Vehicles

Mountain Operators Lift Luxury Ground Travel To New Heights

Posted on August 17, 2015 by

The Suburbans at CB Specialty Services in Crested Butte, Colo., are fitted with cargo boxes on the roof, known as rocket boxes, that can hold a pair of skis. There are also bike racks which come in handy when off-road enthusiast clients are looking for a challenge.
The Suburbans at CB Specialty Services in Crested Butte, Colo., are fitted with cargo boxes on the roof, known as rocket boxes, that can hold a pair of skis. There are also bike racks which come in handy when off-road enthusiast clients are looking for a challenge.

Running a fleet of luxury chauffeured transportation vehicles can be a trying task when done 24/7/365 in locations such as the Rocky Mountains or the frozen roads of northern Alaska.

Operators must be resilient in keeping their vehicles on the roads to provide a consistent level of service free from incident in these areas. Fleet managers must watch the weather and practice preventative maintenance.

Below freezing temperatures require special starter products and additives to keep engines warm and prevent fuel from congealing. Chauffeurs also need to pack windshield de-icing scrapers and extra blankets for chilly guests. Vehicles are modified with extra strength heaters, winter tires and snow chains.

Diesel Devotion

Shane Belcher of Noco Party Bus with two of his 28+ passenger diesel engine party buses.
Shane Belcher of Noco Party Bus with two of his 28+ passenger diesel engine party buses.

Shane Belcher, owner of NoCo Party Bus in Fort Collins, Colo., says the diesel engines in his buses run well in higher altitudes, which is important because much of his wintertime business includes ski trip runs into nearby Summit County at 13,000-plus feet in elevation.

“With the altitude and the conditions, diesels just seem to do better up here, but we battle with them during the winter,” Belcher says. “We’re a smaller company and newer, so we have to do a lot more upkeep in the winter time. All of our party buses are housed outside, but we house the limousines inside.”

Belcher runs a fleet of eleven vehicles, consisting of SUVs, stretch limousines, and diesel engine party buses. When temperatures drop below freezing, Belcher uses external block heaters to start the diesel engines, and he adds Sea Foam Motor Treatment and cold-weather anti gel to keep internal engine parts clean and fuel from coagulating in the cold.

The SUVs at Alpine Luxury Limo in Telluride, Colo., are equipped with large cargo racks for bags, skis and snowboards in winter, and up to eight bikes in summer. Owner Jonathan Schurman says, “With wildlife and rock slides around every curve, we put on front bumper grill guards and use 10-ply Michelin LTX all-season tires, and we use all-season wiper blades and deicer windshield wiper fluid to keep the windshield clear.”
The SUVs at Alpine Luxury Limo in Telluride, Colo., are equipped with large cargo racks for bags, skis and snowboards in winter, and up to eight bikes in summer. Owner Jonathan Schurman says, “With wildlife and rock slides around every curve, we put on front bumper grill guards and use 10-ply Michelin LTX all-season tires, and we use all-season wiper blades and deicer windshield wiper fluid to keep the windshield clear.”

Maintenance Planning

At Alpine Luxury Limo in Telluride, Colo., owner Jonathan Schurman relies heavily on SUVs, including Chevrolet Suburbans, GMC Denalis, and Cadillac Escalades to take visitors to local posh ski resorts. “Their seven-passenger seating and large luggage compartments make them ideal for the family ski trips Alpine Limo caters to,” he says.

Jonathan Schurman
Jonathan Schurman

In 1999, Alpine purchased Telluride Detailing to function as the Telluride office and serve as a one-bay maintenance and detail shop with fleet parking. “Small repairs are performed in house quickly, and Telluride Detailing takes care of all fleet cleaning and detailing needs while servicing potential new limo clients in the area,” Schurman says.

Schurman, whose fleet has logged upwards of 250 million vertical feet since beginning in 1998, also regularly uses automotive clay to remove magnesium chloride, a chemical used on roads to clear snow which can accumulate on the paint and cause damage. “It’s not easy being shiny up here,” he says.

Powder Transport in Park City, Utah, uses three Subaru Outbacks. Owner Kelvin Lu values them for their luggage capacity and durability.
Powder Transport in Park City, Utah, uses three Subaru Outbacks. Owner Kelvin Lu values them for their luggage capacity and durability.

Fleet Diversity

Mountain work is typically seasonal, and many operators in ski cities can see as much as a three-fold increase in not only business, but in town populations during winter months. Winter travelers also pack more luggage and mountain-region operators prefer a variety of SUVs to cover their needs.

