No car and snowboarder? What do you do? Take your bike up to Tahoe (hopefully it’s motorized) with your gear and your snowboard strapped on your back? Comes in handy when going downhill, you can use the board as your wings and fly above the crowd waiting in that giant parking lot that is I-80 on a Sunday evening.
So far, I had three options: rent a car, go with friends that are willing to drive, or hitch a ride with unknown strangers on craigslist or one of the carshare sites. Each of the three came with advantages and disadvantages:
- renting a car definitely wins points for being the most independent way to get to Tahoe. You can even rent the car and then look for friends or strangers to go with you, share the cost, and maybe even drive some of the time. The drawback is mostly that it’s expensive (since you don’t have a car, you have to get insurance) and that most rental car agencies don’t have snowboarder-friendly policies. For instance, most agencies in town close on the weekend, so that you’d have to rent your car on Friday to return it on Monday even if you just need it on Sunday
- going with friends the funnest way of going anywhere on earth, is dependent on everybody’s schedule. If you have friends like mine, who are constantly on the move, it’s hard to do anything short notice. They’ll have planned the weekend already by the time you call and say there is going to be snow in the mountains (yes, I know, another sign you are growing old is when your friends pre-plan their weekends)
- random car shares is theoretically a wonderful idea: you pay a moderate amount of money (typically gas/part of the gas), you can arrange for a pickup, you can choose the type of people you are going to meet and, best of all, you actually get to meet people that might become friends! The downside? Would you really want to make your snowboarding day depend on some random stranger? Imagine they don’t show up at all, show up late, show up drunk and stoned, show up drinking and smoking pot, and are not willing to share?
I found a better alternative. I tried it out yesterday for the first time, and it’s been a complete success. It’s called bayareaskibus.com.
The deal is very simple: you reserve a spot online (they fill up fast) for one of the rides they do. You pay $105 for an adult (includes lift ticket!), show up at the appointed time and place, and that’s almost the end of your responsibilities.
The bus has plenty room for your gear and overhead compartments for your backpack and bags. The seats could be spaced a little farther apart, but all in all the bus is very comfortable. You’ll depart on time, and the lights are turned off. Everybody sleeps (there are overhead lights, so if you NEED to read, you can do it) until you hit the mountains. Then, a bagel-muffin-orange juice breakfast is served (no coffee) and you feel getting closer to the resorts.
The dropoff is organized by the resort, so location varies from lift side access to shuttle bus. You are given your ticket, your rental voucher if you need one and paid for it, and then off you go. You are told to come back at a specific time, and to make things easier, there is going to be some socializing and apres-skiing in front of the bus while everybody waits for the stragglers.
Then, hop on the bus, drive down the mountain. Brief stop in a shopping mall for food (30 minutes), and then the best of it all: you don’t have to drive through the horrendous weekend evening traffic. Your driver will. No more stop-and-go, no more "are we there yet?"
The picture perfect impression I am giving here has only two major drawbacks and one potential improvement that I can think of. The first drawback is that it really takes a lot longer than if you drove yourself, which means you have to wake up much earlier than you would and you come back much later. I had to be at the bus at 4a to get to the slopes at 8:30a in absolutely perfect traffic conditions. That’s mostly because we had to stop twice to pick up other people, so if you live in the East Bay, this first issue is not as much of a problem as it seems.
The second issue is that, as with all forms of organized travel, you lose flexibility. One of the most wonderful things about snowboarding (or any snow sport) is reacting to fresh snow. You find out there is a foot of powder in Squaw, you jump on the car and get there. Not so with the ski bus: you have to reserve days in advance (there is even a penalty for last-minute bookings) and if there is no snow, tough luck. If you are bored on a day, you still have to stick it out until the bus departs. And let’s not even think about injury!
One thing that could be improved is the mountain day itself. Once the bus dumps you out, you are pretty much on your own. Many of those on the bus seem to be first-timers – unsurprisingly, since it’s first-timers that most likely don’t have friends yet that would drive up with them. We had a smattering of groups of people, but there were lots of singles (snow-wise) and many that had never been to Kirkwood before.
So, the improvement would consist of giving a break in the cost of transportation to those that are willing to show the mountain to the newcomers. When you register, you would state whether you are new to the mountain, and you would get the name of someone that can introduce you to the place.
From an organizational perspective, bayareaskibus.com serves a different resort each day of the weekend and holidays. There are trips to Kirkwood, Heavenly, Squaw, Alpine, Northstar, Sierra, Sugar Bowl that I counted, probably others that I missed. Currently, there is only one destination per weekend, but the buses are full, so more trips could be added.
The success of this mode of transportation is such that two new companies seem to have emerged that offer trips to Tahoe. They seem to be marginally cheaper both in price (about $20) and features (no on-board food). I don’t know about these companies, but I was very pleased with the folks at BASB. And it wasn’t just me: pretty much everybody I spoke with on the early runs had been on one of the buses from BASB, and they all spoke highly of the organization, of the people that worked for it, and of the founder and operator.
Will definitely go back!