Gas pains acute across valley |

Gas pains acute across valley

Doug Smith, of Parker, smiles - almost in disbelief - after paying $2.76 a gallon to fill up his tank at the Aspen Shell station Tuesday. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.

Drivers are paying as much as 47 cents more per gallon to fill up with gas in Aspen than in Carbondale, according to a survey of prices at the pump by The Aspen Times.The survey showed that while there is a big difference between upvalley and downvalley prices, drivers will be hard-pressed to save more than a few pennies when comparing gas stations within the same towns.The Shell station at the Local’s Corner in Aspen took top prize for the top price. It was charging $2.76 per gallon for regular unleaded as of Monday afternoon, a penny more per gallon than the Snowmass Village Conoco. The Amoco stations at Main and Monarch and at the Airport Business Center, the only other options in Aspen, were charging $2.72.The Old Snowmass Conoco was the best option above the midvalley. It was charging $2.46 per gallon Monday.Prices were more competitive among midvalley stations. In Basalt and El Jebel, 7-Eleven was lowest at $2.32. But all other prices were below $2.38.

In Carbondale, all three stations in town were at $2.29 per gallon of regular unleaded.Stations farther downvalley from Carbondale weren’t polled by the Times. However, the latest survey by the American Automobile Association of Colorado showed the average price in Glenwood Springs as of March 23 was $2.32 per gallon.Statewide the average was $2.12 last week compared to a national average of $2.10, according to AAA.AAA spokeswoman Mary Greer said New Jersey is the only state where prices are under $2 per gallon of regular unleaded. In fact, record high prices are being established across the country.In Colorado, Greer said it is typical to see prices 30 cents and 40 cents higher in the mountains than in Denver. The main reason is there are so many more stations and much stiffer competition in the big city. The cost of doing business is also higher in mountain towns.”Can you find a $250,000 house in Aspen?” she asked.

Bob Hite, an owner of the Willits General Store, said many people erroneously assume that gas station operators are capitalizing on the high prices. In reality, he said, competition keeps the profit margin low on gas sales.”We’re just not making the kind of money you need to make a good go of it,” he said. The general store depends on luring gas customers in for sandwiches, snacks or a trip to the adjacent liquor store.The Willits Conoco station is priced the same as one of its closest competitors and 3 cents higher than another in El Jebel. Hite said drivers check prices and shop for the best deal.”I do think that’s the case because I will hear from people,” he said. “I like to hear from them where we’re 3 cents lower but not when we’re 2 cents higher.”Hite said prices are so volatile right now that his costs can change every time a tanker trucks refills the station’s tanks every one or two days. That’s the main factor in setting prices, but Hite said he also has to keep an eye on the competition.

“Obviously I can’t be 5 cents over and do a lot of business,” he said.Roy Turner, the executive vice president of the Colorado-Wyoming Petroleum Marketers Association, agreed that record prices have drivers suspicious of gas stations.”When the price goes up they think the operators are trying to rip them off,” he said.Turner also maintained that the profit margin is razor thin. Operators need to charge 12 cents to 14 cents per gallon just to cover their costs – and even more in the mountains. Gasoline bound for the Roaring Fork Valley is shipped from Denver. Tanker trucks aren’t allowed to go through Eisenhower Tunnel so they must cross Loveland Pass. That alone adds 8 cents to 10 cents per gallon to freight charges, he said.Hite said he believes prices will continue to climb. “My guess for the summer is $2.75,” he said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is

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