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$10 Roundtrip Buses Up This Crowded Canyon Begin Soon, But Will They Ease Traffic?

Lots of snow plus decreased bus service up Utah’s Cottonwood Canyons have created the perfect storm of bumper-to-bumper traffic.

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It’s been a banner season so far for Utah ski resorts, but with so much snow comes so many skiers, many trying to get up one narrow, winding, two-lane road that’s not an easy drive even in good conditions.

We’re talking about Route 210, the only access route to the Little Cottonwood Canyon resorts of Snowbird and Alta, where an especially challenging drive has been compounded by a bus driver shortage that caused the Utah Transportation Authority to decrease service up the canyon this season. Traffic in Big Cottonwood Canyon, where Solitude and Brighton are located, has also been markedly worse this season.

While more permanent solutions are being debated—including a highly controversial gondola up the canyonthe resorts, in partnership with the UTA, have a plan to ease congestion and shorten shuttle wait times for the immediate future.

Starting on Jan. 26, private buses will run routes into Little and Big Cottonwood canyons. Provided by Snow Country Limousine and funded through a private partnership between the UTA, Visit Salt Lake tourism association, and the ski resorts of Alta, Snowbird, Solitude, and Brighton, the shuttles will operate weekly on Thursdays through Sundays, as well as on holidays. The fleet will include passenger vans and mini coaches, and will serve around 780 people per week to start, ramping up to 1,120 people per week as service is added throughout the season. The new shuttles will run through April 16, 2023.

On the Lighter Side: Utah and Colorado Have the World’s Worst Ski Traffic, But I Know How to Fix It

The impact isn’t likely to be great judging by the bumper-to-bumper traffic images we’ve been seeing on social media. Skiers have been reporting that the buses that are running are caught in the same jams, resulting in hours-long rides back and forth and significant waits to get picked up and dropped off.  To address that, a bus bypass program was implemented last month where police cars escort the ski buses up the canyon during heavy traffic days, which purportedly cuts down ride times by 50 minutes

A roundtrip on the new shuttles will cost $10 per person and must be reserved in advance. The consensus is that while this is better than nothing, a long-term solution is urgently needed. In addition to the gondola, which was recommended by the Utah Department of Transportation in September but still has many hoops to jump through before it’s officially approved, other alternatives on the table include widening the highway, even more buses, and a train.

Voices calling for the resorts to pony up the money to fund a solution—as opposed to taxpayers—are getting louder and louder. Since this season’s incredible conditions and resulting crowds don’t seem to be letting up, the situation is only going to intensify until that solution comes to fruition.