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Winter on Winter: The Long and Crowded Road

Winter on Winter: The Long and Crowded Road

[ October 12, 2010 - 12:35pm ]
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Weekend parking lot: Copper Mountain
Dek: 
Why Colorado inadvertently brought on the traffic, and what to do about it.

This week, the powers that be will meet to discuss the state of Colorado’s Interstate 70. The highway, according to the “experts” has become too crowded, and they need to “widen it”. As a frequent traveler on the highway, this got my dander up. So in the spirit of democracy, I rattled off a ranting screed to the Colorado Department of Transportation about the utter foolishness of spending billions of dollars to widen a highway that is plenty wide enough with one exception: the road can’t handle Colorado’s skier traffic on the weekends. As I don’t drive on the highway on weekends (because of this very fact) my point was: screw the weekend warrior, let them rot in the traffic of their own making or learn how to carpool.

In reality though, the traffic problem on Interstate 70 points to the success and coming failure of Colorado’s ski industry.

The success was coming up with an affordable way for people to ski. Colorado’s season pass price wars are cutthroat, and everyone who skis—from families to CU students to my wife— has benefited. After all, if you live in, say, Jackson, Wyoming, a season pass there will cost more than twice as much as one in Colorado. Given the fact that a $400 season pass has made skiing a sport of the people in Colorado, you have to count the pass wars as a success for the sport and participation one of the best things to do in winter.

The problem is that most of these people ski or snowboard on the weekends.

There’s no doubt that if you’re an executive at a Colorado resort, the idea of high-spending destination visitors trapped in 6 hours of traffic while trying to get to your mountain scares you. Traffic jams are a bad way to start a vacation. Add in the increasing sophistication of travelers who can fly to nearby Utah and be on snow in 30 minutes or go to a less crowded resort in Montana, getting stuck in Interstate 70 traffic means that they might go someplace else for that next vacation.

In other words, Colorado’s success is killing the sport, because Interstate 70 can’t handle the success.

Unfortunately the ideas that the Colorado Department of Transportation is throwing out to solve the weekend congestion are shortsighted and mostly involve more pavement. And we’ve seen how the “solution” of more pavement has worked out for Los Angeles.

My advice to those who ski Colorado and those who run the ski resorts is to settle for nothing less than a long-term solution.

And, for anyone who has landed in Zurich or any other Swiss airport and then seamlessly transferred from the plane to the train to a ski area, the long-term solution is expensively evident. Given that Colorado’s ridiculously cheap season passes aren’t going away soon, the only way to ensure the state continues to be a destination for out of state skiers is to develop rail links from Denver International Airport through the mountains. Yes, it will be expensive. Yes, it will take years. But ultimately, the entire state will benefit. Until then I’ll be doing my skiing on weekdays, and I suggest you to do the same.

 

 Read the rest of the Winter on Winter columns.

 

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>screw the weekend warrior,

image-picture-26757-1285796895

>screw the weekend warrior, let them rot in the traffic of their own making or learn to carpool
>I’ll be doing my skiing on weekdays, and I suggest you to do the same.

Sure seems like those who talk about "weekend warriors" have a lot of free weekdays on their hands.

However, since those of us with 9-5 jobs ski on the weekend, and don't have 40 extra vacation days a year to take off work to get in a full season and/or don't want to carpool, that advice is pretty much useless. Better advice would be to leave early, and/or stay in the mountains. And don't plan on driving back if it's going to snow all day; if you do, you're in for a dangerous, long drive home. Works for me.

Regarding the problem at hand, imagine where we'd be if 20 years ago Steve Jobs and Bill Gates had said "Hmmm, mainframe computing time on the weekends is getting tight because of those pesky 'weekend computers', I guess we'd better all do our computing at 2 AM, because I can't think of any better solution to allow people to do personal computing."

The same goes for the plan to charge for cars that don't carpool. That may help provide funding (in an unequal, paternalistic, environmentalist fashion), but it's not a solution to the problem of supply and demand. It's like McDonald's beating customers away with a stick any time the lines get too long.

40 miles worth of skiers sitting in 10 mph traffic is not only a problem; it's a chance to make money.

Unfortunately for the stakeholders, i.e. those with the greatest interest in efficient traffic flow (drivers, ski resorts, land developers), they are shut out by the fact that the I-70 corridor is not private, it's owned by politics. "The people" own it, which pretty much means nobody owns it, and nothing decisive is done. That is why we have traffic jams, not because of "weekend warriors".

Given that, the best thing to ask is: what *would* a private consortium of ski resorts and property owners have done *if* they owned the I-70 corridor?

I'm guessing if economics justified it, there would have been a train already, and buses to take skiers to the various resorts from the train stops (if it can't make money it shouldn't be done). And perhaps certain places on the road would have been widened.

What if someone with the vision of a Jobs or Gates had been in charge? And what if they had the same freedom of action that has long been enjoyed by the software and computing industries (i.e. the government doesn't own everything)? That's what we need to imagine to solve this problem. Although we haven't met the consumer demand yet, we still might.

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