Parking at Lee Canyon, NV | Photo: Forest and Kim Starr 


Pete is a 28-year-old skier from Dillon, CO who in between shifts as a hot tub repairman, likes to sneak in a few laps at nearby Arapahoe Basin. The only thing between him and an afternoon on the slopes, is navigating the extensive and often overcrowded parking lots at the Summit County ski area.

As Pete motors up the highway, and whisks pasts the preferred lots, all the spaces are full to the brim and attendants wave the frustrated motorists past. “So much for skiing today,” he declares, and starts turning the car back down the pass and towards Dillon.

This tale isn’t new in the mountains and traffic has always been a problem for ski resorts looking to up their “skier visits” year-over-year. But as ski areas stretch their infrastructure to the seams, parking– not powder is becoming the wedge issue that’s driving apart ski resort operators from their clientage in 2019.

The infamous red snake | Photo:

From the Pacific Northwest to Lake Tahoe, all the way to the Cottonwood Canyons and the I-70 corridor, accessible parking is an issue that’s not going away anytime soon. Some popular ski resorts are even being forced to turn away guests completely, when peak crowds overwhelm limited parking lots.

Eldora Sees Blowback:

Eldora Mountain right outside of Boulder, CO is just one ski area struggling to maintain the balance of growing a customer base while keeping loyal customers happy.

That balance was thrown out of whack this month when the ski area announced general parking would cost $20 on high traffic days. Just exactly what determined a high traffic day remained unclear.

Unsurprisingly, a diverse swath of locals who rely on easy parking for easy laps were outraged. The public outcry was so strong following Eldora’s parking policy change, the management backtracked and cancelled the upcoming paid parking initiative and have since encouraged carpooling to gain preferential spots.

If we learned one thing from the The Eldora experiment, it’s that skiers and riders are at their limit when it comes to what they are willing to paying for the ski experience. When resorts (*especially the smaller, lower-income friendly ski areas) stop offering free guest parking, they can expect skier visit numbers to plummet.

Arapahoe Basin Implements Paid Parking:

Arapahoe Basin, CO not far from Eldora, is also struggling with a similar dilemma. The high elevation ski area on US-6 Loveland Pass recently announced that it will hold 200 spots at the front of their coveted Early Riser parking lots for a $20 fee, or for carpools of 4 or more. The prospect of removing just 200 of 1,950 available spots at Arapahoe Basin sent customers into a frenzy, with hundreds joining the comments on social media.

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Public transportation, carpooling programs and courtesy shuttles are logical answers for these congestion issues but the bigger problem is shifting the public paradigm on the topic of parking.

How can ski areas convince long-time locals that they can’t expect to park solo anymore, especially when thousands of other skiers and riders are sharing the slopes?

Implementing paid parking is a guaranteed public relations disaster, but also a decent approach to fixing the parking woes that are plaguing ski resort operations managers. Ultimately no skiers are rooting for costly parking fees, new limitations and rules. At the same time, it’s up to the ski areas themselves to find ways to help preserve the best experience for its guests, some of whom don’t minding paying top dollar from front-and-center parking.

As Pete devours a sub-sandwich at the base of Loveland Pass, he mulls his options for the remainder of the afternoon; “I say we give it one more shot (to park), cause I bet Pali is still holding snow, and they did report 6″ last night”. 

*These views are the writer’s and UN does not necessarily share the opinions herein.

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