Skiing + Snowboarding

Buses, Planes and Trains: New Travel Options Across Ski Country are Perfect for Powder Days

Avoid icy highway mayhem and relax with these great alternatives to getting to the slopes in time for first chair.

By Tom Winter Edited by Kirsten Dobroth November 27, 2016 Published in the Holiday 2016/2017 issue of Vail-Beaver Creek Magazine

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The Winter Park ski train holds a treasured place in Colorado skiing history. This year it's back, with trips from Denver to Winter Park starting in January and running through March. For those looking to go farther afield, air taxis including a service based out of Eagle County, can be a sneaky way to score a powder day in Telluride.

Image: Andrew Taylor

So, Vail mountain’s skied out but Open Snow’s Joel Gratz says a storm just dumped powder in the southwest corner of the state. Other than cry, what to do? Try hailing the valley’s new Uber of the airways.

With a five-passenger, two-engine Piper Seneca based at Eagle County Regional Airport (EGE), Alpine Flight’s air taxi (970-401-5105) offers non-stop service to any airport or airstrip within 670 miles of Gypsum, and all points beyond with refueling stops. Think of it as a smart way to steal a day of skiing whenever the snow god scratches his dandruffy mane over Telluride instead of Vail. Alpine Flight, on demand, can reach that town from its home base in about 45 minutes. Sure, it’ll cost you about $2,000 round trip, but who puts a dollar sign on a powder day?

Alpine charges by the flight and not by the seat, which makes for compelling pricing. If, say, you’re traveling with four of your best ski brahs or you happen to be one of an entire brood of quintuplets, the prospect of poaching pow for $400 apiece might seem reasonable. With access to an air taxi, a group or small family can trade a day of making do with in-piste crud at Vail with a life-altering morning of heli-skiing in the San Juan Mountains backcountry with Telluride Helitrax.

“You can land at the airport and walk across to their base,” says Alpine Flight owner/pilot Loren French. “They’ll get you fixed up with powder skis, so you don’t have to worry about bringing a lot of gear.”

It’s all part of the rarified world known as private aviation, an alternate universe where you show up and walk onto the plane: no scanners, no security. If your ambition is floating chest-deep pow, and you’ve got sorta deep pockets, cheating Ullr couldn’t be sweeter.

However, flying isn't for everyone and for those on a budget there are other options, including a Colorado classic, the Winter Park ski train. Every winter from 1944 until 2009, a commuter train once conveyed skiers from Denver’s Union Station to Winter Park. Now it’s back. From Jan. 7 through March 27, 2017, the Winter Park Express ($68 round-trip) will begin making weekend round-trips. Given I-70 gridlock, what about a Vail ski train? The closest reality is one entrepreneur’s recent proposal to operate a tourist/commuter train from Cañon City to Gypsum over Tennessee Pass on tracks idled since 1997. And the state’s $30 billion plan to build a futuristic maglev train along I-70 from DIA to EGE? A commission deemed that project technically, but not financially, feasible.

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Pack a snack and a laptop. The Bustang's wifi-equipped plush purple rides run daily from Vail to Denver, giving locals and savvy travelers the opportunity to sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. 

Image: Vail Resorts

Other fantastic options for travelers include the Colorado Department of Transportation's Bustang service. Featuring daily service, this popular Wi-Fi-enabled purple people mover serves the Interstate 70 corridor while allowing locals and visitors alike let someone else do the driving. Westbound buses depart Denver’s Union Station at 2:35 p.m. and arrive at the Vail Transportation Center at 5:30 p.m.; eastbound buses leave Vail at 7:05 a.m. and arrive in Denver at 9:30 a.m. ($34 round-trip). The Bustang Service will also be offering to trial dates this month (Feb. 11th and 25th) for its Snowstang service, which departs Denver Federal Center and whisks skiers to A-Basin, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Vail, and Winter Park ($45 round-trip).

Finally, if you must drive yourself, consider ditching the milquetoasty rental car options from the usual players for a sweet all-wheel drive Audi A4 from Silvercar. While the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek's service is still in the works, once implemented it will be the first high-country outpost of this innovative rental company, an affordable airport rental service with mountain outposts that only deals in these stellar European sedans (from $69 a day). Featuring Audi's Quattro system, renowned for performance in icy and snowy conditions, you'll not have to worry about getting there when conditions are icy and the AWD is compliant with Colorado's traction laws too, meaning when it's really dicey you won't risk having to wait at a roadside truck stop until the weather clears and the roads dry. Reserve via app, fly into DIA or EGE, and your ski-rack-equipped ride will be waiting to fly you to the Beav.


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