition Executive Director Margaret Bowes said. “It shows people are more willing to take transit.”
• In addition to the Winter Park Ski Train and the Front Range Ski Bus, which serves the Loveland ski area, Bowes said Gondola, a true ride-sharing service, is starting to attract more riders.
“With one tap, you can see what rides are leaving Denver and Boulder and going directly to ski areas,” Bowes said. Rather than fees, riders are asked to essentially pony up gas money. Drivers then drop off passengers directly at lifts.
• In addition to getting people to and from the mountains via buses, private vans and taxis, Bowes noted that the Uber and Lyft ride-sharing services are also growing in mountain resort areas.
Bowes said it’s too soon to tell whether car alternatives are making a dent in traffic numbers. Firm data would require a traffic management study.
But anecdotally, people seem to be using alternatives. And, Bowes noted, the I-70 express lane, a tolled lane through 13 miles of Clear Creek County, has cut delays from the mountains to the Denver area.
While CDOT on the afternoon of Sunday, Jan. 14, reported a two-hour drive time from Silverthorne to C-470 on the west end of the Denver area, Bowes said there seem to have been fewer traffic delays this season.
But with Colorado among the country’s fastest-growing states over the past decade, traffic volume isn’t going to ease any time soon.
With scarce funding for road expansion, Bowes said car alternatives will be important in the coming years. But success may take some time to measure.
An I-70 Coalition effort to get people to change the times they drive from the mountains to the Denver area seems to have had an effect, Bowes said. But that effort has continued for eight years now.
In Vail, telling guests they don’t need cars is nothing new.
At the Sitzmark Lodge in Vail Village, general manager Jeanne Fritch said that hotel has long told guests they can leave their cars at home.
“We tell them it’s not really necessary,” Fritch said. For those staying in one of the resort villages, the lifts, as well as dining and shopping, are only a short walk away. And, Fritch said, companies that offer other activities usually have shuttle buses to pick up guests.
There’s also the town of Vail’s free bus service, which carries millions of passengers every year.
Because of the Sitzmark’s location, Fritch said the hotel doesn’t have a parking problem in the winter.
Location is “one of the reasons people pick us,” she said.
Getting to and from that location without a car is getting easier, too.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, email@example.com and @scottnmiller.