For Walt Cummings, the owner and operator of the Boulder Lift, getting people from Boulder to the mountains to ski and snowboard is more a labor of love than profits at this point in his business.
“I took up a group Sunday — they needed a ride to Breckenridge because they’re staying for the week, and they went with me because I’m pretty much half as expensive as anyone else,” Cummings said.
(This winter, in the Boulder Lift’s third season, a ride to Breckenridge is $30 per person for a group of three or more.)
“I’m not going to make millions doing this, but I’m not willing to do this for more than I’d be willing to pay,” Cummings said with a laugh, who does consulting on the side.
The Boulder Lift is one of several services in Boulder that is profiting more in purpose — getting multiple skiers to the mountains in one vehicle — than on their balance sheets.
Sue Prant, a board member for ridesharing site SkiCarpool.org said that after working on various sustainable transportation projects for 15 years, she feels it’s difficult for rideshares and the like to turn a profit since government subsidies for gas and insurance are so beneficial to individual car owners.
“It’s hard for anyone to make money at this business, ultimately, because you’re going against a private automobile, which is heavily subsidized by our country,” Prant said.
Brandon Smith, sustainable transportation program manager for the University of Colorado’s Environmental Center, said that the popular CU Ski Bus is “a screaming deal,” but it’s costs aren’t covered by what students pay to ride it.
The CU Ski Bus transports students, faculty and staff from campus to Keystone, Arapahoe Basin, Breckenridge and Vail during weekends when school is in session for $15 — or $5 for CU Herd alumni association members.
The popularity of the Ski Bus has increased every year; last year, it sold out for every trip. But even with sold-out trips — and a $10 reimbursement from the Herd for their members — $15 per rider doesn’t cover the cost of the bus, Smith said. The rest is subsidized by the sustainable transportation program.
Smith said he sees the Ski Bus as a great way to get cars off the roads and keep students safe — instead of driving icy roads when they’re tired at the end of the day, they’re on the bus. But he thinks many of the students see it as a convenient option to driving, and sometimes paying to park at a ski area along I-70.
“I think people ride it once and go, why am I going to drive any more?” he said. “And traffic on 70, it’s only getting worse.”
SkiCarpool board member Prant said that when a new ski bus or other form of group transportation pops up that’s in line with SkiCarpool’s mission, that’s great.
“I know the Meet-Up people also have carpools they form as well, and more power to them,” Prant said. “Anything that’s reducing the traffic on I-70 during ski season is helping SkiCarpool’s goal.”
Last year, Rich Masana and some friends in Boulder started TheSkiLift.org, a ridesharing and social media site. The site is free and they’re in the middle of redesigning iit now, he said. But last year, they gained about 800 users around the world — the site aims to connect people at resorts all over, not just in Colorado.
Masana is enthusiastic about this enterprise, but they haven’t figured out how to monetize it yet, he said. So he’s keeping his job managing a law firm.
“This is our side passion,” he said of TheSkiLift.org.
It’s a passion that’s showing promise.
“It didn’t even launch until Dec. 20 last year, and it’s pretty awesome to see how it’s taken off since then,” he said.
Nine years after it started, Prant said SkiCarpool.org is still growing, too.
“Every year, it gets more people, it’s steadily going on.”
CU Ski Bus
The University of Colorado Environmental Center’s Ski Bus picks up students, faculty and staff (but mostly students) for trips to the mountains both days of every weekend when school is in session.
Tickets are $15 for students, $5 for Herd members.
“Those sell out weeks and weeks in advance,” said Smith of the Herd tickets.
Even though the bus sells out every weekend, Smith encourages people go to the bus in the morning on standby anyway — there are usually enough cancellations to accommodate all the standbys, he said.
The bus goes to Arapahoe Basin, Keystone, Breckenridge and Vail. Check the ski bus website for the schedule. This year, all tickets will be sold through zimride.com (except standby tickets the morning of).
Glenn Lieberman started SkiCarpool about nine years ago when he couldn’t find fellow skiers and snowboarders to carpool with from Denver to the mountains. He was a web programmer, so he made his own resource for ridesharing to the mountains.
Now, the Boulder-based nonprofit group connects skiers and snowboarders for carpools to any resort, and it grows every year. This season, Prant says the site has about 1,100 active users.
Info: Free. Skicarpool.org
RTD’s route N buzzes between downtown (the Boulder Transit Center) and Eldora Mountain Resort seven days a week during the ski season. The N runs every couple of hours most of the winter, so it’s easy to do a half or full day at the local hill.
Info: $5 one way from the Boulder Transit Center at 14th and Walnut streets. rtd-denver.com/skiNRide.shtml
This shuttle mostly hits Vail Resorts mountains — Arapahoe Basin, Breckenridge, Keystone, Vail — but you can charter the shuttle to hit any destination you like.
The Lift isn’t a service provided by CU, but it’s run by a CU alum, so there are a few plusses if you’re a student: The two pick-up/drop-off locations are on campus, and the Boulder Lift offers discounts to CU Freeride members. Otherwise, it’s generally $30 a ride.
Denver Ski Bus
Despite the name, this new service to Winter Park and Copper Mountain has a bus out of Boulder, too.
Curt Spencer, whose other business is Winter Park’s Valley Taxi, started up the weekend bus in the fall of 2011 in part because of the loss of the ski train that once went to Winter Park.
“Since the ski train is gone, we’ve lost traffic for the Valley Taxi,” he said. He hopes the new bus will help recoup some of that loss.
The new bus leaves departs from east campus on Saturday and Sunday mornings for both resorts.
Info: $42 round trip to either Copper or Winter Park. Denskibus.com
TheSkiLift is a way to find people to carpool with, but it takes it a few steps beyond that — and beyond Colorado. The service has partnered with resorts around the world, and they’re hoping to build the social media component of the site into something akin to Facebook for skiers and snowboarders.
Right now, the site lets you build a profile, which Masana thinks helps you find good pals for carpooling and skiing or riding.
“When you think of rideshare boards and Craigslist, I think people don’t trust it as much,” he said. “I think this enhances the trust level there.”
Info: Free. theskilift.org