Transit Adventures

A Chatty Minibus Shuttle Adventure from Teton Village, Jackson Hole to the Salt Lake City Airport about Alltrans Mountain States Express

I had an excellent two days skiing at Jackson Hole and staying at the hostel. I was in a four bed shared dorm with two nice Quebecois the first night who left at 4:00am and then, strangely, the room all to myself the final two nights. You can’t beat the price of $40 per night at the base of the Jackson Hole ski lifts. In terms of skiing, the tram up to the top of the mountain feels like the tram to Roosevelt Island and is probably the only place in Wyoming where you can be packed like sardines. Every trip I took had the full 100 + 1 (the operator) capacity and it felt like rush hour on the subway.

I took transit one other time, Yesterday, my final evening I took START bus again into town to return my rented skis. I boarded a very crowded bus at around 5:00 and the driver warned me its standing room only, its $3 or a pass, standard lift tickets not accepted. I show him my Mountain Collective Pass (that has two free days, plus 50% off all other days and is printed like a season pass) and he says “It has a photo that counts.” I go into town, return my skis and find dinner before getting on a later bus back up to the mountain, flashing my pass, the driver barely blinking an eye! A nice little perk I didn’t know about of the Mountain Collective that is the only reason I went to and skied Jackson Hole.

Today’s Introduction:

Today is a travel day to get from Jackson Hole to Salt Lake City where my Dad is flying in and we will head up on the SkiBus to the Alta Ski Area tomorrow. There are two bus services that go from Jackson to Salt Lake City: one is the Mountain States Express operated by Alltrans that also runs the airport shuttle, that leaves at 6:30am, arriving around 12 Noon, costing $70. The other is the Salt Lake Express that leaves at 7:30am, arriving at 2:10pm running via Idaho Falls, costing $71.25 with a 40 minute layover at a Chevron Station off in the middle of nowhere in Idaho Falls. The choice of the Mountain States Express would be obvious (faster, and a one-seat ride) except that according to Google Transit the first START bus wouldn’t get me to the Maverick Country Store until 6:28 (walking from a nearby stop). This seemed way too close for comfort and about a month ago I called up the Mountain States Express and was given a quote of $20 to be put on an Airport Shuttle to the Maverick. The day after I arrived in Jackson (and learning that START is often slightly late) I decided to spend what I thought was only an extra $15.75 (didn’t realize my ride on START would be free) and book the Mountain States Express. This I decided would also give me time to ride and do station-to-stations of the two new TRAX extensions: the Green line out to the airport and the couple Blue Line stops down, plus ride the new S-Line Sugar House Streetcar.  I called up Alltrans and made the reservation, getting a pick-up time of 5:30am with about a half-hour layover at the Maverick where I could buy breakfast. $70 seems like a lot of money but Jackson Hole to Salt Lake City is nearly 280 miles and for a rural route that fare isn’t too bad.

The Airport-bound Shuttle Getting Lost in the “Berry Patch”:

I leave my room in the Hostel at 5:20am, drop my key card in the early check-out box and head outside. I notice an Alltrans van waiting outside the nearest hotel and go up. This isn’t my van but the driver radios my name and my shuttle driver responds that he will be buy in a few minutes. At about 5:30 a minibus (about 24 passengers) pulls up (with the one person I shared my van in from the airport with now flying home) and we loop around to two more hotels in Teton Village. The next stop is two pick up a final two passengers in the Aspens a suburban-like condo-house community with a ton of different cul-de-sacs and driveways. We end up in a remote area called “The Berry Patch” where the various low buildings are named after types of Berries and the driver gets out with a flashlight to try and find the passenger. As he’s outside the bus the dispatcher starts screaming over the radio that the woman were picking up has called and seen the bus but we need to go off on the otherside to meet her. The driver replies, screaming “I’ve walked the entire berry patch, can’t she come out here?” It turns out she’s in a slightly different area at the front of the berry patch, not behind it. We drive over and finally find her. We then make another stop on another cal-de-sac for a final passenger. There is something nice about door-to-door service but I think I will continue to stick to more direct, cheeper, transit buses.

At this point its nearly 6:10 and the driver is worried about getting the other passengers to the airport (some have 7:30 flights) and doesn’t want to drive the 3 blocks out of the way to the Maverick Station to drop-me off. Instead he radios the Mountain States Express driver to meet us by Albertson’s and via radio we rendezvous on a side street where I switch to another identical 24 passenger minibus that will take me all the way to Salt Lake City.

