Photos by Brent Bingham
For more than a decade I had witnessed Turtle Buses winding their way up and down and around Happy Valley, but the opportunity to personally partake in “TransperTainment” had simply never presented itself.
And then it did.
All those years spent wondering what all the party bus fuss was about, all of the questions swirling around in my head were finally going to be answered. I felt like a little kid about to embark upon the taboo ride at the carnival; the one mom said to stay away from and that’s the very reason you would do whatever it took to ride it, provided mom never found out.
On an absolutely gorgeous winter afternoon, good fortune shined when I joined Turtle Bus owner, Shane Ward, Hayden the Turtle bartender (a six-year employee and a convenient welder when needed) and Rosanna the Golden Retriever as we escorted thirteen college buddies on an annual ski trip from their house in far East Vail to the Vilar Center in Beaver Creek.
But it was simply going to be a ride from A to B in a typical bus, just like Town of Vail busses or the Eagle County Bus system, right?
Could not be more wrong.
My trip began with the honor of watching Shane conduct some last minute business in his office, which is old converted bus without an engine.
Well, duh, of course it is.
Stepping inside our top of the line Turtle Bus for the evening, I was immediately taken with the “tiki-ness” of it all. Every square inch of every wall, including the Turtle Bar, was covered in tiki, which I believe means “bar next to the ocean.”
Either way, I felt way out of place in a winter jacket, but in a way that made me smile.
Next I watched as they did a final wipe down of the seats, which were clean to begin with but a nice touch nonetheless, a restocking of the Turtle Bar and Rosanna as she took a few excited laps around the outside to make sure everything was just right before we took off for East Vail.
At this point you might be asking, “Why Turtle?” which conjures up visions of the infamous road race between unequal partners. Put it this way, it’s not called the “Hare Bus” for a very obvious reason (Rosanna notwithstanding), and besides, Tortoise Bus just sounds silly.
Arriving at our pickup destination, I watched in awe as Shane maneuvered the forty-foot behemoth bus backwards down a one-way street with the ease and poise of me whipping into an empty oversized parking spot.
Passengers loaded, it took less than five minutes for the baker’s dozen of guests to be downing shotskis (a drinking tool made from an old rock ski mounted with 5 shot glasses instead of bindings) followed by beer chasers.
And then the singing began.
Did I mention this ain’t your mama’s bus?
Nothing quite like listening to a group of friends singing Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” at the top of their collective lungs as we pulled into the Vilar port-o-cache half an hour later.
Yep, it’s almost twenty miles from East Vail to Beaver Creek, plenty of time to do shots, drink a beer or two and listen to whatever tunes you desire, all within the cushiony confines of a virtual tank on wheels with a stripper pole in the middle of a dance floor.
Sure, they call it a “safety pole,” but the explanations with multiple smirks confirmed its true purpose.
Then we cruised over to Minturn, where we picked up a few dozen Burton employees (it’s a BIG bus) who were the lucky top-selling sales reps from across the nation in town for the Burton Snowboard US Open, held each winter on our very own Golden Peak.
The entire group had traversed the world-renowned “Minturn Mile,” an off-piste run beginning at the top of Game Creek Bowl on the west end of Vail Mountain and ending in the funky old railroad/mining town of Minturn.
Just shy of forty passengers all covered in wet snow and carrying their equipment (for a brief moment I stupidly began to ask why no one was carrying skis…) loaded onto our party bus, each thirstier than a hiker reaching the top of Holy Cross Mountain in mid-July with 80+ degree temperatures (about as hot as it gets around here in the summer).
And wouldn’t you know it, Shane & Crew were more than prepared to assist.
The collectively parched snowboarders were thoroughly quenched before we made it out of Minturn, as turning the gigantic bus around in that tiny little town on their tiny little streets took more than a few tiny little minutes, even with Shane’s impressive maneuvering skills.
And off we went, packed comfortably enough that no one was in fear of falling, but with plenty of room to make it to the Turtle Bar for another round, as long as no one was swinging around the stripper pole.
Ahem…safety pole I mean.
Anyway, by the time we made it back onto I-70, the giant interstate highway that is either the biggest blessing to the Vail Valley or its cruelest curse, the blaring music hand-picked by the 20 and 30-something snowboarders served up a dancing scene I had never witnessed in
all my years in this valley.
Mainly because we were moving, but still…
The trip ended with the entire bus — crew and yours truly included — singing “The Final Countdown” by Europe (who coincidentally played at Mid-Vail for MTV in 1986). Why a song that was a hit before 95% of them were born?
Because they could, that’s why.
I hopped out before they had to return to Beaver Creek to give the college buddies their pre-scheduled ride home to East Vail, but returned home — quietly — in my little truck, convinced there is no better way to traverse Happy Valley in the future.
Now if only I could convince my wife to come along…