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The first little blast of winter hit Colorado’s high country Tuesday morning, allowing both Loveland Ski Area and Arapahoe Basin to kick off the race to open first for the 2016-17 ski season, but with the new snow came the first road closures of the fall and the inevitable discussion of the transportation headaches that plague Interstate 70.
Loveland Ski Area started blowing snow Monday night and expects to make more throughout what forecasters say will be a chilly week in the Rocky Mountains. A-Basin also appeared poised to start snowmaking, and both resorts typically open sometime in October, with the vast majority of Colorado ski areas opening next month.
I-70 and U.S. Highway 6 over Loveland Pass both shut down due to multiple weather-related accidents Tuesday morning, and that’s the way things work here in the Colorado high country. Good ski conditions make for terrible road conditions.
Funding and safety issues along I-70 have become a subject of heated political debate in the Colorado Legislature, where many Democrats are pushing for a more permanent funding source for maintaining and improving roads across the state.
In the state Senate District 8 race, Republican Randy Baumgardner, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, has been accused of ignoring the need for better traction laws along I-70 and playing politics with the state’s inadequate transportation budget.
His Democratic opponent, Emily Tracy of Breckenridge, also called out Baumgardner for playing fast and loose with state funds when he was an employee of the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Tracy would like to see an increase in the state’s gasoline tax, which hasn’t changed since the early 90s, in order to fund transportation solutions. Such an increase would have to go to the voters and is not on the ballot next month.
Polls should be taken when I-70 shuts down, frequently turning the 100-mile trip into a three or four-hour nightmare. It’s to the point where frustrated travelers along the I-70 corridor that connects Denver to most of the state’s most popular ski areas are beginning to support and even advocate for increased public transportation in the mountains.
The Vail Daily last week featured a proposal for commuter and tourist train route on the dormant rail line that runs through Eagle County.
And the biggest applause of the evening at the annual Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum Hall of Fame induction dinner in Vail on Saturday came when the revived Winter Park Ski Train was mentioned.
The concept of a Euro-style ski train network has more and more appeal every ski season as Colorado’s population grows along with demand for access to the mountains. But those trains are heavily subsidized by gas taxes, and that’s something car-crazed Americans have yet to support.
Still, skiing and rail service go back to the 1930s in the United States, and there are tracks between Denver and Lake Tahoe that pass right through Salt Lake City, traversing some of the best skiing in the world.