Folks in Elkhorn have learned that there's more to riding the bus than just an inexpensive and hassle-free way to get to the skiing at Bald Mountain. They've found that it's also a good way to meet people and make new friends.
Meet the Red Route Bus Buddies, a group that has forged friendships that extend beyond the short bus trip from Elkhorn to River Run. The buddies, numbering about 40, come from all over. Some are part-time residents while others live here year-round. But one thing the bus buddies have in common is a deep appreciation of the daily bus service provided by Mountain Rides Transportation Authority.
"We are essentially the poster children of Mountain Rides," said bus buddy Cara Cella Viafore. "We are all sizes, shapes and ages, ability levels and temperaments. Some zany, some quiet, but we all have one thing in common—we love taking the bus to the mountain early and late, any time of day.
"In the summer we zip into town and hop on for a quick visit to nearby buddies. Our friends and relatives come to visit and ride the bus all over with us. Our grandkids doze off as we tour the valley with them. So many wonderful and lasting friendships have evolved that our group has grown so large that we have to scout out large venues to hold all of us for get-togethers."
The Red Route Bus Buddies was started several years ago by Viafore's husband, Ken Viafore, and by Dave Galloway and Dick Byerley. Ken Viafore said the three of them met on the bus system and began to participate in forums to provide bus-user input to Mountain Rides. The group then evolved into a social network "and it's just grown over time," Ken Viafore said.
"We started with the Red Route bus, saying, 'Let's get together and have a cocktail party,'" he said. "We started with 10 people—that eventually grew to 20-25, and this year we had so many people we had to meet at the Harker Center. We had a real avid crowd of about 60 people come in.
"It's a social network and it all got started with the Red Route."
The Red Route is one of three no-charge Mountain Rides routes that run daily year-round in the Ketchum and Sun Valley area. During ski and summer tourist seasons, Red Route buses run every half hour, connecting Elkhorn to River Run and Ketchum or to other Mountain Rides bus routes for transportation throughout the valley.
The bus buddies are staunch advocates of the Mountain Rides bus system. Ken Viafore said having a good bus system was one of the main reasons some of the bus buddies bought homes in Elkhorn.
"This is really a plus having this bus get us to the mountain and around Sun Valley and Elkhorn," he said. "Anybody that wants access, they can have it for nothing. They don't have to worry about where to park at River Run or in Ketchum. It beats having to drive every day."
Though the Viafores live in the Seattle area for part of the year, Ken Viafore said the bus system has helped make them feel part of the Wood River Valley community.
"Anything we can do to help Mountain Rides and the community, we're interested," he said.
Galloway, who lives part of the year in the Puget Sound area of Washington, said his family comes to Sun Valley for winters and using the bus system saves them money.
"It allows us to get by on just one car," he said.
Bus buddy Jane Belew, who lives part of the time in Boise, said she routinely uses the bus system instead of a car.
"I've been here since just before Christmas and I'm just starting my third tank of gas," she said.
Mountain Rides has taken note of the Red Route Bus Buddies and is using the group in promotional advertisements about the benefits of riding the bus.
"Red Route Bus Buddies have saved over 5,500 pounds of CO2 this winter by taking the bus every day to ski instead of their cars," states a Mountain Rides ad published March 9 in the Idaho Mountain Express.
Terry Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mountain Rides Transportation Authority reported this month that it has received high marks in a recent rider survey. In a news release issued March 17, Mountain Rides reported that customer feedback gave the organization's bus service a "GPA of 3.7 out of 4.0." Mountain Rides reported that the grade is still lower than the organization's goal of 100 percent customer satisfaction; however, it noted in the news release that only three out of 174 people who responded to the survey gave the service a grade lower than a B. Customer comments on the survey stated that "we are very fortunate to have a free in town bus," that "it's convenient and a great way to get around" and that "the drivers are so helpful, friendly and professional."