Avast! There be the White Whale! Lumberin' up Highway 26 he be!

The whale-like white buses of the newly expanded and renamed Mt. Hood Express bus line from Sandy to Timberline Lodge are revving up for busy times as the peak winter season approaches.

The bus line formerly known as the Mountain Express was scheduled to shut down in June 2013 for lack of funding. But a partnership between Clackamas County, ODOT, the Forest Service, the City of Sandy, Timberline, Skibowl and Resort at the Mountain managed to not only extend the service but expand it.

Teresa Christofferson of Clackamas County led the team effort to make the project happen, scoring $476,000 from the Federal Lands Access Program and managing to convince the right people that it made sense to run a transit system through a county social services agency.

"Teresa deserves a lot of credit," says Timberline spokesman Jon Tullis. "She didn't listen to the nay-sayers. She just did it."

Timberline and Skibowl contributed $45,000 each to the expansion, and Resort at the Mountain kicked in $10,000.

Public buses are now running to Skibowl West, Government Camp and Timberline Lodge seven times a day, transporting mountain employees, elderly visitors, younger riders who don't have driver's licenses, riders with disabilities, and people who just want to skip out on the stress of mountain driving. The large white buses run on busy days, supported by smaller shuttle buses at low-ridership times.

Fares are $2 one-way, and there are three park-and-ride pick-up spots daily and five on the weekends.

The full schedule can be found at the vastly improved Mt. Hood Express website here.

Public officials rode one of the buses up to Timberline yesterday for a ribbon-cutting ceremony with speeches and refreshments. They spoke of the bus line as a "great example of people getting together to get things done" in the words of Sandy Mayor Bill King, and also as a harbinger of more ambitious things to come as part of a long-term planning effort to improve transportation on the mountain.

That long-term effort includes the true White Whale of the south slope of Mount Hood: an aerial tram connecting Government Camp with Skibowl and Timberline Lodge.

"There's a great opportunity here to make this area a real powerhouse," said Clackamas County Commissioner Jim Bernard, who first skied Mount Hood at the age of three.

Several speakers joked about the not-exactly-express-like trip up the mountain, and it does need to be stated directly that the Mt. Hood Express buses are far from sleek. They are 30 years old, heavy, slow and cumbersome, and they don't have ski/snowboard racks. But on the bright side, they were free.

Clackamas County got the buses from the Rogue Valley Transportation District for no charge, and Sandy-based Johnson RV painted them at no cost as a good-will gesture.

Two of the buses already have nicknames, Yeti and Shamu, and if anyone has a suggestion for naming the third, add it to the comments section below.

You will NOT want to get stuck behind one of these buses on a powder day, but the good news is that two sleek, modern buses complete with ski/snowboard racks and bicycle trailers are on order for next season.

In the meantime, these buses are taking drivers off the road and providing access for people who might not have been able to get up the mountain previously.

What do you think?

Have you ridden the Mt. Hood Express?

Will you?

And what comes next?