X Games boosts RFTA ridership
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s board members, like Winter X Games spectators watching the big air competition at Buttermilk, were in awe Thursday when they saw RFTA’s ridership numbers for last month’s four-day extreme winter sports competition.
According to the ridership data presented at the regular monthly RFTA board meeting in Carbondale, the valley’s bus service recorded 129,977 riders during this year’s Winter X Games. That headcount marked a 7,426 rider increase from the 2018 Winter X Games.
“It is something that benefits the entire region, as well as the Aspen Skiing Co. and the Aspen and Snowmass communities, because there is worldwide media coverage of the X Games,” RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship said in an interview after the board presentation. “You could not get better advertising for the skiers and snowboarders.”
According to the data, over the course of the four-day event held Jan. 24 to 27, Saturday saw the most ridership with 46,138 people using RFTA’s services. However, each individual day of the event — Thursday through Sunday — also bested its X Games ridership performance from the previous year, too.
“Just about every jurisdiction is the recipient of a lot of people that are staying in the lodges, bed and breakfasts, Airbnb, and spending money in the local economies,” Blankenship said.
For comparison’s sake, RFTA’s systemwide user totals between Thursday and Sunday the week before the X Games amounted to 79,436 riders.
In other words, RFTA saw an increase of 50,541 riders during the 2019 X Games weekend compared with the prior weekend, which coincided with the busy Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
“It is a huge undertaking for us, and requires us to have all hands on deck and just about every operable vehicle on the road,” Blankenship said.
One challenge brought during the board meeting was some of the X Games’ concerts, as the majority ended well into the night and after all of the sporting events had concluded.
With thousands of concertgoers rushing to see Lil Wayne and The Chainsmokers’ headlining performances on Friday and Saturday nights, respectively, Blankenship said timing was key as it pertained to this year’s post-concert transportation.
“There are a lot of unknowns and variables with weather, road conditions, where the concerts are, when they are timed, and how many people we might have to accommodate at one time,” Blankenship said. “It is something we are proud of, because it is such a huge achievement for us.”
Many of RFTA’s board members also serve as mayors for municipalities between Aspen and New Castle. They, too, shared Blankenship’s sentiment as it pertained to the X Games’ economic benefits to the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys.
“I think it is a huge benefit to the overall valley,” Glenwood Springs Mayor Michael Gamba said. “It would be good to diversify our economy and promote other industries, but it would also be, in my opinion, foolish to ignore the fact that right now we are primarily a tourism-based economy,” Gamba said. “And, to the extent that RFTA benefits the valley in supporting (the X Games), I think it is a good thing.”
Systemwide, during this year’s X Games, RFTA transported 24,463 passengers Thursday, 33,258 Friday, 46,138 Saturday and 26,118 riders on Sunday during that four-day stretch.
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