OGDEN — Despite concerns about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Utah Transit Authority will keep its ski bus service intact this year, but with some notable adjustments.
UTA Regional General Manager Lorin Simpson said ski bus service to Northern Utah’s two biggest resorts — Snowbasin and Powder Mountain — will begin on schedule this year, with the opening of the two locales. But the shuttles, which have been known to get packed during the height of ski season, will for the most part be capped at 20 riders.
Simpson said the agency has two main goals for the service during the pandemic: keep the system running and keep bus operators and riders safe.
“In order to accomplish that during COVID, we will need to do things a little differently than we have in the past,” Simpson said.
The transit agency has three routes that run in Weber and Davis counties, including two to Snowbasin and one to Powder Mountain. According to UTA’s website, Route 674 begins at the Ogden Transit Center, 2350 Wall Ave., and makes several stops before arriving at Powder Mountain. Route 675 begins at the transit center and makes several stops before arriving at Snowbasin. A Davis County route to Snowbasin picks riders up at 2280 N. Hobbs Creek Drive in Layton and at the Layton Hills Mall, 1201 N. Hill Field Road.
A one-way fare on the service cost $4.50.
Simpson said details are still being worked out, but UTA will provide similar shuttle frequency and even add some service during “off peak” times to encourage riders to social distance. He said the aim is to keep capacity at 20 riders or less, but that could change under some circumstances.
“It will be a challenge because (ski bus) loads can be much greater at times,” Simpson said. “There may be times, if there are canyon closures, avalanches and other things, where for the safety for our passengers we may need to exceed that ... but it’s still our goal as an agency to keep loads at 20 or less.”
Andrea Packer, chief communications officer at UTA, said masks will be provided on the shuttles and required for both passengers and bus operators. Bus headers will read “bus full” if the 20-rider limit has been hit, Packer said, but drivers will continue to make stops while advising waiting customers to take the next bus. The agency will also create socially distanced waiting lines.
“We want customers to have a positive experience, but to remember we are prioritizing their safety,” Packer said.
Packer said with the new measures in place, riders should expect greater delays getting to the resorts and an increase in traffic through Ogden Canyon. UTA will be monitoring ridership on the system daily and working with the ski resorts to get riders to and from the resorts as effectively as possible, Packer said.
“We’re prepared to be flexible and adjust our tactics,” she said.
According to Ski Utah, the state’s ski season in 2018-2019 — the year before COVID-19 threw a wrench into things — was the best ever in terms of sheer numbers. At 5.1 million skier days, attendance during the 2018-19 season was 12% higher than the state’s previous record of 4.58 million in 2016-17 and up 24% from the 2017-18 season, according to a study from the organization.
Despite a 14% attendance drop last season due to the pandemic, the Ski Utah report said state ski resorts, which are generally centered in the northernmost third of the state, still had a direct economic impact of $1.6 billion last year.