Our view: Let that SnowStang run
February 11, 2017
Is it appropriate for the Colorado Department of Transportation to subsidize trial ski bus operations from Leadville to resorts on the I-70 corridor
State Transportation Commission Chairwoman Kathy Connell raises valid points about the inequity of the trial ski bus program announced this month. However, we feel the “SnowStang” test program could lead to future improvements on I-70.
Kathy Connell, chairwoman of the State Transportation Commission and a resident of Steamboat Springs, told Steamboat Today this week she has reservations about the inequities inherent to the new "SnowStang" program, which will test the skiing public's enthusiasm for a bus trip to ski areas primarily up and down the I-70 corridor on the western side of the Eisenhower Tunnel during tryouts Feb 11 and 25.
SnowStang is a play on words based on the Bustang service on the Front Range, which runs buses from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs.
We think Connell's concerns about SnowStang are valid, but we choose to embrace the bus program, which is intended to help reduce traffic on the interstate between Vail and the western side of metro Denver via the tunnel. The buses will run from Lakewood to A-Basin, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Vail and Winter Park. They won't run to more remote ski areas, such as Steamboat Springs, Aspen Telluride and Crested Butte.
In our view, an innovative program that has the potential to reduce traffic on I-70 during peak travel periods benefits not only the I-70 ski resorts dominated by Vail, but also makes it more palatable for Front Range skiers to set out for a long weekend in Steamboat via the interstate, Colorado Highway 9 and U.S. Highway 40
Northwest Colorado is fortunate to have someone as intelligent and energetic as Connell in an influential position at the state level. She understands the tremendous funding challenges faced by the Colorado Department of Transportation and is a tireless advocate for the state highways on Colorado's Western Slope that Front Rangers depend on when they want to escape the city.
Connell told Steamboat Today she agrees that if SnowStang — which would charge travelers fares between $45 and $60 to ride the buses — is a success, it would help pave the way for a more ambitious project — perhaps a train along the I-70 corridor. What sticks in her craw is the perception that it favors some ski towns over others, and in particular, favors the giant resort operator that is Vail Resorts.
"Vail is totally private, and we're giving them another big shot in the arm …" she said. "What are (they) giving back? I think ski corporations all over have not contributed enough to help the transportation needs that they all benefit from."
What leaps to our minds are the public/private collaborations in ski towns like Steamboat, Telluride and Crested Butte — and yes, also Vail — that put millions of dollars at risk annually to provide the minimum revenue guarantees required to secure direct airline flights. The Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. supplies the first $1.1 million to the flight program here and backstops any shortfall that isn't covered by a lodging tax.
If SnowStang gains traction, it will be of benefit to us all, and it would be perfectly reasonable for state officials such as Connell to ask the resort industry in the communities that would see direct benefits to help underwrite the cost the same way ski areas underwrite airline service.
The cost of underwriting bus travel to the more far-flung ski areas like Steamboat, Telluride and Crested Butte may be less feasible on a per-passenger-mile basis.
And besides, ski areas like Steamboat, Telluride and Crested Butte have a special niche of their own that's impossible to replicate on the I-70 corridor — their lifts and their trails aren't overrun with crowds.