Holiday travel: cheaper gas, more snow
EAGLE COUNTY — It’s no surprise that we’re now in two of the busiest weeks of the season. This two-week Christmas season will feature a lot of the familiar and at least one pleasant surprise, but the weather may throw a kink or two into travel plans.
First, the pleasant surprise: The nationwide average price of gasoline is as low as it’s been since 2009 — $1.99 per gallon. There are regional variations, of course. (The average per-gallon price in Eagle County was $2.23 Monday.) Still, spending less for gasoline is a good thing for almost all of us.
Now the familiar: There are a lot of people out and about.
TRAVELERS ON THE ROADS
Wave Dreher, the public information person for AAA Colorado, said as many as 30 percent of all Americans will travel at least 50 miles from home over the two-week holiday period.
A good portion of those travelers end up in the Vail Valley, and many of those people want to be out and about.
“It’s not like people are just up skiing — they’re traveling to parties, they’re going out of town, they’re going shopping. … It’s just busier,” AlpenGo Mountain Transportation owner Ken Hoeve said.
AlpenGo has been in business since 2002, so Hoeve is familiar with traffic along Interstate 70 between the Eagle County Regional Airport and Denver. Hoeve said traffic has grown over the past 12 years, especially in the middle of the week.
Some relief may be at hand for eastbound drivers. The Colorado Department of Transportation last weekend opened a new toll lane between Empire and Idaho Springs. Officials have high hopes for the lanes, and some frequent users of I-70 have already bought transponders so to use it.
Colorado Mountain Express Vice President and General Manager John Dawsey said while the lane is closed to buses and heavy trucks, all of that company’s vans are eligible to use the lane. Customers won’t be charged if drivers use the toll lane.
“We just want to ensure we’re the best way to Denver,” Dawsey said.
SNOW IN THE FORECAST
The topic of highways leads to this week’s possible kinks in travel plans.
There’s snow in the weather forecast for much of this week. The OpenSnow website is calling for a healthy shot of snow in the Central Rockies starting today — as much as 18 inches in places. Through the rest of the week, the National Weather Service has snow through Christmas in its Vail forecast.
Dreher urged people to be patient with other drivers, especially as the highways fill up between Denver and Vail. Drivers also should make sure their windshield wipers work well, that they have plenty of washer fluid and their tires are adequate for snow.
Hoeve urged powder-seekers who aren’t comfortable driving on snowpacked roads to find other ways to the mountains.
“If you’re one of those people who drives with their flashers on in a storm, don’t go,” he said.
While thousands will come to the valley via I-70, thousands more will fly into the Eagle County Regional Airport.
Not counting the several flights per day to and from Denver on United Express, more than 200 interstate flights will arrive at the airport between Dec. 17 and Jan. 4. On Monday, Eagle County Aviation Director Greg Phillips said passenger numbers are starting to build for the holiday.
“Right after Christmas is typically when it really gets busy,” Phillips said. “The week between Christmas and New Year’s is our busiest week.”
With the airport as busy as it gets, Phillips urged travelers to allow plenty of time to catch a flight.
“We always recommend you come 90 minutes or more before your scheduled flight,” Phillips said. “With weather, crowds and other factors, it’s wise for any traveler to leave themselves plenty of time. “Once you’ve cleared security, we’ve got a restaurant, a gift shop and a bar — there are plenty of ways to spend your time.”
On the arrival side, Phillips said people used to coming through large airports often aren’t ready for the quick trip to the baggage carousels.
“At Denver, it can take you 20 minutes to get off the plane and get to the baggage area,” Phillips said. “Here, it takes about 3.”
“Patience” is a good watchword on the roads and in crowds. Hoeve urged the rest of us to be patient, too.
“Look where we’re at,” he said. “Enjoy the holidays. People are spending their money, but they’re spending their time to build memories. That’s why they come back.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, email@example.com and @scottnmiller.