Free ride to slopes – in Vail |

Free ride to slopes – in Vail

Stephen Lloyd Wood, Tribune News Service

VAIL – Another strategy is in the works aimed at reducing the number of cars parked along the roads to Vail and Beaver Creek mountains this winter.

Starting Jan. 10 and continuing every Saturday through March 27, many buses operated by Eagle County’s ECO Transit will transport passengers free of charge, meaning locals and visitors throughout the valley can get to the slopes of Vail and Beaver Creek without spending a dime.

“I’d love to see this become a success,” says Bill Jensen, chief operating officer of Vail Mountain. “Even just 50 cars at each resort would be considered a success.”

Vail Resorts has committed $10,000 to this winter’s pilot program, making up for about half of the revenues the county estimates it will lose by not charging the regular $2 and $3 fares; Eagle County will absorb the rest. While many details remain to be worked out, Jensen says, the ski company also will be paying most of the costs of advertising the program, as well as donating prizes, from free lunches at its on-mountain restaurants to free season passes.

“It’s important to recognize Vail Resorts for stepping up to the plate financially. They didn’t have to do that,” says Vail Town Councilman Ludwig Kurz, who represents the town on the ECO’s board of directors. “It shows this is not just rhetoric, but that they really do want to help.”

Over the past few winters – especially on Saturdays during the high season – Vail’s two parking garages have been filled to capacity, turning the South Frontage Road into a veritable parking lot for cars driven by skiers and snowboarders from elsewhere in Eagle County and from the Front Range. The situation also has occurred numerous times in Avon, as Beaver Creek’s two parking lots become overwhelmed, forcing people to park on Highway 6 – sometimes as far as half a mile away.

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“This program should help alleviate those problems, which are both a safety issue and a perception issue,” says Kurz.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure the savings for an individual or a group. The standard one-way fare on an ECO bus is $2, or $3 for express service. Round-trip, that’s $4 to $6. For a group of three, that’s $12 to $18.

Ironically, until the town of Vail hiked its rates for parking in its parking garages this season – now $16 for six hours or longer – it used to cost as much or more to ride the bus than to drive – hardly a motivation to use public transportation. Now, at least on select Saturdays this winter, the incentive truly is there to ride the bus.