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Many Ski Resorts Are Now Charging for Parking: What Can You Do to Avoid the Extra Cost?

Pay for your pass, then pay to park? That’s a lot of cash. Photo: Joseph Reece

The Inertia

In Utah, news recently surfaced that most Cottonwood Canyon resorts will be charging for parking this season. Brighton, Alta, Park City, and Sundance all have some variation of a reservation system to guarantee spots for paying customers. 

Though Alta was the first mountain to implement a paid parking system (required Fridays through Sundays), Brighton now also plans to charge all non-Brighton season pass holders (so anyone on the IKON) $20 from 7-1 p.m. on the weekends. 

Solitude requires reservations Fridays through Sundays, but, like Brighton, parking is free after 1 p.m. Sundance has paid parking reservations Fridays through Sundays, ending at 2 p.m. Park City requires reservations every day of the week, but like other mountains, that ends at 1 p.m.

These mountains are just a few of the many indicating a country-wide trend in enforcing paid or reserved parking in order to ski or ride. 

In California, Palisades Tahoe and Alpine Meadows are adopting a tier-level reservation system, with free, first-come, first-served spots available during the midweek. On weekends, reservations are required. There is a free weekend (December 2), but after that, reservations cost $30 per day. 

If you absolutely do not want to pay for parking, you can wait until 1 p.m. and see if any spots open up: if they do, you’re welcome to park for free and enjoy the last couple hours of the mountain while the lifts are still operating. 

Palisades Tahoe issued a grave warning that “while we hope our guests will be a part of the solution, and not the problem, initial violations assessed by our third-party provider will start at $100. If not paid within 10 days, it will increase to $200. Subsequent violations are subject to increasing penalties including season pass suspension and tow.” In other words: on the weekends, you’re paying for parking. 

In a comical, disaster-relief-style help dropdown for visitors on the Palisades Tahoe website, figuring out how to get through the winter without dropping hundreds of dollars (on top of the thousands they already spent) to ski, Palisades advised guests that if they want to park for free, they can “come Monday through Friday, carpool with a friend who does have a reservation, come after 1 p.m., use a Park & Ride program from Truckee and Tahoe City, take the Sports Basement ski bus, stay in the village,” or, my personal favorite, just “become an employee.” 

These new policies are troubling for skiers, everywhere, it seems. A letter to the editor published by Unofficial Networks from a “an avid skier who has been hitting the slopes for decades,” Dan from Denver admitted that he “finds it deeply troubling that many resorts now see parking as just another revenue stream.” 

While I’m sure some resorts are simply using paid parking to “make a quick buck,” Palisades, for example, claims to be implementing the system to reduce traffic, improve guest and employee experience, and reduce their carbon footprint. 


Whatever the case, skiers and riders are now asking, what are the best options for saving money without sacrificing the entire morning of skiing (meaning you’re stuck with tracked-out trails and skied-off terrain)? 

Ski buses pose an affordable option to get to the mountain, such as at Brighton, where you can ride the Ski Bus from 6:15 a.m. to 8:22 p.m. every day from December 11 to April 15. Most mountains have some form of a ski bus, and even if they don’t, plenty of mountain towns have regular, public busses that can drop you off a lot closer than you can park. 

Carpooling, as mentioned by Palisades, is another way to save money, either by splitting parking and gas costs, or by waiving the reservation fee altogether, which many mountains are doing if there are four or more people in one car. 

Becoming an employee, on the one hand, seems laughable, but on the other, it has a lot of perks. Working 20 or 25 days a season, or whatever the minimum is at your desired mountain, can get you a parking spot, a season pass, and a host of other benefits worth thousands of dollars. If you can handle a group of crazy kids and working the magic carpet a couple days a season, and  have the extra time, it might be worth thinking about. 

This last tip is an out-of-the-box solution, but backcountry skiing or checking out different areas that do not require reservations may be beneficial for more reasons than one. If you are ethically opposed to resorts charging for parking, simply go somewhere else: take your business to a local mountain or invest the money back into yourself and get a touring setup, opening so many more doors and terrain options for yourself down the road. It’s more work and more of a challenge, but there are lots of learning opportunities to be had, and taking the hard way up can be more satisfying. 

What do you think: is making guests pay for parking a way to control crazy traffic and help the environment? Or is it just another way for resorts to make money? Is skiing still cheaper than therapy? Most importantly… do you have a friend who works at your home mountain? If you don’t, it sounds like you better get chatty with someone from mountain ops on the chair this weekend. 


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