Spring at the pump

Gasoline prices could hit $2 a gallon in Spring

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With gas prices threatening to break through the $2 ceiling this spring, residents may feel the crunch when fueling up, but tourists are not expected to cut out Steamboat Springs travel plans.

Area resident Jon Buschmann is understandably tuned in to reports of rising gas prices. Among his collection of vehicles and "toys" that includes two trucks with large engines and an assortment of dirt bikes and snowmobiles, Buschmann estimates he spends $150 a week on gasoline.

"I'm spending $100 a week just to run the snowmobiles," he said as he filled his 1978 Chevy Custom Deluxe stakebed truck Thursday. He was pulling a trailer on which three motorcycles were strapped. The Chevy gets about 10 miles to the gallon, he said. That's better than his other truck, a lifted Dodge with a V-10 engine that gets just 8 miles to the gallon.

Routt County residents and their recreational vehicles are one matter, but the Steamboat spring tourism economy is based on visitors getting in their cars and driving here.

Mary Greer of the Colorado AAA said it's too early to report on her clients' vacation plans for this spring, but she doubts people will decide not to travel because of the cost of gasoline. Instead, she said, they may stay closer to home. Even more likely is that they will plan carefully to moderate their fuel costs.

"The awareness level goes up, so that becomes part of their planning," Greer said. "People are still going to vacation, but they may make different choices."

Greer anticipates that people planning 2,000-mile trips across the country will come to AAA to compare the distances and associated costs between "the northern route" and "the southern route."

It's possible that Steamboat could benefit from Front Range travelers deciding to take shorter automobile vacations.

"They might say, 'We've experienced Steamboat in the winter; let's try it in summer," Greer said.

Greer's office provides motorists with tips for increasing fuel efficiency, such as properly inflating tires, tuning the engine and checking engine fluids, belts and hoses, she said.

The cost of unleaded regular in Steamboat this week was about $1.71, and premium was $1.85. Buschmann said his snowmobiles and dirt bikes require more expensive premium gas. Greer urges vehicle owners to double check with their dealer or the manufacturer to make certain they aren't putting higher octane gasoline than necessary in their vehicles.

The price of gasoline went up by an average of 7.3 cents a gallon this week, according to the AAA. Greer said the statewide average of about $1.68 is close to where it was at the same time last year. But a year ago, there was far more uncertainty about the war in Iraq and the impact it would have on crude oil prices.

"This is very unusual for this time of year, for the price of gas to spike like this," Greer said. Demand for petroleum is up worldwide, she said, and given the global economy, she doesn't expect gasoline prices to moderate this summer.

People who want to see the price of gas go down might be able to contribute to a solution, Greer said. About 40 percent of Americans' energy use can be attributed to commuting in their vehicles, she said. By planning to build daily errands into the commute to work, drivers can save gas.

"If everyone saves 5 to 10 percent, the drop in demand might offset supply issues and lead to lower gas prices," she said.

Buschmann, a commercial painter, doesn't plan to stop using his big trucks to haul his toys.

"I'll just take on another job," he said. "Instead of doing two jobs a month, I'll do three."

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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