Paid parking at Utah ski resorts expands beyond the Cottonwood Canyons

Reservation systems becoming the norm in Utah, but is the trend smart resource management or a hassle to skiers and snowboarders?

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) People navigate a full parking lot at Park City Mountain Resort as clear skies and some recent fresh snow draws the crowds on Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021.

Paid parking isn’t just for the Cottonwood Canyons anymore.

Park City Mountain Resort plans to require paid reservations for skiers and snowboarders to park in its main Mountain Village Base Area starting with the 2022-23 season. Lindsay Hogan, the Rocky Mountain Region spokesperson for Vail Resorts, on Friday confirmed the plan with The Salt Lake Tribune. She said in an email to the Tribune that the goal of the plan is “to reduce traffic congestion in the Mountain Village base area.”

Drivers can still park for free daily — without reservations — at the Canyons Village Base Area and High Valley Transit Park-n-Ride locations and at Park City Mountain lots after 1 p.m. Free parking and a shuttle will also be available at Park City High on weekends.

The reservation system will be the first for a Utah resort outside of Big and Little Cottonwood Canyon. Solitude blazed the trail in the state when it announced in 2019 that it would charge for parking, and Alta adopted a paid reservation system for its lots this season. Both Brighton and Snowbird, the other two Cottonwood resorts, have also tinkered with reservations or paid parking models, though most of their lots have remained free.

But congestion has become a concern for even the more easily accessed resorts over the past couple years, as the pandemic drove more people toward outdoor recreation.

All season, but especially on weekends and powder days, “PCMR Parking Full” signs lit up before 10 a.m. along the highway just outside of Kimball Junction. As late as 1 p.m., dozens of cars could be seen snaking through the Main, First Time and Silver King lots — all of which will be affected by the change — looking for parking.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Pre-season skiers head for Alta's slopes and fill the parking lot of Goldminer's Daughter, Nov. 10, 2021. The Town of Alta has announced it will charge $25 for a permit to park in one of the lots it controls in town on the weekends this winter. That announcement combined with the Alta Ski Resort's previous announcement that it would charge $25 for parking in its lots on weekends means it will not be possible to visit the town on any weekend 2021 winter without having to pay or take the bus.

The problem is only likely to worsen in coming years as both Park City Mountain and neighboring Deer Valley Resort embark on plans to develop their parking lots into lodges, condominium complexes and hotels.

The Park Record reported in February that Deer Valley is entertaining the idea of charging for parking once its upgrades to the Snow Park Lodge are complete, likely by 2026. Provo-based PEG Companies, meanwhile, entered into an agreement with Vail Resorts in 2019 to buy the lots at Park City Mountain. It is now grappling with the town over a proposal to develop them. Both developments include plans for parking garages to replace lost parking spaces.

A memorandum issued Monday by Vail Resorts to Park City planner Lillian Lederer lays out some details of the upcoming parking reservation scheme and the argument for it. It says studies of other resorts show, anecdotally, that paid parking reservations lead to more varied arrival times for guests and less pressure on lots during peak times.

“Required reservations will,” the memo says, “… mitigate traffic congestion caused by guests who arrive at the base and circulate through the tight street network without finding a parking space.”

Park City Mountain intends to install two new lifts for the 2022-23 season: Utah’s first high-speed eight-person chair at Silverlode, located mid-mountain, and a high-speed six-pack that will replace the Eagle and Eaglet lifts in the Mountain Village base area. According to an analysis by planning and design company SE Group, however, the upgrades will not impact the demand for parking.

Parking rates have not yet been announced.

An analysis by Fehr & Peers, a third-party transportation and parking consultant that also examined Deer Valley’s parking options for its upcoming Snow Park Lodge, looked at the impact of charging $25 per day, with “price sensitivities for different user groups.” According to the memo, that should result in an 11% reduction in demand. Colorado’s Beaver Creek, which is also owned by Vail Resorts and started charging for parking in 2016-17, has got the same result for $10 per day.

Hogan, the Vail Resorts spokesperson, said carpooling incentives will be built in. Among them will be free parking for vehicles with four or more passengers.

“All net proceeds will go to transit and infrastructure improvements,” she added.

Some skiers and snowboarders, however, say the underlying motivation for the plan is to make more money. Vail Resorts has not publicly announced the reservation system even though its Epic Pass season pass went on sale last month.

“A lot of us like to go spontaneously. Don’t have the same schedules or simply go more than others or midweek. So let’s punish those to make it so inconvenient that they lose all interest all together,” Diana Kretzschmar of Salt Lake City posted on the Ski & Snowboarders Utah Facebook page. “Nothing but greed!!!”

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