The calendar and the Summit Stage's route schedule say it's spring, but the roads told a different story last week as heavy snowfall and slick, icy and closed roads caused problems for bus drivers and passengers across the county.
As blizzard-like conditions snarled highways, one Summit Stage bus was hit by an oncoming vehicle, another slid off the road and got stuck and several runs to Copper Mountain were scuttled after Interstate 70 closed.
"Bad weather is the norm here in Summit County," former driver and president of the driver's union Cathy Brosius wrote in an email. "There is a great team effort between drivers and dispatch to get passengers to their destination safely."
The Summit Stage serves a number of tricky and potentially dangerous areas during winter storms, including the steep route up Boreas Pass Road in Breckenridge.
I-70 closures also cause problems for the Stage system, cutting off access to Copper Mountain or the connection between Frisco and Silverthorne in recent weeks. Because buses aren't allowed over the Dillon Dam Road, a highway closure can force transit officials to reconfigure routes sending buses over Swan Mountain Road.
Still, it's unusual for the system to shut down or even cancel single runs during storms.
"Rarely does the whole system shut down," Brosius stated. "Usually when this happens it is because of visibility and/or there are so many accidents that the roads are in gridlock. The buses are held at points where the passengers may board and keep warm."
New drivers' training includes preparation for winter weather and less-than-ideal road conditions. Trainers offer advice on detours and difficult spots.
Contingency plans, including alternate buses and drivers are also in place to help fill in the gaps when the weather causes problems on the roads, Stage officials said.
"They do have extra buses and drivers that they will call out on a continuous basis as needed to fill in the system when a bus is out of service because it is stuck or in an accident," transit board president Kent Willis said.
After a car hit one of the buses near Dillon Ridge during last week's storm, the driver of the Copper route - grounded due to a highway closure - made the pick ups along the route instead.
It's not unusual for the weather to cause problems for Summit Stage operators during the winter season, but the problems of the last several days occurred as the transit system transitioned to its lighter summer schedule. The system is now supporting three fewer routes and only providing weekend service over the steep and winding Swan Mountain Road.
The summer schedule continues through December.