Powder Transport in Park City, Utah, runs seven vehicles, including a Lincoln Navigator and three Subaru Outback cross-over vehicles. “The Outbacks are great because they have a lot of room,” owner Kelvin Lu says. “We have a Chrysler 300 as well, but with winter travelers packing so much luggage, you don’t want to run the risk of sending a car that can’t fit everyone and their bags.”

Anthony Perez
Anthony Perez

Anthony Perez of CB Specialty Services in Crested Butte, Colo., runs a focused concierge service to the ski resort and mountain travelers. He uses a fleet of three Chevy Suburbans to cover transportation needs, which can be quite numerous and varied. “In this area we get a lot of outdoor weddings, and the Suburbans work great for getting people to more remote locations off the beaten path, or for taking the bridal party to a scenic overlook for photos,” Perez says.

Charlie Grimm of BAC in Alaska provides luxury transportation to the Anchorage area. Last year, he worked as a driver for a special contract taking oil workers over the “North Slope” of northern Alaska. Three of his large 22- and 32-passenger buses, like the one pictured, spent six weeks braving ice roads, days of 20-hour darkness, and blizzard gusts of up to 70 mph.
Charlie Grimm of BAC in Alaska provides luxury transportation to the Anchorage area. Last year, he worked as a driver for a special contract taking oil workers over the “North Slope” of northern Alaska. Three of his large 22- and 32-passenger buses, like the one pictured, spent six weeks braving ice roads, days of 20-hour darkness, and blizzard gusts of up to 70 mph.

Braving the North Slope

Perhaps the most extreme weather conditions an operator can endure have been done by Charlie Grimm and his company, BAC of Anchorage, Alaska. Running a fleet of 40 vehicles with 15 years of experience in the industry, Grimm last year won a contract to transport a group of oil workers over the famed “North Slope” of Alaska. The northernmost region of the state lies just within the Arctic Circle and receives some of the most severe weather conditions on the planet, with below freezing blizzards gusting in excess of 70 mph, and with many of the roads being man-made ice roads.

An example of retractable snow tires frequently used on buses in snowy, mountainous areas. Grimm uses these on a number of his larger buses. They can be turned on at the flip of a switch to get the vehicle over particularly slippery spots, and then retracted once the bus gets going down the road.
An example of retractable snow tires frequently used on buses in snowy, mountainous areas. Grimm uses these on a number of his larger buses. They can be turned on at the flip of a switch to get the vehicle over particularly slippery spots, and then retracted once the bus gets going down the road.

In the winter of last year, BAC had three shuttle buses, (all forward-facing 22- and 32-passengers from Krystal and Federal), take welders to and from their headquarters in Prudhoe Bay over the ice roads. “If you’ve ever seen the TV Show Ice Road Truckers, that’s how it was,” Grimm says.

CB Specialty Services recently partnered with a local private charter helicopter service for select VIP transportation needs.
CB Specialty Services recently partnered with a local private charter helicopter service for select VIP transportation needs.

The roads are created in the winter and thaw during the summer. Traversing them requires a litany of certifications, prep classes, and procedures, Grimm says. “Every morning before we could take the buses on the ice road, we’d have to pull up to the inspection zone,” he says. From there, a team would inspect the buses to make sure nothing leaked, not even a single drop, because of the strict environmental regulations in place for traveling over the ice roads.

If a spill occurs on the road, a team comes out to remove the contaminated ice. Luckily for Grimm, his vehicles all passed inspection after slight modifications. “We fabricated aluminum pans to run underneath our motors to catch anything that might leak” to successfully complete the runs over the ice, he says.

All of the SUV stretch limousines at NoCo Party Bus use 4WD and large, winter tires.
All of the SUV stretch limousines at NoCo Party Bus use 4WD and large, winter tires.

The work was stressful and intense. The driving team alternated two-week shifts of 24/7 work in what was nearly 20 hours of darkness each day. Chauffeurs had to go through a four-day training program before they could even take the job. Once on the ice, trucks and buses move only 25 mph so no waves are produced in the ocean under the ice — “you can hear the ice moving right when you pull onto it,” Grimm says.

Powder Transport uses a Lincoln Navigator for more upscale clientele, and garners a lot of business for the annual Sundance Film Festival held in Park City, Utah.
Powder Transport uses a Lincoln Navigator for more upscale clientele, and garners a lot of business for the annual Sundance Film Festival held in Park City, Utah.

Despite a new challenge for BAC Transportation, the team performed well and earned great feedback from the clients, says Grimm. “I wish we could have vehicles up there all year round. The money was great.”

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