omar-akahloun

Omar Akahloun in his Green Dream bus.

EDITOR'S UPDATE, March 2019: Omar and his Green Dream Bus finally got city approval to load and depart from the ReRack parking lot on NE Sandy in Portland. Buses depart for Mount Hood at 7 am.

Omar Akahloun is on a mission to bring back that good mountain vibe of relaxation in a beautiful, stress-free environment.

Mount Hood in winter serves as a refuge for a lot of people, but it hardly seems that way on crowded days when the icy roads are backed up for miles and you are parked out of the main lot by 9 am. The stress of traffic and parking hassles can change the vibe on the hill from flow state to boiling point. That’s where Omar’s GREEN DREAM BUS comes in.
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GREEN DREAM BUS ("dope rides, good vibes") is a custom biodiesel rig that will soon be ferrying people from Portland to the front of the Mt. Hood Meadows parking lot, with snow flicks, comedies, and music to keep communal spirits high.

The new service is scheduled to launch before the holiday peak season as the heir apparent to the much-missed Grease Bus that used to ferry riders in style from central Portland to Mount Hood before halting service in 2012.

A Life-long Entrepreneur

Omar Akahloun is a 35-year-old dedicated mountain rider who migrated west from the Washington, DC area for the outdoor lifestyle and never went back. He’s also a life-long entrepreneur who operated a lemonade stand in China when he was a kid, even though he couldn’t speak a word of the local language. 

When he first arrived in Portland and started exploring Mount Hood, Omar was inspired by the legend of the Grease Bus. He always thought there had to be a way to revive it, or something similar. So when the timing seemed right in December of 2016 he quit his steady job and invested money he had been saving for a mountain home to buy a Mount-Hood-tested Ford E-450 from Chris Clasen, the former coach of the Oregon City High School snowboard team.

The rig is equipped with 7.3 Powerstroke Turbodiesel engine, and it is ready for action with six studded snow tires, room inside for 20 riders, a custom rack and 2 extra large boxes for hauling gear, not to mention the stylish wood ceiling, quality sound and video systems. All painted bright green and running on biodiesel.

Buying the bus was one thing; converting it into an all-caps GREEN DREAM was quite another. Omar, who holds a master's degree in Conflict Analysis and Resolution and is working on an MBA, bootstrapped the whole enterprise to keep expenses low - doing the paint prep, electrical work, sealing, and even some creative Dumpster-diving that is documented in the GREEN DREAM BUS Instagram account.

He also got a lot of help - both professional and discounted - from the mountain community and locally owned Portland businesses. Fellow riders contributed professional videography and logo design, along with labor. The wood for the ceiling was reclaimed from a 112-year-old wood flooring from a Masonic lodge, with labor donated by Metalwood Salvage. Metal fabricator Eddy Levesque of Northwest Structural Services donated much of his time to build a custom ladder for the back of the bus.

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Once it launches, GREEN DREAM BUS will offer $29.95 round trips from the ReRack parking lot at 2240 NE Sandy Blvd. to the front of the main Mt. Hood Meadows parking lot and back. There will be 5-time and 10-time passes available, and services will run Wednesday through Sunday at first, with extra days added on for the peak of the season. The company plans to graduate to operating 7 days a week by mid-snow season. Samantha Lundequam, an experienced driver and outdoor industry guide who has worked in Alaska and Northern California, will serve as the first driver. Omar will focus on business development and customer experience.  

“Riding our bus is an experience like no other,” Omar says. “There’s nothing like it in the area, a way to get to the mountain where you feel like you are sitting in a cabin having a good old time with friends who came with you, or who you just met on the bus, and now all of a sudden, boom! You’re at the mountain.”

'Ride better terrain, drink better beers, and meet cooler people'

GREEN DREAM BUS is targeting three main demographics: people who just moved to Portland and may not have the right mountain rides for slick conditions, people who don’t have a vehicle and want to get up to the mountain, and skiers and snowboarders who know the roads but don’t want the hassle of driving (and may want to enjoy a few beers while on the mountain). Each trip will remove up to 20 cars from the road, and once it catches on and the dream gets sufficient support and revenues, Omar intends to expand to Timberline in February.

I met up with Omar at ReRack the other day for a high-energy conversation and a lively spin through Northeast Portland. Here is the transcript of our interview, edited for brevity:

Tell me why you got into this business.

