Allow me to paint a picture of the future of our valley with a broad brush, hoping no one will bristle while considering the details of a vision of trains, buses and gondolas moving residents and visitors into and around our community.
During the fall Winter Park/Fraser Chamber general membership lunch meeting, Winter Park Ski Area President Sky Foulkes discussed future improvements to the valley’s economic centerpiece. He mentioned the Vasquez Ridge Expansion, which has been in planning stages since the mid 1980’s. He also discussed problems moving skiers up and out of the main base area.
Access was a central issue of the Vasquez expansion, how do you get skiers all the way back to the bottom of the ridge between Little and “Big” Vasquez Creeks where the expansion base would be? The other was skier numbers; we need to regularly host 15-20,000 skiers on big days at the mountain before the expansion can be justified.
The quality of life for our valley future revolves around how we get from here to there; a key to which is how we get visitors from where they live to here. Every car coming into the valley contributes to gridlock. And every car making up the regular traffic jams on I-70 makes it harder to get to the Berthoud Pass exit.
Trains, buses and gondolas could be components of a solution to the “here-to-there” quandary. We certainly need a higher capacity lift in place of the Zephyr, but we also need to envision how we might get customers to the mountain without delivering them all to the same place.
Standing out in the Beaver’s meadow you can see the centerline cut into the forest of a long ago proposed gondola which would have gone from the historic resort to a summit south of Tunnel Hill. Another more recently proposed gondola would have started near the Winter Park Town Hall.
In Telluride you can ride a free gondola between Mountain Village and downtown – facilitating visitors flowing freely from one commercial center to the other. Winter Park could enjoy this same flow – improving the vibrancy of the base village. To help relieve congestion at the base, day skiers could exit this gondola as it goes over its high point.
Another ski area “entry point” was on the table when a group of local Nordic jump proponents proposed to re-locate the area’s now closed ski jumps to an area at the end of Arapahoe Road. A jump designer who helped with the Salt Lake Olympics Nordic complex determined a K-120 (the largest Olympic jumping hill) could be located on the north face of Tunnel Hill with only a small start-scaffold on the top. The hill, now largely clear cut, could interconnect with the ski area. There is enough terrain there to host many of the Competition Center programs. Opposition from what could have become a ski-in, ski out neighborhood derailed the project.
The re-start of the Ski Train has once again opened discussions of the train as an alternative to I-70. One of the chief impediments to improving passenger services on this existing extremely scenic Northwest Colorado rail transportation corridor was the large volume of coal trains. This coal traffic is already down by a third, and we can all (except for our fine neighbors in Craig) breathe easier as it falls further.
In the 1950’s Winter Park was served by three passenger trains a day from Denver, two of which continued on to serve Steamboat Springs. A re-boot of this system could add a stop in Kremmling – where passengers could enjoy west Grand County or travel south on a possible connector bus to Summit County. Should we also consider the cost of second set of tracks versus more pavement to allow for self-propelled passenger rail cars carrying county commuters and visitors on Grand County’s version of light rail?
A possible change to an often intransigent railroad culture may be coming down the rails after Nebraska visionary Warren Buffet recently expanded his railroad investments by purchasing a portion of our Union Pacific line.
Trains, buses and gondolas. Hopefully we can share a brave vision to ensure we can have a vibrant economy without growth’s fatal flaw of traffic gridlock along roads to and in our wonderful valley.