Are Parking Passes The Next Season Pass At A Ski Resort?

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As reported by Consumer Reports, 85% of Americans have stated that they’ve found a hidden fee or surcharge for a monthly service that they bought. Unfortunately, it seems like this is happening more and more in the ski industry as well. They’ve kept their season passes “cheap” which has created an explosion of new season pass holders and at the same introduced fees on items that were originally free. A good example of this is the introduction of paid parking. What started as a small murmur has become a loud roar. Here are is a list of ski resorts across the United States that have quietly started introducing parking fees. The question is, “Are parking passes the next season pass?”

Kirkwood

Kirkwood paid parking
The purple colored areas are the paid parking the remainder of the parking lots are still free.

The latest to join the portfolio of expanding paid parking is the south shore favorite in Lake Tahoe – Kirkwood Mountain Resort. The new paid parking lot now includes the entire lot next to chair 6. There is a silver lining though. First, this paid parking will only be enforced on weekends and holidays. Second, there’s a tiered cost structure that makes parking in preferred lots free for vehicles with four or more people. Albeit it still costs $20 if you show up with 3 people; $30 for two ; and $35 for one.  Third, at this moment many of the parking lots that exist in the Kirkwood valley are still free including Red Cliffs and the Timber Creek lots. The next question is will this expand over the coming years?

Stowe

gondola at Stowe resort in winterThe latest in the introduction of paid parking at ski resorts is one of the crown jewels of the East – Stowe. Starting in 2022, you’ll have to cough up $30 to pay to park. The good news is they’ll be offering a limited number of season passes for paid parking. You’ll have to fork over another $450 for one of those if you can find one. The odd part is they didn’t post about it via social media or even send out a press release. Instead, the Stowe Reporter, a local Vermont newspaper, found out about it live via a text message.

Park City

Park City UtahFrom what we heard from friends, the resort was bombarded with long lift lines, lift closures, and record setting crowds. The management is hoping to resolve these issues by introducing Park City paid parking at the Main, First Time, and Silver King parking lots at the PCMR base area until 1pm. Per the resort’s research, a $25 per day price could result in an 11% reduction in parking demand at PCMR. That’s not all either. You need to reserve a spot for parking as well. There is a silver lining though. The goal is to encourage carpooling, so if you show up with four or more people, you can still park for free. And at the moment, Canyons is still offering up free parking.

Alta

The snowy peaks at Alta ResortIt’s not just Epic either that’s introducing paid parking in Utah. Alta has jumped on the bandwagon to try and alleviate the brutal traffic up the Little Cottonwood for weekends and holidays only. In addition, you have to reserve a spot ahead of time by registering your license plate. One difference compared to the other resorts on this list is that those who buy daily lift tickets from the resort directly receive a promotional code for a $15 credit toward the cost of parking. Ikon and Mountain Collective pass holders do not receive any discount and will be required to pay the $25 on weekends and holidays. 

Solitude

Solitude Ski Resort Paid Parking
Solitude Ski Resort in 2006 – Photo by: Adam Shaw – Wikipedia

In a bold move to reduce gridlock in Utah’s Big Cottonwood Canyon, the first ski area in the Wasatch is planning to charge visitors if they plan on driving up the canyon themselves. Vehicles carrying one or two passengers should plan to pay $20 to park at Solitude. If you show up with three passengers, it’s ten bucks and then five dollars for four or more passengers. Per the ski resort, the goal is to persuade people to carpool or take public transit as part of a larger, carrot-laden plan to decrease congestion and emissions.

Jackson Hole

Jackson Hole Tram Winter
Photo by: Sam Klein

When it comes to paid parking, anyone that’s visited Jackson Hole knows its old hat to them charging you. ANY of the lots that are close to the resort you need to pay between $10 – $20 per day unless you park at the Village Road Transit Center over seven miles away. They’ve been doing it for so long that they even have a season parking pass starting at $575. This paid parking was introduced not to make money but reduce the amount of traffic between Jackson and the resort. And guess what? It’s working! They’ve actually decreased average peak hour traffic volumes since 2000, while the average daily skier numbers have increased.

