I just got back from a ski trip to the Wasatch Mountains outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. Utah is known for its world-renowned skiing, and the powder was great. But, while there, I never stayed in any of the Mountain Villages, or fancy hotels, rather than Park City or Deer Valley, I stayed in Kimball Junction and Cottonwood Heights. Both towns, suburbs of Park City and Salt Lake City, respectively, center largely around budget accommodations, suburban office parks, etc. But, the real unique thing about this trip was one of the things that really impressed me about the resorts in this area. All 6 resorts (Park City, Deer Valley, Brighton, Solitude, Alta and Snowbird) had quality bus connections, running all winter, 7 days a week, at up to (or above) 15 minute frequencies. Park City, a town with only 8,300 people, has 14 bus lines, including multiple with 15 min or more frequency. Cottonwood Heights, a part of Salt Lake County has 3 “ski bus” lines, all running at 15 min headways during peak periods, part of the Utah Transit Authority’s ski bus system, with 9 lines serving 5 ski areas, and connecting SLC and the town of Park City.
Park City, one of the most well known ski towns in the US, home to the Utah Olympic Park, and main venue of the Salt Lake City Olympics, has a fare-free transit system, with many routes across the area, serving the many base areas of the nearby ski resorts of Deer Valley & Park City, sectors of the main town, and suburban areas. The town of Park City has been at the fore-front of ski towns fighting Climate Change, pledging to remove their carbon footprint by 2032, through programs including Electric Buses, solar and wind farms creating a renewable energy grid for the town and surrounding ski areas, and land preservation, fighting the continuous development of a ski town running out of snow. This year has been especially bad on the surrounding ski resorts, grass & rocks continue to poke through the snow, many trails and areas remain closed due to lack of snow. Ironically, Vail Resorts, the owner of Park City Mountain Resort, the largest and most prominent ski area in the region, continues to fund Anti-Climate Change Politicians and PACs advocating against Climate Regulation.
Little & Big Cottonwood Canyons are home to some of the most legendary skiing in the world, though the two most prominent ski areas, Alta & Snowbird are home to much smaller ski towns, which can hardly be called towns at all. Cottonwood is actually located in the general Salt Lake City area, and therefore relies on the Salt Lake City Regional Transit Authority, or the Utah Transit Authority, UTA for short. UTA runs ‘ski buses’ which run on higher fares, and have special ski racks inside them. The buses generally run from one transit center near the city center, then visit multiple small park and rides, which usually only are served by ski buses, before heading to the ski areas (usually serving two ski areas, and then heading back along the same route. The buses run all day in both directions, at peak (towards the mountain right before opening, and towards town around closing) have 15 min headways. Hotels in the area have small shuttles that run to the park & rides, helping visitors use ski buses instead of driving.
Now, you’re probably thinking, why is this guy writing an article about Utah Ski Buses in a Seattle Transit Blog? Well, I think Utah has set a wonderful example. The Seattle Area is home to 3 ski areas within 2 hours, receiving massive visitation, some among the top 15 in the country. Summit at Snoqualmie, at the county line of King & Kittitas Counties, Crystal Mountain, in Pierce County, & Stevens Pass, which has all of its base facilities in King County, but a few lifts reach over into Chelan County. Sadly, largely due to the fact our county borders rely heavily on Mountain Passes, public transit access to these ski areas would be difficult, and that is one big reason it is yet to exist today. But, I’m hopeful. King County Metro already runs buses to North Bend (the closest town to Snoqualmie) & Enumclaw (the closest town to Crystal Mtn) & Community Transit runs buses to Gold Bar, but not to Skykomish, the closest town to Stevens Pass, largely due to the fact that Highway 2 dips into King County there. All of the ski areas are outside Sound Transit’s district, so new bus routes would have to rely on local transit networks.
King County Metro Route 960
This route will run from Eastgate P&R or Issaquah Transit Center (Eastgate would yield better connections to existing services and less connections, while Issaquah would offer a shorter ride time and still ensure a 2 seat ride from Downtown Seattle vis the 554 until East Link opens) or from South Bellevue Station (once it opens) via Eastgate Freeway Station & Issaquah Transit Center (once East Link opens this option will be the only option with a 2 seat ride from Seattle). You could start this bus from Seattle, which would be ideal for passengers bring skis and other equipment, but would result in a longer ride, and a more difficult starting point. It will stop at (optional stops italicized): Preston Park & Ride, North Bend Park & Ride, get off at I-90 exit 54, Summit East/Nordic Center, (daytime only) Silver Fir (daytime only), Summit Central, Summit West & Alpental. It could easily stop at the current Snoqualmie shuttle stops, and as an incentive for Snoqualmie to support the project, could serve as a replacement for the shuttle, having a quick layover at Alpental and turning back to the Seattle area via all 4 base areas. The route will run from December 5th to April 1st (possibly earlier with closing dates tentative). It would likely start Weekends only, and another special route (possibly 963) could be made for weekday travel, as Summit East is closed all weekdays (except Holidays), Summit West is closed Monday-Tuesday, & Night only Wednesday-Friday & Alpental is closed Monday.
King County Metro Route 961
This route will run from Enumclaw to Crystal Mountain. It may stop in Greenwater, or other places along the way. While the route would be in Pierce County much of the way, it could just be viewed as an Enumclaw Community Shuttle service, serving King County. It could be extended Northwest to a largely Transit Center to connect with Seattle/Eastside transit riders such as Auburn, Kent, or, optimally, Angle Lake/Tukwila Intl Blvd Link Station. Less realistic due to the distance of Crystal Mountain and lack of proximity to civilization or King County.
Community Transit/King County Metro Route 962
Hopefully a cooperation from the two, would travel through both counties from Lynnwood or Everett Station to Monroe to Stevens Pass. Can supplement existing Community Transit 270/271. Again, less realistic due to distance factor and transfers. Bringing skis on a commuter route up to Lynnwood or Everett could be difficult. Would travel through Snohomish & King Counties.
So, that’s my article. In conclusion, ski buses can help supplement one of the few currently almost car-only activities. Our ski areas already face overcrowding issues, and parking issues, with Stevens Pass even rejecting further skiers due to Parking Lots becoming full before the place even opens. This solution could have drastic positive effects for both the ski areas and skiers. Even if my plan is downsized to just serving park and rides for skiers to provide extra parking for the ski areas, it would help take cars off the road and help overcrowding issues.