DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Colorado has been trying to get skiers out of their cars. World-class ski resorts like Vail and Breckenridge are less than a hundred miles from Denver, and traffic to get to these resorts is getting really bad. The resorts have started partnering with the state to run ski buses, but the buses are not very popular. Here's Nathaniel Minor from Colorado Public Radio.
NATHANIEL MINOR, BYLINE: If you want to ski one of Colorado's half dozen most popular resorts along Interstate 70, you've got to get up early.
(SOUNDBITE OF VEHICLE DOOR CLOSING)
MINOR: It's a Saturday morning at about 6 o'clock. And just a few minutes into the drive, I've come to a complete stop.
I was not early enough. The line just to get onto I-70 is probably half a mile long. Great.
On a weekday, this drive would take about an hour. Today it's stop-and-go the entire way. Red tail lights snake out for miles in front of me as I slogged my way into the mountains. Finally, I'm there - Loveland Ski Area.
That took 2 1/2 hours to go about 60 miles.
Tens of thousands of Coloradans make this powder pilgrimage every weekend. And traffic has gotten worse. The average time for this drive has gone up nearly 15 minutes in the last five years. So Colorado state government has partnered with three ski resorts to run weekend ski buses from Denver. One pulled up just after I got there.
(SOUNDBITE OF HORN HONKING)
MINOR: Midhun Mohan was one of about a dozen people onboard. It was his first ride, and he says he'll be a regular from now on.
MIDHUN MOHAN: Absolutely - because you know, when you look at all the mileage on my car, et cetera - if I am just getting here solo, yeah, I will.
MINOR: Buses move large numbers of people more efficiently than cars. But Colorado's fleet isn't big enough to have a noticeable effect on traffic just yet, and they're running less than half full.
BOB WILSON: What we're hoping for is for the program to expand.
MINOR: Bob Wilson is with the Colorado Department of Transportation.
WILSON: The more cars, more vehicles we can get off the roadway, the better it's going to be. Even if it's a small dent, it's a dent nonetheless.
MINOR: Fares start at $25 roundtrip. Resorts subsidize them to keep them low. But that's still not quite low enough for people like Alicia and Kyle Helm of Denver.
KYLE HELM: We did a little bit of calculation as far as, like, how much money we spend in gas to get up here. And we've got a dog that we take. So if it weren't for the dog...
ALICIA HELM: We'd probably take it.
K HELM: ...We'd probably take it.
MINOR: There is more than just the price of gas to consider. Using the IRS' mileage rate that factors in things like wear and tear, it costs about $70 dollars to drive to Loveland and back. But drivers like cars' flexibility. And then there's the parking lot. It has its own culture. Even this early in the morning, people are out tailgating - lots of craft beers and the occasional whiff of weed.
Emily Maynard and her friend Lauren Feathers were sipping canned vodka cocktails in the back of their Subaru. They say the bus intrigued them. But...
EMILY MAYNARD: I don't want to sit in that traffic that long.
LAUREN FEATHERS: Yeah, the thing is - traffic sucks already. But sitting in a bus in traffic would be...
MAYNARD: With, like, smelly strangers, I'm not for it.
MINOR: Many skiers say they'd love a train to the resorts. But the state estimates it would cost $10 billion to $30 billion to build. That's not happening anytime soon.
For NPR News, I'm Nathaniel Minor in Colorado.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.