Mt. Hood Meadows

Another interesting aspect of paid parking happens at Mt. Hood Meadows. Due to its location within the Mount Hood National Forest, as a skier or snowboarder you MUST have an Oregon SNO-PARK permit displayed in your windshield or you’ll get ticketed. In truth, pretty much any snow spot worth visiting in the Mount Hood National Forest requires one. It’s either $5 for the day or $30 for the season. When I visited the first time, I didn’t know about this and actually gotten ticketed. For Tahoe & Idaho backcountry enthusiasts, SNO-PARK permits issued by California and Idaho are honored in Oregon & Oregon permits are honored in those states as well.

Crystal Mountain

Crystal Mountain Resort Alterra Resorts Ikon Pass
Photo by: Kevan Dee Photography

To the north on the flanks of the mighty Mt. Rainier you’ll find a legendary powder mecca. Ever since this resort joined the Ikon collective, parking issues have become incredibly painful. So as of 2021, they’ve introduced Crystal Mountain paid parking for their busier times like weekends and holidays. A unique twist is that season pass holders (including Ikon) don’t have to pay but have to register their license plate and reserve a spot ahead of time. Non-pass holders will need to pay $20 on Fridays and Sundays and $30 on Saturdays and holidays. And like other resorts, if you carpool with four people, you don’t have to pay either.

Heavenly

Heavenly Paid Parking
This isn’t parking but rather the road congestion to get to / from the Heavenly Parking lot

Last winter was record-setting snowfall across the US but brutal when it came to finding parking at resorts. Personally, we saw this at our neighborhood resort, Heavenly. The small, one-mile long road up to the California Lodge was so congested at times that Caltrans had to shut it down to clear the roads. Although not ski resort-owned parking, you used to park for free at the casinos to access Heavenly Mountain. As of 2017, Harrah’s & Harveys now charge $25 for self-parking and $30 for valet.

Northstar – Return To Free

Paid Parking Northstar
Northstar parking lot map

For those that have skied Northstar, the Village View Lot is where the majority of skiers & snowboarders park when visiting the ski resort. Even there, you still need to take a shuttle to get to the base lift. Well, as of October 1st 2019, they started to charge visitors to park in this lot at Northstar. Just northwest of the village, you had to ante up $10 Monday through Friday and $20 on weekends and holidays. This was in addition to where you already need to pay to access the lower village lot which is $20 cash Monday through Friday and $40 cash on weekends and holidays. This created such an uproar in the community including a lawsuit that Vail conceded and returned the Village View Lot back to free as of the 2020-21 season. Will it stay that way? That’s a great question. 

As ski resort parking lots become increasingly overcrowded, the question that begs to be answered, “Is paid parking the future of ski resorts? And if so, will parking season passes become the next thing Ikon and Epic pass holders need to buy?” Another great option is to visit an independent ski resort where free parking is still typically offered.

3 thoughts on “Are Parking Passes The Next Season Pass At A Ski Resort?

  1. I, like many people, grew up skiing and snowboarding my entire life. It has definitely become increasingly expensive and a hassle to make it up to the mountains. It breaks my heart to say it but it’s not worth it anymore and I think I am done with the sport.

    1. Hey John,

      We feel ya, that’s why we’ve been heading to smaller ski-towns and ski resorts when we go on trips and vacation. Personally, the larger ones just seem to get more crowded, more expensive, and feel less authentic.
      .

  2. I always thought that parking was included with a lift ticket which cost close to $100. or more and that charging for parking is over kill. Why not have the parking pass as part of the season pass with an option to upgrade. The other option would be to bring the hill closer to a designated parking area for day passes with a well established shuttle system that runs on it’s own road system up to the base avoiding the congested access road. Parking should also be included for those who stay overnight for longer ski holidays. The resorts should be able to figure this out the faster you get people to the base the more cash they take in rather than having them stuck on the road in where no one wins. Skiers get discouraged and go else where so lets get going on a decent infrastructure to support the growing crowds.

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