Winter Park Resort to reduce shuttle service to Fraser
July 27, 2011
WINTER PARK – A recent Winter Park Resort decision has some business people fearing clogged parking lots and ski-boot clomping, pole-toting tourists trekking to far-off bus stops.
Winter Park Resort announced this week it is ending shuttle bus services to Meadow Ridge, part of Winter Park Ranch and neighborhoods in the Ptarmigan vicinity near Fraser.
The “Red” and “Purple” lines of the free “Lift” shuttle are being eliminated as a cost-saving measure, according to Winter Park officials. The resort seeks to save about $133,000 from the change, redeploying funds to cover increases in resort-operation, energy and fuel costs.
The bus lines to be eliminated served the neighborhoods Meadow Ridge, Sun Song, Indian Peaks and Twin River loops during winter seasons.
Winter Park Resort funds the majority of the day-bus operations in the Fraser Valley, with the Town of Winter Park providing annual sales tax revenue to the system in order to maintain Winter Park routes.
To help compensate for the decrease in Fraser-area routes offered by the resort, the main “Black” line – which travels every half-hour along Highway 40 through Winter Park and Fraser to the Amtrak station (the farthest downvalley stop) with about 12 stops along the way – will increase from weekend-only service limited to the peak season to a daily schedule spanning the entire ski season, resort officials said.
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All changes will go into effect starting Nov. 16 and continue through ski-hill closing day April 22.
“Unfortunately, the increased cost of operations, driven by rising fuel costs, has forced us to re-examine the shuttle system,” said C.A. Lane, assistant general manager and director of resort operations. “These decisions continue to raise the level of discussion around public transportation in Grand County.”
Providing all ski-shuttle services in the Fraser Valley costs the resort about $1.6 million annually, according to Lane. The operation of the Purple and Red lines in the Fraser area has cost on-average $250,000 annually in recent years, he said.
Adapting to change
The resort spends about $6,000 a day as the baseline cost of providing the overall service. If cooperating property managers, towns and homeowners associations were to organize to subsidize the line, either fully or on a limited basis, the resort would extend its contract to them and continue covering the baseline costs, Lane said.
Lane said ridership numbers “was not a tremendous driver” of the resort’s decision to cut back on bus expenditures. The two bus lines saw healthy numbers in ridership, especially during morning and apres-ski hours.
Winter Park Resort employees affected by the change are likely to adapt, Lane said, such as by carpooling or relocating.
But since many visitors rely on the bus during the winter, the decision has property managers in the valley scurrying to figure out what this means for their clientele.
Brian Lence, president of Vacations Inc. and Condominium Management Company in Winter Park, figures roughly 20,000 skier visits are generated from guests in the Fraser area, guests who now may be under-served as a result of the resort’s decision.
“That to me is a staggering number virtually to be abandoned,” Lence said.
Once concern is that guests already booked for the season are under the false impression the amenity of convenient free transportation is available to them.
“The ski area has effectively announced that they are not prepared to assist any longer in transporting anyone staying in this particular section of the valley,” Lence said, “even though the ski area is (probably) the reason they are here and is the monetary beneficiary of lift ticket sales, rentals and on-mountain purchases of food, beverage and retail items.”
Lence sees the change as “further isolation of the lower valley.”
Lang said Winter Park Resort is “absolutely supportive” of lodging beyond the resort village, recognizing the majority of lodging is downvalley and not at the base.
But the change may mean some visitors elect to choose a new ski-vacation spot, said Mike DiLeo of Skidaddy.com, a group ski-package wholesaler.
However that may not mean the Fraser area becomes an unpopular lodging area, he said.
Although it was a bonus to say the ski area was five miles out and the free shuttle runs every day, he said, the key now will be to “change one’s pitch,” filling Meadow Ridge lodging with folks who never knew the route once existed.
– Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603