If there’s one thing you won’t find in the parking lot at Solitude, it’s solitude.
That is why the Big Cottonwood Canyon ski resort is going where no Utah resort has gone. It will start charging skiers for parking this winter.
Canyon traffic on winter weekends has been troublesome for years, but a recent surge has brought it to the breaking point. Getting up and back for a day a skiing can mean four hours in the car, or more.
And that’s for those who found a spot. A growing number tell stories of giving up and going home because there was no place to park.
The Utah Department of Transportation is working on a plan for canyon traffic, but the wheels of government move slowly.
In the meantime, the forward-thinking folks at Solitude are introducing market forces with a fee structure that encourages carpooling. It’s also giving its season pass holders free rides on Utah Transit Authority ski buses.
Arrive alone or with one friend, and you’ll pay $20 to park in Solitude’s lot. Bring a second friend, and it drops to $10. Bring a third, and it drops to $5.
In one regard, this is easy math, even with Solitude promising not to make money on parking. (They say any profits will go to air quality advocates Breathe Utah.) Skiers already will be paying up to $115 for a day pass. If they can afford that, parking won’t be a deal killer. That car with four people getting in for $5? That could be more than $400 in passes.
Add in the 50 new parking spots Solitude is adding this winter, and customers might even look forward to a pay lot where they can actually find a place.
It may be the most significant move to reduce canyon congestion since UTA started rolling ski buses in 1976.
The question now is whether the other resorts in the canyons will follow. There is a scenario that skiers will drive past Solitude to the free lot at Brighton, but that lot can’t really take more cars. Neither can Alta’s or Snowbird’s.
It’s a small effort in the grander task of saving the Central Wasatch. We’re adding a million people below those mountains in the next 30 years, and each generation seems more enthralled than the last with their alpine proximity. It’s going to take every solution — and a changed mindset — to keep those mountains from being overrun.
Give Solitude credit for leading out. The rest should find their line and plunge in.