ASPEN (AP) – If Brad Rettig isn’t in the Dinosaur park-n-ride lot in Golden by 5:30 a.m. on a Saturday during ski season, he knows his skiing hours are at stake – and that’s just not something he’s willing to risk.
That’s an early wake-up call for just about anyone, but he’s willing to do it each season because he loves to ski. The Denver resident’s passion for the sport is what keeps him on top of the latest traffic news – he is consistently tweeting about weather-related accidents and congestion points along Interstate 70.
“The situation is terrible. It’s really a total crapshoot nowadays,” Rettig said. “I used to have a pretty good handle on skirting the traffic, but as more and more people move to Denver, the routine is constantly changing.”
Rettig tries to get in front of all of it – the snow plows, the metering, avalanche control. He follows the Colorado Department of Transportation on Twitter and is signed up for every email update you can think of that might include I-70 traffic information. He also watches the web cameras to gather real-time information.
The traffic situation isn’t just changing the way people travel to the mountains, it’s also changing skier habits. Rettig has considered just skiing at Eldora or even Monarch because of the horrendous experience he faces on the roads every weekend.
Rettig has some friends in Denver who are spending their hard-earned cash on destination ski trips this coming season. They’d rather get on a plane and fly somewhere than sit on I-70 every weekend, he said.
“It’s really changing everybody’s atmosphere,” he said. “We’re all shuffling around where we want to go (ski) now.”
Karla Burnett Kelly made an even bigger decision related to skiing and traffic earlier this year: Her family sold their homes in Frisco and Parker and moved to Aspen. Her children were on the Team Summit Ski Team and they drove up every weekend and fought their way through the traffic, but the real challenge was on the way back when the kids were tired and cranky.
“The traffic was getting worse and worse, and the crowds at the resorts were getting worse and worse, and we didn’t want to move to Frisco full time,” she said. “There’s a really good school system in Aspen, great resorts and an airport so my husband can travel out when he needs to and not drive at all.”
Kelly said they skied Aspen resorts this past spring break and also Presidents Day weekend – two of the busiest times of the season for any Western ski resort – and they never waited more than 5 minutes to get on a chair lift.
Congestion on Colorado’s roads is increasing, and the impacts on the economy can be felt all along the I-70 corridor.
The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation commissioned a 2007 report, by Development Research Partners, that puts a value of $85 million on the collective personal time that’s lost due to I-70 congestion, a number that continues to rise.
The Colorado Department of Transportation estimates that by 2025 as much as 27 percent of winter-season motorists who would normally travel I-70 in the Mountain Corridor will choose not to, depending on the day, location and direction of travel, according to the report.
Choosing another way of life is exactly what people are doing, and some are taking it further than their travel habits. Marianne Hoover lived in Frisco for 10 years but left town in 2008 and headed south to Durango, where traffic is now a thing of the past.
“(The decision to move was) not solely based on traffic, but it definitely had a tremendous influence on us. We bought an acre of land in Breck in 2005 with the intention of building our house on it. We also owned a house in Frisco. We woke up one day and between the weather, traffic and cost of living in Summit County, we chose five places to seek out that were off the grid, nowhere near an interstate, and Durango was the best place for us.”
Hoover said she doesn’t think the resorts and the state are working well together to fix the traffic problems. The effort needs to be a team one, she said. With mountains getting bigger – she referred to Breckenridge’s Peak 6 expansion as well as summer growth at resorts such as Vail and Breckenridge – there are more people heading to the mountains. The mountain capacities seem to be getting larger, but the road capacities are not, she said.
“The Epic Pass is amazing. However, I think the rates of the passes need to increase,” she said.
The issue is becoming larger than a statewide traffic problem. It’s now a Colorado ski industry problem.
“From a competitor perspective, from an industry perspective, we’re all hearing it: It’s too easy to fly into Salt Lake City and even Reno to Tahoe,” Vail Mayor Andy Daly said. “There’s a broad concern among Colorado ski areas for improving on the way roads are managed.”