How Front Rangers deal with I-70 |

How Front Rangers deal with I-70

by Kimberly Nicoletti
High Country Business Review

As weekend traffic on Interstate 70 increases, Front Range skiers and riders have found ways to adjust. The three most popular ways: leave earlier in the morning and later at night, rent condos, or just stop coming to the High Country on weekends altogether.

A growing trend in Summit County has been one of rounding up a group of approximately 10 friends and renting a two- or three-bedroom condo long-term, from November through the ski season.

For the last two seasons, Diane Schulte of Boulder has pitched in $100 to $120 a month for the convenience of avoiding traffic. She said that not sitting on I-70 for two or three hours is worth it.

Boulder resident Jim Kelpy’s friends also rent a condo, “just for the sole purpose to avoid traffic.” The group of 10 to 15 people e-mail each other to keep track of who will be in the condo when. They’re all professionals ” doctors, lawyers, sales persons and so on.

Other resourceful skiers and snowboarders crash on friends’ couches for the night, in order to circumvent traffic.

For those without places to stay, most, throughout a random survey of approximately 30 people in Boulder and Denver, don’t go up on weekends. And, if they do, they leave before 6 a.m., because traffic stacks up between 7-9 a.m. on weekends, they said.

Jessica Henry, of Denver, leaves at 5:45 a.m., saying, “it’s just easier.” Though she went up as often as she normally would, she said some of her friends didn’t go up as much because “they’d just didn’t want to deal with it.” She ended up spending more money this season on lodging, upping the cost of the sport.

“If you don’t have a friend up there, it’s tough because lodging is not cheap,” said Kagan Schopenn, of Boulder.

Traci Gauthier, who lives in Boulder, avoids the interstate from 6-8 p.m. and 7-9 a.m. Because of the traffic and the fact that she won’t be able to take weekdays off next season, she isn’t repurchasing the five-mountain pass Vail Resorts offers. And she’s not alone.

“I don’t go on weekends anymore, because I smoke too many cigarettes (sitting in traffic), and it’s bad for my health,” said Boulderite Jeff Ruppert. Instead, he cuts his class load during the winter semester so he can ski on weekdays.

“I-70 is a pain in the butt. It definitely does affect the thought process of people ” if it’s worth it to go. If there’s not a big incentive, like really good snow, they’re a lot less likely to go.”

Ruppert has seen traffic become progressively worse since 2003. He said it used to be OK to leave ski areas at 3 or 3:30 p.m., but now, people who want to avoid traffic must leave by 2 p.m. “-sometimes earlier ” or stay for dinner. Jason Wallis worked in Vail for 10 years as a bartender and began to see more and more people stay for a drink and wait until 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. before they left town. Boulderite Chip David said when he leaves at 3 p.m., or when the chairlifts close, he goes 15 mph for three-quarters of the drive.

Even the Frontage Road doesn’t provide relief, as “everyone’s catching on” to it, Ruppert said.

And Friday nights are beginning to rival Saturday and Sunday mornings, with more people leaving after work. Ruppert waits until 9 p.m. to leave.

“This year it was ridiculous,” David said. He and his friends turned around three times last year after sitting in a dead stop on I-70. One weekend, his friends stayed up in Summit County. He left the ski area for Boulder the same time they left for their condo. After they ate dinner, had drinks and went hottubbing, David wasn’t even at Idaho Springs.

“I see a lot of people just not going, especially on weekends,” he said.

Joy Carroll is one of them. She only skis at Eldora because it’s an easy commute, rather than a two-hour or more drive. Others opt for the backcountry.

But Schopenn said Eldora gets crowded (on the mountain), so “it’s not like you’re going to avoid crowds,” he said. It points to the fact that a lot of people are not making the I-70 commute.

“It’s insanity,” Kelpy said. “The closest thing I can compare it to is the beltway in Washington D.C. You’re just sitting there, and you’re scooting and scooting and scooting.”

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