When I first moved here about 7 years ago, I was looking for a way to get to the mountain, and I came across this thing called Grease Bus, which was really cool. It was a shuttle very similar to this, with a converted engine to run on discarded veggie oil. But by the time I found out about it, it had already shut down, for various reasons that had nothing to do with it being super-successful, which it was. So I just filed it away in the back of my head as something I might want to revisit someday. 

Then a couple of years ago I left a pretty good job, and took a lot of risk to get this going. The reason I did it was, I was up on the mountain and I was starting to notice a shift in vibe on the snow. A lot more hassles with traffic and parking, a lot more stress. People were on edge. It isn’t supposed to be like that. The snow is supposed to be your sanctuary. So I decided to see if we could bring back that good vibe and also do something about a traffic corridor that cannot handle the rate it’s being accessed, and the massive influx of people into the Portland area.

What’s your background? Where are you from?

I grew up in the D.C. area, went to George Mason for undergrad and graduate degrees, and I was really just coming out west all the time, spending all my money to ride better terrain, drink better beers, and meet cooler people. I just felt the values were more in line with who I am as a person. So I moved out here and it was the best decision I ever made. I absolutely adore Portland and the area around itI was fortunate enough to meet my wife here, so yeah, I’m not leaving anytime soon. And I want to do something cool for the people who live here and who have the interests that I have, know what I mean? Not just for snow sports but for all the outdoor activities people like to do here.

All those activities require transportation - you always need to get there.

You always need to get there, but that’s just the basic element of what we’re trying to accomplish. Riding our bus is an experience like no other. There’s nothing like this that exists in the area, a way to get to the mountain where you feel like you are sitting in a cabin having a good old time with friends who came with you, or who you just met on the bus, and now all of a sudden, boom! You’re at the mountain. 

With our first vehicle, we take up to 20 cars off the road and out of the parking lot, and deliver 20 people on snow who's good vibes will be infectious to everyone else they encounter up there that day.

It sounds like you found a good driver for the job.

Our driver is Samantha Lundequam. She’s got tons of experience driving these size shuttles in the hospitality industry. She has guided in Alaska, she’s guided in Northern California. She’s worked for snow resorts. So she is very well versed in the mindset and needs of somebody who sets foot on a bus. And she knows why we’re all doing it. She’s a skier herself. 

We are an all-rider-owned-and-operated company. Anybody who has anything to do with Green Dream is an outdoor person, everyone from our logo designer to our videographer, to the folks who gave me the material to do the exterior work on the bus, even my buddy who helped me paint. These folks are incredibly talented skiers and snowboarders and outdoor folks who have contributed time and designs and their efforts to support what we are doing.

You have already taken the bus out and tested it, right?

Yeah, we’ve been doing some trial runs and seeing how people like it and collecting feedback. And the stoke is high. People are excited that this is now an option from the middle of Portland up to Mount Hood. And we are going to be having fun.

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You got the price down to $29.95 too. 

The price is super affordable. We’re working on getting financial sponsorship in place from local businesses, equipment, and apparel manufacturers. That’s what’s going to keep the price low. $29 round trip for a stress-free ride up and back, to not have to worry about a single thing. You jump on board here at ReRack in the middle of Portland and we deliver you 30 feet from the entrance to Meadows' lodge. Even if the parking lot is closed, we go through to the main lodge to drop everyone off. You’re not going to be trudging hundreds of feet across the parking lot in the cold wind.

It sounds like you have plans to expand too.

We want to add a bus to Timberline hopefully by February if we can. Basically, as soon as we can generate enough revenue to expand in a healthy, non-rushed way, we will. Our passenger experience is the most important thing to me, and I wouldn't want to compromise that by expanding too quickly, too soon.

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Shred Hood will be supporting the Green Dream through 2018-19 and beyond with updates, links, shout-outs and additional info for the community as the dream develops. You can keep updated on the progress of Omar and his Green Dream by following them on Instagram and bookmarking their website.

 
See you up there!
 
Shred Hood Editor Ben Jacklet has been writing articles for 30 years and skiing for even longer. He is an award-winning writer, editor, and entrepreneur, and co-founder of two Oregon LLCs: Shred Hood and YIMBY Homes.