Avoiding the Buzzkill: Guide to DUI Laws in Three Ski States

By Dawn Cardinale

When you're road-tripping to your favorite ski town, prudence and partying sounds woefully unsexy. But, as sad as it sounds, it could save you from the ever-lasting buzzkill: a DUI. Tourist towns are typically policed for DUI busts, which means having just one drink (see Colorado) and driving can put you at risk for an arrest. Getting schooled in the local laws—DUI laws vary greatly state-to-state—makes sense for anyone hitting a faraway après. Here’s info and expert advice from attorneys on drinking and driving laws in three popular ski states: Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.


Mountain Town DUI

“No, drinking, I haven’t been officer.” Photo: Derek Taylor


Your best bet, of course, is to take a cab or alternative transportation. Options are listed with each section, but be forewarned that mountain town taxi service can be unpredictable. If you must drive, you can monitor your drinks rather than depend upon your own judgment (rarely does anyone feel as inebriated as their BAC indicates). If you have a smartphone, there are high-tech ways to help track your alcoholic intake (there really is an app for that), check out a BAC chart, and even conduct the horizontal gaze nystagmus (shuffling eyes) or breathalyzer tests. If you want to avoid check points, on holidays for example, there are apps that let you know where these stops will be. With foggy, surprisingly legal terms like 'reasonable suspicion,' and 'probable cause' it's best to not drink at all or get a cab. Although surely he's a fun enough guy, as DUI attorney Jerry Bosch assures: “You don't want to be talking to me.”

Come to Jackson on vacation, leave on probation—that's the saying here,” says Bosch, an attorney who handles DUI cases all over Wyoming. Bosch says that DUIs are defendable but that it's just not worth it. There, just to acquire a lawyer costs between $1500 and $3500. “Get a cab. It's so much cheaper,” says Bosch. He warns that with only a few roads in and out of Jackson, the police have only to sit and wait.



The first forced blood draw for DUI under Wyoming Law.
While Wyoming's legal limit is .08, like every other state's, people with a BAC below that are often charged. Bosch says that, while there are a lot of upstanding cops in Wyoming, those who seek recognition or promotion make these below-limit arrests. And, yes, you can get a DUI conviction without hitting .08. “There are about 70 to 80 DUIs a year [in Jackson], and there are always some below the legal limit,” Bosch says.

In Wyoming, if you refuse a chemical test—breath or blood—there is a citation, a separate offense just for the refusal. This results in an automatic license suspension. Not only that, Bosch says there is one judge in Jackson, and it's this judge's regular practice to make the offenders spend 20 days in jail. In addition, in the event of a chemical-test refusal, the police can get a search warrant to conduct a blood test. Bosch says, however, he's never heard of such an incident. (But it is legal for cops to forcibly take blood. Like, with needles. Watch the video above.)

An informal limit of .15 in Wyoming means stiffer restrictions, including limited potential for a probation license, ineligibility for deferred adjudication or probation, and ineligibility for a provisionary license.


Will Waller, long-time bar manager at the Mangy Moose, says that a few years ago several bars, including the Mangy Moose and Stagecoach Bar, in cooperation with the Teton County sheriff's department tried to establish the Tipsy Taxi, providing vouchers for free cabs to drunk patrons. The idea has stalled, but isn’t dead. In the meantime, there are a number of taxi services in Jackson you can pay if you are partying late. If you are just hitting a few during aprés and need to get back to town, the START bus is only $3.


Colorado serves up a 10-day-minimum jail sentence for a BAC of .20. That, according to Brandon Luna, DUI attorney at LunaLaw, which serves Colorado’s Western Slope, including Telluride, Aspen, Gunnison and Crested Butte, is really freakin’ drunk. “If you're drinking one drink an hour, moderating because you're driving, you'll never get to that point,” he says.  But don’t start thinking you’re free and clear. Colorado has something special for responsible drinkers: the DWAI (Driving While Ability Impaired) offense, which has a limit of .05. “That's one drink for most people,” says Luna. “It's a stiff penalty… it's not no-tolerance, but the idea is the same.”


