PHOTO COURTESY OF HIGHER GROUND SKI CLUB
Last winter, we published a story by Rachel Walker called “Road to Hell: Will I-70 Traffic Get Better Before It Gets Worse?” Sadly, what we discovered was that there are no major improvements in sight for Interstate 70 as it leads from Denver into the mountains (though we’d love to be proved wrong). Nope, the traffic may even get worse. Or for some, more expensive. After the October EO went to press we learned about the development of the new I-70 Eastbound toll lane going in between Empire and Idaho Springs. During heavy traffic times electronic signs will show that the wide shoulder will be opened to act as a third lane. The toll will vary in price according to how congested the traffic is. For more information check out CO DOT.
So what to do? We know you need to travel this congested corridor to get outside and play at some of the state’s best resorts. Don’t fear—we have a few creative options that can help you beat the misery of sitting on I-70 and maximize fun time.
#1 Plan Ahead
Naturally, we’d all like to plan our trip up to hit the parking lot and saunter over to the ski lift right as the gates open up on a perfect powder day on Sunday morning. But that rosy scenario is very unlikely (unless you are on the highway when the bars are closing in downtown Denver) especially on the weekends and even on big snow days during the week. Instead, consider going up to the mountains when others aren’t going. The website goi70.com features a Travel Forecast page that provides insight on the busiest travel times to help drivers plan to avoid the worst congestion. Or consider different travel days and plan well ahead. Use some vacation time to create a few extra long weekends over the season and offset your drive away from the busiest travel days and times.
Probably the most obvious, and already the most popular, method to tackle I-70 is to fill every seat in your car. Or, better yet, find a ride in someone else’s car and let them deal with the driving. If this sort of option doesn’t exist within your network of friends, there are a number of websites to help you connect with fellow powderhounds. Check out skicarpool.org, theskilift.org and gociety.com.
While carpooling may still have you sitting in traffic only with more people, there are some other perks. The often hidden advantage of carpooling that few know about is that some of the ski areas reserve close-in and/or free parking for carpools. Some ski areas also offer discounted lift passes to carpoolers even if your carpool is a mix of season pass holders and day-pass skiers. Be sure to scour the website of the ski area you’re looking to go to. The website goi70.com has already done some of this work for you.
If your carpool party draws from all over the Front Range, get familiar with the Dinosaur Lots right along I-70 in Golden. Take the Morrison exit (#259) to these state owned lots and there you’ll find over 1,000 parking spots. There are three lots: T-Rex, Wooly Mammoth and Stegosaurus. Be sure you know where your crew is meeting.
#3 Take The Train
After a very successful trial run of the Winter Park Ski Train this spring to celebrate Winter Park’s 75th anniversary, plans continue to move forward to provide a regular schedule of the service. The ski train started in the 1940’s and ran for decades, but liability costs, insurance and other concerns arose between Amtrak, which owned the physical trains, Union Pacific which owns the tracks and the private ski-train operator. It got so bad that train service ceased in 2009.
Now all concerned parties, including Winter Park, are at the same table. Details were still being worked out as this magazine went to press, but Steve Hurlbert, Winter Park’s director of public relations and communications, says the resort is extremely hopeful about the service returning for good. And, once planned work is complete, visitors will be able to take a train from Denver International Airport to Denver’s Union Station and transfer to the ski train to get to the slopes. It will be America’s only train service with direct access to a resort. For the latest on the new service, visit winterparkresort.com. For more history on the ski train check out skitrain.com.
#4 Take The Bus/Van
Of course, you can always let someone else deal with the traffic. Colorado Mountain Express (CME) offers services for folks flying into the various mountain airports including Denver International Airport. The ride service also picks up locals in downtown Denver and at the aforementioned Wooly Mammoth lot in Golden. CME offers extensive coverage to resorts including Vail, Beaver Creek, Avon, Keystone, Breckenridge, Frisco, Copper Mountain, Silverthorne, Dillon, Aspen, Snowmass Village, Carbondale and other locations on request. coloradomountainexpress.com
With roots as an undergrad school project, the Front Range Ski Bus (FRSB) has been going since 2011. FRSB also picks up in downtown Denver and at the Wooly Mammoth lot in Golden. These 54-seat busses (there are no bathrooms, but they make potty stops upon request) run Wednesday through Sunday and serve Loveland and Copper. Those resorts offer lift pass deals for FRSB riders. Kids aged 16 or older are welcome to ride the bus on their own, but those 15 and younger require a chaperone. frontrangeskibus.com
New to the mountain bus scene is the Higher Ground Ski Club. Started in March of 2015 by an East Coast transplant, the HGSC bus runs on a membership model and departs from Boulder to serve Copper Mountain, Winter Park, Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone, Breckenridge and A-Basin. HGSC claims that the membership model creates a stronger sense of community among mountain bound folks. It also shows an increased commitment by riders to help keep the bus running. As membership grows, HGSC is negotiating deals and partnerships to include discounts on equipment, passes and more. HGSC also hosts regular meetups for members and members-to-be, and the bus often stays in the mountains for aprés events (this specific bus is for adults only) and allows booze on the bus. Guests of members are allowed for an extra fee. hgskiclub.com
Another kind of “club” style bus service is the University Ski Bus for Denver University students. The website is pretty spartan, but if you go to DU, this ride is a solid option: universityskibus.com
The large military community of Colorado Springs also has its own service. Anyone holding a DoD ID card, can hop on a bus that departs from a central location in Colorado Springs starting on November 21. This bus will run Saturdays and most Sundays as well as some other times during the week as appropriate with the military schedule. mwrfortcarson.com
For those limited few who are available to travel west in the evening and east in the morning on weekdays there’s Bustang. Designed around a commuter schedule rather than for powder hounds, these 50-seat coaches include restrooms, bike racks, free WiFi, power outlets and USB ports. Bustang runs three routes: north and a south serving I-25 from Ft. Collins to Tejon (Colorado Springs) and west going from Denver to Glenwood Springs. Prices are hard to beat, ranging from $9 to $28. ridebustang.com
Finally, you can board the least likely ski bus of all … Greyhound. The national bus service does run up and down I-70 after all. There are a few decent departure times to choose from including a 7 a.m. westbound bus from Denver on Saturday mornings. Denver-Vail fares start at $32. greyhound.com
#5 Skip I-70 Completely
The final option? Don’t. Eldora Mountain Resort has been using this simple marketing mantra for years: “Friends don’t let friends drive I-70.” Only 21 miles from Boulder, Eldora may not offer up the same terrain, prestige or clout as ski areas buried deep into the Rockies, but when upslope storms come in, Eldora makes out like a bandit. Granted, the single lane (with rare opportunities to pass) Boulder Canyon Drive can get congested on busy days, especially in Nederland. But there’s also the RTD bus that will take you from Boulder’s Walnut Street station right to the lift. eldora.com
If you’re not hung up on riding a lift, you can invest in the gear and the knowledge (mandatory: take an avalanche safety course and practice with your gear) and join the growing number of skiers and boarders who would rather earn their turns than sit in traffic. There are lots of backcountry turns to be had all along the Front Range, many of which are described in the backcountry issue of this magazine. For more information about what it takes to get into the backcountry in a safe and fun way, check out our Backcountry 101 guide: elevationoutdoors.com/backcountry-101