15 buses, 40 drivers and a lot of passengers
The pipeline carrying the people from the town of Crested Butte to the ski slopes and back is in place and rolling. The Mountain Express bus system is an integral part of the winter, and director Chris Larsen said the system is geared up for this winter. In fact, the Thanksgiving weekend brought winter driving conditions to the area and chains to some of the buses.
“Our smiling faces are making the rounds with the start of the ski season,” he said. “Everything is cool and looks good.”
The Mountain Express carried 7,600 passengers during the four-day Thanksgiving weekend this year. That compares to 7,060 passengers in 2007 during the same time. “We like to see increases,” said Larsen.
The first winter storm of the season gave some fast on-the-job training to the new drivers. “The roads got slick and some of the new drivers got a taste of driving on icy roads,” he said. “That was good and everyone did great. We even had to chain up the smaller buses on Saturday and Sunday.”
The fleet of 15 highly visible and uniquely decorated buses will carry people between the town of Crested Butte and the Mt. Crested Butte transit center every day for the winter season. The “condo loop” will transport people from the lodges of Mt. Crested Butte to the base area. Two town buses will be running at the same time unless it becomes super-busy, at which time extra buses will kick in. Given financial constraints, board member Gary Keiser has said that back-up buses will be kept to a minimum in an effort to save some money.
Forty drivers are employed by the system, with some driving a full-time 40-hour week and others being used on a part-time basis. The longest tenured driver, aside from Larsen and winter supervisor Tuck, is Vinnie Rossingnol, at 24 years behind the wheel.
“Last year we hauled 604,809 people up and down the mountain,” said Larsen. “More than 80 percent of them were in the winter. It’s our key time.”
While no new bus is slated to come on line this year, the system will have a new shop and bus barn. Larsen said while most of the steel for the new building is on site, Mountain Express is still waiting on some materials. He expected the new structure to be up and in use by the middle of February.
As for finances, Larsen said, “We are looking okay. We had a fairly good summer and we secured a line-of-credit with the Crested Butte Bank.”
The Mountain Express buses begin rolling at 7:10 in the morning and will drive their routes until midnight. Take the bus… it’s free.