Another somewhat unique aspect of Colorado is that the state now sees marijuana tourism, since it is now legal to possess the drug in small amounts. With possession allowed, many people on a pot holiday mistakenly think it's OK to drive stoned. But they risk getting a DUID, or Driving Under the Influence of Drugs, which delivers the same penalties as a DUI. To test marijuana levels, a blood test is administered.

If you refuse a chemical test in Colorado, it is an automatic license revocation. Asking to see an attorney before submitting to a chemical test is legally the same as refusing it in Colorado. You can refuse the field sobriety tests without penalty.

“If there is no bad driving, and you refuse the roadside maneuvers, or field tests, there is not enough evidence for a DUI,” Luna says. “If you refuse the chemical test, you lose your license, but there is less evidence for a DUI. You might win the DUI case, but your license will still be taken away.”  Luna does say that if you can choose a blood test, it buys you time, which could make a very small or very significant difference.


Most Colorado ski towns have good, and free, public transportation. Telluride’s is the most unique. The Town Gondola runs between Mountain Village and the Town of Telluride from 7 a.m. to midnight. It’s free, handicap accessible, and pet-friendly. If you’re out later than midnight, there are several taxis in town.  In the Roaring Fork Valley (Aspen Snowmass), all routes in Aspen and many between Aspen and Snowmass are free. To get further down valley might cost a few dollars. There are also several taxi services in town. Crested Butte runs a free bus between Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte. The last bus leaves Crested Butte at 11 p.m., and Mt. Crested Butte at 11:26. If you’re out late, Alpine Express offers a late night taxi service for $5 to Mt. Crested Butte, and $7 to C.B. South

Aside from the .08 legal limit to drive, Utah has heightened penalties for a BAC of .16. You can also get a DUI in Utah without even being impaired.


“It feels like everyone that attends Sundance [Film Festival] has a medical marijuana card,” says Robert Saunders of Saunders Law in Park City. A ton of these medicated moviegoers end up with a DUI. You can get what's called a metabolite DUI in Utah without having a BAC of .08—or even being under the influence of any controlled substance. Metabolites are end products of controlled substances after your body has metabolized that substance. They can be found in your bloodstream days, or even weeks, after consumption. Prescriptions can be used in a defense, but Utah does not recognize those for marijuana. The Active THC test can determine intoxication, and a metabolite DUI is a DUI.



In Utah, it’s probably best to just not get pulled over. 
Saunders says you can refuse the handheld breathalyzer, which is known for inaccuracy, and the field sobriety tests without penalty. “However, be sure not to refuse a breath test on the Intoxilyzer 8000 machine, which is about the size of a small suitcase,” he adds. If you refuse the cool-sounding Intoxilyzer 8000 or other chemical test, you will lose your license for 18 months. If you have an out-of-state license, the revocation of driving privileges carries across for most states, due to the Interstate Driver's License Compact.


In the event of a stop, Saunders advises these three easy steps:

1. “When you get pulled over, don't admit anything—but don't lie. Be polite and courteous, but don't give probable cause. One option: 'I don't feel comfortable answering this question.” In other words, make like a politician.

2. Don't take the field test. Sober people have a 30% failure rate. And these tests assess how well you follow directions, too, and no one's good at that.

3. Don't take the PBT (Preliminary Breath Test), but accept all other chemical tests—after you are under arrest. Don't talk; call a lawyer. 

Saunders emphasizes the importance of getting specialized representation—a lawyer who is well versed in the bifurcate nature of a DUI charge. A DUI specialist understands both the criminal and administrative (driver's license) sides. When facing such a serious charge, 'specialist' sounds nice, doesn't it?

Alternatives: Park City has good, free public busses throughout town, and even connections into Salt Lake City, which has the best public transit system in the nation for a city of its size. Check out RIDEUTA.com for details. Yellow Cab Utah services Park City, Salt Lake City, and Ogden. Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons are not only regularly patrolled, but deadly. Plan ahead if you’re staying in the valley.