Park City Mountain may take heat for changes it plans for this winter

Paid parking reservations, walk-up ticket caps among resort’s crowd-control initiatives.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Zachory Houston wears a face mask as he skis at Park City Mountain Resort on opening day on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020.

It’s 90 degrees outside, but Park City Mountain Resort is announcing its winter season opening date.

Many of the state’s resorts engage in a friendly competition to see which will be the first to break winter’s seal. Typically though, those ski areas don’t reveal, or really even know, when their lifts will start boarding skiers and snowboarders until the time is upon them.

While PCMR may not win that contest, it does win the race to be the first opening date circled on the calendars of Utah skiers. The largest ski area in the United States will begin winter operations on Friday, Nov. 18, it announced Monday in a news release.

That release also laid out sizable changes coming to PCMR and The Canyons this season for which the resort will no doubt take heat comparable to what the state’s residents have sweated through this summer. Among them are parking reservations and caps on daily lift tickets.

Parking reservations are probably the hottest topic at PCMR.

The resort is moving forward with its plan to require paid parking reservations at its First Time, Main and Silver King lots. Reservations will be required daily from Dec. 12 to April 2 from 8:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. and will cost $25 per vehicle per day. Carpoolers with four or more people in a vehicle can park for free but still must reserve a spot first.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Park City Mountain Resort employees move parts designated for the resort's new Eagle lift, Thursday, July 7, 2022. Residents last month blocked the resort from being able to install the lift because of discrepancies in resort capacities by two firms.

The parking reservation system “is designed overall to enhance the guest experience,” PMR spokesperson Emily McDonald said. “So you know if you know you want to ski on a certain day, you know you’re going to be able to show up and have that spot, and also help mitigate traffic in the base area.”

Parking after 1 p.m. is free and does not require a reservation. Reservations will also not be needed to park at the Cabriolet Lot at Canyons Village nor at Park City High, which has a shuttle to PCMR on the weekends and holidays.

Anyone wanting to park in the reserved lots from opening day through Dec. 11 and after April 2 will still need to book a spot online for free. Reservations can be made starting in November with a maximum of 10 reservations per account.

For much of the summer, it was unclear whether Park City would stick with the reservation system it had announced in April. The plan was thrown into limbo in June when a group of Parkites successfully stalled the resort’s plan to upgrade two of its lifts. One of the 19 conditions for getting approval for those lift upgrades, as dictated by the city’s planning department, was for the resort to find a way to mitigate parking and traffic congestion. Since it was not allowed to make the upgrades, PCMR was not beholden to its proposed parking plan but decided to go through with it anyway.

Another way PCMR’s parent company, Vail Resorts, apparently plans to dispel concerns about overcrowding — which was a contentious topic last season as lift lines stretched up ski runs and portions of parks remained closed despite plenty of snow coverage — is to limit daily lift ticket sales.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) People take to the slopes of Park City Mountain Resort as clear skies and some recent fresh snow draws the crowds on Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021.

“We care deeply about our guests’ experience at our resorts,” James O’Donnell, president of Vail Resorts’ Mountain Division, said in a news release. “Limiting lift tickets throughout the season, alongside the big investments we’re making at our resorts and in our team members, will help us provide our guests” with an enjoyable experience.

The lift ticket caps will primarily affect those looking to purchase via walk-up or on short notice online. Availability for each day of the season will soon be visible on the resort’s website, according to the news release. Even if a day is sold out, anyone with a season pass, including an Epic Day Pass, will still be allowed on the lifts. The same goes for those with buddy passes or employee-dependent passes and anyone taking a lesson that requires lift access.

Other, perhaps cooler, changes coming to the resort include a ski beach at The Canyons that will stretch between the Red Pine Gondola and the Orange Bubble lift and a new patio for its Red Tail Grill. Vail Resorts has also promised to raise employee pay this season company-wide and has built an employee housing complex near The Canyons.

While PCMR likely will be one of the first resorts to open in Utah, its opening date is dependent on snowfall and overnight temperatures.

“Ideally we’ll be able to open on time,” McDonald said, noting a dry, warm November pushed the opener back about a week last season. “... We don’t anticipate having to push it, but it’s always weather dependent. We can’t control the temperature.”

Vail Resorts announced opening dates for all of its U.S. properties Monday, and awarded Colorado’s Keystone the honor of being the first in the fleet to open. Skiers and snowboarders can expect to begin the season there in mid-October. Breckenridge in Colorado and Mount Snow in Vermont are set to start the season Nov. 11, while six other resorts, including Heavenly and Northstar in California, should join PCMR in opening on Nov. 18.