Berthoud Pass a Grand Prix Track?

Here’s my take on life after the finalization of the Berthoud Pass Project:

1. Speed!
According to State Patrol and CDOT, there is now a greater comfort level for drivers, meaning an increase in speeding. You don’t say? Even Gary DeFrange, VP and GM of Winter Park Resort stated it was a “quicker drive”. Most locals will regale in talk of their “personal best”, which varies according to the starting point in Winter Park, with the finishing point usually earmarked as the Henderson Mine switchback on the east side. Most personal bests, mine included, occurred before the construction work even started, and on a sunny post ski-season day, when the valley’s occupancies are below 1%, and the bulk of the County’s seasonal employees have long since departed for New Orleans, Lake Powell or the Grand Canyon.

Now, (read “dry conditions only”) it’s an even more fun drive, and all too easy to miss spotting the 35mph and 45mph speed limits because your eyes are intermittently switching from the road ahead, to the speedometer! After all, isn’t it right and proper in this day and age of severe time deprivation that the general public (that would be you, me and anyone else that doesn’t support the Chicago Bears) should be entitled to get to their destination as quickly as possible in order to get more time in front of the TV?

Go to Google Earth, and see what a magnificent “track” Berthoud Pass is – (shown in the image, south of the green arrow – Winter Park) it is almost befitting a European Grand Prix circuit, with wonderful hairpin turns, stretches that encourage 5th gear (or 6th if you have it), opportunities for “diamond-cutting” cornering techniques, and an out-and-out temptation to break the official speed limit by as high a margin as possible. As I said – the temptation is definitely there. I’m not encouraging this, as I’m sure State Trooper patrols will be enhanced to extract large sums of money from those trying to set their new personal best.

In any event, it seems as though no matter how fast you drive on the way up, and how many cars you pass (including that very last slow-coach at the pinnacle when for 1 yard only the highway becomes 2 lanes), you can be guaranteed that the pace of your descent will be ruined by an over-sized load, a bald-tired Cadillac driven by an 80 year-old Floridian who has never driven in snow before, or plainly just someone (of course someone like me) observing the 35-45mph speed limit. Subsequently, you’re only likely to intersect with I-70, or arrive in Winter Park, in a matter of mille-seconds sooner than all the vehicles you broke all sorts of laws passing earlier during the ascent.

2. Tourism
This was, after all, the Berthoud Pass Mountain Access Project, and consequently there should be a huge advertising and PR effort by Winter Park to woo back the hordes of Front Range and Mid-West drive-market tourists who eventually got hacked off with the delays and decided to carry along I-70 to Summit County, Vail, or Steamboat Springs via US Hwy 9. We should also be out there banging the drums and giving renewed heart to those loyal Winter Park visitors who have suffered the frustrating delays over the last 8 summers by telling them “it’s over”! These delays were very much more of a hit to Winter Park’s already fragile summer season rather than winter implications, especially in the light of marketing initiatives designed to attract longer stays and midweek business as opposed to the “stock” front-range visitors at the weekend.

3. Vendors
No doubt one entity sorry to see construction come to an end is the Berthoud Falls “General Store”. I don’t know how many times this little store has changed hands over the years, but unless the owners just run it as a hobby, the outlook cannot be good. During construction, the westbound traffic was halted immediately outside the Store, and probably made a tidy sum on Kit-Kat purchases by those whose needs were primarily to use the bathroom but wereBerthoud Pass Faster- obliged to make a token purchase to justify their “visit”.

I would also be interested to hear the views of the principals at Home James Transportation, the local Winter Park to Denver International Airport shuttle service, if (once word gets out about the wider, safer highway) their services will be impacted by more people opting for rental vehicles over the HJ each-way transfers. I have always felt that there was something of a sub-conscious “Fear Factor” involved in the Home James marketing message, persuading vacationers that the Berthoud Pass drive was not for the faint-hearted, so to take the stress of winter driving over Berthoud Pass out of the equation, they should opt for their private shuttle. Living here and driving the Pass frequently is way different to the prospect of driving in severe winter conditions when you’re not used to it – no matter how good a new road is.

4. Backcountry Skiers
For the local backcountry skiers who avail themselves of hitch-hiker-friendly drivers for their personal shuttle service back up to the top of the Pass, this is almost the equivalent of a 1970’s two-man chairlift conversion to a high-speed quad, ensuring an even swifter ride back up.

Continued reading:

  • Berthoud Pass Mountain Access Project
  • A History of Berthoud Pass
  • Berthoud Pass a Grand Prix Track?
  • Conclusions
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