If Taos can do it, if Los Alamos can do it, if Boulder, Colo., can do it, then Patti Bushee wonders why Santa Fe can't run a public bus to its beloved ski area.
Bushee, a Santa Fe city councilor who is running for mayor in the March 4 election, serves as the city representative on the North Central Regional Transit District board. She is submitting a formal request to the board for a new bus route to serve Hyde Park Road and Ski Santa Fe.
If the route is approved, ski area employees, tourists and outdoor recreationists could use public transportation to travel the 14 miles from downtown to Ski Santa Fe.
The transit district's current buses are free, and Bushee said she thinks the district has the money in its budget to provide the new service.
There are a lot of obstacles to initiating the route by the coming ski season, but "if everything falls into place, it would be possible for this ski season," said Jim Nagle, transit district spokesman.
Jim Luttjohann, executive director of the Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau, said hotels and convention planners would support reliable transportation to Ski Santa Fe. Such a bus might include a stop at the Rail Runner station on Guadalupe Street and a few downtown hotels.
"It's important to look at the total sum of it," Luttjohann said. "The employees who work there, the tourists, and I know as a resident that some of the best days to be on the mountain are not always the best days to load up my car and drive."
Luttjohann said among the resorts he has frequented with bus services are the California towns of Lake Tahoe and Mammoth Mountain Ski Village. Examples closer to Santa Fe include Taos Ski Valley, which is served five times a day during ski season by the the city of Taos' Chile Line, while Los Alamos Atomic City Transit has provided service to the Pajarito Mountain Ski Area.
An example much like Santa Fe is the city of Boulder, which runs a bus year-round between Boulder and the mountain town of Nederland, but in winter extends the route 10 miles up to Eldora Mountain Resort, at an elevation of 9,200 feet. There are seven trips a days to Eldora, with ridership of 400 per weekday, 300 Saturdays and 210 Sundays and holidays, said Scott Reed, spokesman for the Boulder-area transit service. The fare is $5 each way.
"We use a standard over-the-road coach that offers a great amount of undercarriage storage for skis and boards, and the buses do frequently need to chain up for the mountain trip," Reed said. "The buses perform quite well."
In New Mexico, the North Central Regional Transit District is funded by money from grants and local taxes and already operates 20 rural bus routes linking communities such as Questa to Red River, Espanola to Chimayo and Edgewood to Santa Fe. It has been criticized by some officials for the paucity of passengers on some of its remote routes, and Bushee said this is a chance for urban Santa Fe gets its share of service.
Nagle said the district is planning to extend its current Penasco route to serve the Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort, 20 miles southeast of Taos. The loop to Sipapu would add 4.5 miles in each direction. Sipapu has a base elevation of 8,200 feet and is often the first mountain to open New Mexico's winter season.
Nagle said the buses serving Ski Santa Fe, elevation 10,350 feet, would be similar to the buses used on existing routes but might have to be equipped with studded snow tires for safety. There may very well be heavy snow days when the buses can't make the trip, he added.
But Bushee said the safety issues are all the more reason a safe, publicly operated bus should be provided. She said everyone still remembers the Shuttlejack bus that lost its brakes while carrying a group of Santa Fe Public Schools students down the mountain from a ski trip in 1999, killing two people.
Bushee said a route to the ski basin has been discussed previously, but it has never been formally requested. She thinks it will have more support now because the Santa Fe County representative on the transit board is Commissioner Miguel Chavez, a former city councilor, who has been an advocate for more public transportation in the city.