Downvalley incentives a "conundrum’ |

Downvalley incentives a "conundrum’

Stephen Lloyd Wood

Last winter, on Saturdays, the South Frontage Road in Vail often resembled a three-mile-long parking lot. Driving the road at times required motorists to slalom through skiers and snowboarders walking to and from the mountain in their boots with their equipment precariously balanced over their shoulders.

Some people went as far as to blame employees of Vail businesses -as well as residents from downvalley – for filling Vail’s parking structures early and forcing visitors from the Front Range and elsewhere onto the road.

Whether or not that is true is difficult to say, but it did come after Vail Resorts and Eagle County attempted to give downvalley commuters and skiers an option – albeit one that apparently was shunned en masse.

The county offered the use of land at Berry Creek, where the Miller Ranch affordable housing project is now, as a park-and-ride lot. For $250, anybody could park for free and catch an express bus directly to Vail, with the price of the season bus pass deducted from the price of a merchant ski pass.

Trouble was, less than five people chose the park-and-ride option.

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The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.

“It’s a conundrum, and we’re not sure how to deal with it,” Vail Town Councilman Dick Cleveland, a member of the task force that came up with the idea, says of trying to encourage local residents not to drive to Vail to ski, especially on Saturdays.

This year, another cooperative idea is in the works. County Commissioner Arn Menconi says he’s proposed a deal with Vail Resorts that would allow anyone to ride the regular Highway 6 bus to Vail on selected Saturdays this winter for free.

“We’d alleviate having Eagle County skiers and snowboarders from driving to Vail on Saturdays by giving them incentives to ride the bus,” says Menconi. “This says we value our locals’ days off, and ECO Transit is the perfect partner.”

Menconi said the proposed program would cost the county about $39,000, or the revenue generated last year on the same dozen or so peak-season Saturdays.

Other programs are being considered, too, Menconi says, although ECO Transit’s board of directors and Vail Resorts ultimately “hold the trump card” on what, if any, plan is implemented.

Vail Mountain’s Bill Jensen said Menconi’s proposal is “an interesting concept,” and the ski company is open to any idea that would help get skiers and snowboarders off the Frontage Road.

“We’re definitely interested in exploring some kind of pilot program this year,” Jensen said.

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