The Mountain States Express MiniBus to SLC – Me, a Jackson Hole Wedding Planner, a Couple Moving their daughter to Jackson, and a local farm boy boarding in Kemmerer leaving Wyoming for the first time

Upon boarding, I immediately start to dread the idea of an entire trip for nearly 6 hours on a minibus. I start chatting with the driver who tells me that there will be only 4 other passengers and that if it wasn’t so snowy and icy he would be driving a van instead. We get to the Maverick Station and 3 other passengers board, we leave on time at 6:30. I don’t have time to run in to buy breakfast but I’m told we will stop in Afton around 8:00 for the driver to refuel the van. There is a little bit of chatting, we have a local wedding planner on her way to Panama for a few winter months and a couple who have just moved their daughter from one ski town to another – Breckenridge to Jackson. I’m hungry but luckily have a bit of leftover food that I bought to keep this trip on the cheep and avoid the ridiculous ski area food prices. The bus leaves heading down snowy US-89 in places the snow is just blinding off the windshield wipers. The driver, goes fast, but completely safe, clearly knowing exactly what he is doing. I’m very happy I’m not driving myself (and the couple who have moved their daughter and are from California are equally so). At one point the driver stops briefly in a tiny town to brush off the windshield wipers. The sun eventually rises but I think I’ve missed the most scenic part of the journey, the canyon out of Jackson. The Mountain States Express website lists eight different stops in Wyoming between Jackson and Salt Lake City (with drop-offs also made in Salt Lake City) but their a reserve ahead only service so we don’t pull into each of the little stops seeing if there are any passengers. As a transportation planner I’m very happy that these tiny communities have transit options at all. I eventually doze off a bit and then notice an Idaho Highway sign. I say something to the driver and am told were in Idaho all of five minutes. Soon enough were back in Wyoming. The total distance in Idaho traveled about 4 miles.

We stop in Afton for gas at about 8:00 and I buy a well needed muffin. What I really want is decaf coffee with a little bit of regular in it (I avoid caffeine and am totally off of it, only drinking it on special occasions when I really need it) instead I settle for herbal tea. Much to my surprise the gas station has a variety of high end teas. After that chatting picks up in the van. Soon the driver asks the wedding planner passenger to call the person were supposed to pick up in Kemmerer since its a scheduled stop but if he’s a no-show we will go a slightly different route. The passenger is already there waiting and we swing east about 20 miles out of our way to make the stop at a simple gas station.

There, getting on is a fresh out of high school ranch hand who has never left the state of Wyoming! The conversation becomes much more interesting. He is heading to Salt Lake City to go and spend a few months doing winter work on a different ranch somewhere in Utah. He immediately talks about how he doesn’t like people and that the crowds at Wal-Mart overwhelm him. He starts discussing how everyone knows each other in his small town and clearly wonders what life would have been like at a bigger high school, where the cops don’t know everyone and everyone’s parents. I do my usual trying to explain how New York isn’t just what you see in the movies. The kids sport in high-school was rodeo and he’s traveled a bit Wyoming doing it but never quite left the state. He’s been to Jackson but not Grand Teton or Yellowstone, this the wedding planner is shocked by. The winter conditions continue on the highway with very little traffic as we see a couple of jack-knifed cars. I’m shocked when I find out he was able to drive from the ranch into town and school starting at age 13 with a hardship license. I explain I wasn’t a licensed driver until I turned 20.

The shuttle finally leaves two lane highways and gets on I-80 to a nearly continuos caravan of semis (a word I picked up in my years in Colorado, in New York we call them Tractor-Trailers). The driver basically stays in the left lane getting annoyed at the numerous other truck-drivers who clearly don’t know how to drive on snowy (with the usual sand for better traction) road. We head into Utah pointing the sign out to the kid who is finally traveling to another state.

We pass Park City and eventually enter the Wasatch Valley as the driver comments that were finally on a dry road for the first time! The kid starts asking how flying works (in terms of the airport experience) and someone tries to explain security. I’ve reserved a drop-off at the intermodal hub but were going to the Airport first (even though the Airport is west of downtown and were coming from the east). The driver clearly doesn’t want to loop back downtown and drop-me off. I get the message and decide its a good excuse to actually arrive at the airport and take the new Green Line into town.

We finally arrive at the Airport at 12:07 and say our goodbyes I do something I don’t like doing but tip my driver (its a shuttle company, not an interstate bus company unfortunately). The kid goes into the terminal knowing he’s spending the night at a Day’s Inn in the area, but not knowing how to get there. About a minute later (I’m going slowly) a guy comes up and asks if this is the bus from Jackson, the driver says yes. The guy says I’m meeting someone who got on in Kemmerer  and the driver says “Oh the kid, he just went into the terminal.” We all leave each other happy someone’s picking this kid up in a strange city.

I check the light rail schedule (its every 20 minutes on Saturday) and find out the next one is at 12:16, run to the men’s room and leisurely walk out to the light rail platform.