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The newest challenge skiers will face this season: Crazy parking charges and reservations

Dec. 17, 2021
18 min read
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You’ve checked everything off your pre-ski checklist. Your equipment is ready. The hotel and car are booked. You’ve even been watching the daily snow report. But this year there is something new to plan for: You may now have to reserve – and possibly pay extra – for parking.

Yes, you read that correctly.

While many ski resorts continue to offer some form of free parking, paid parking lots and pre-reserved paid options are expanding coast to coast, with new parking fees ranging from $10 to $70 per day during peak holiday periods. In many cases, parking is now an added cost on top of daily lift tickets that can go as high as $249 per day. (Yes, you read that correctly, too.)

(Screenshot courtesy of Deer Valley)

Parking charges at ski resorts, including preferred or VIP parking, is not a new phenomenon. But many resorts this season have increased the size of paid lots and, in some cases, are requiring parking reservations for all spaces over weekends and holidays. Choosing which resort to ski or ride at the last minute may no longer be an option this season, specifically on peak days.

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Skiing and snowboarding is more popular than ever

Vail Resorts, which operates 37 ski areas, recently reported during a call with investors that sales for its pass products — the majority being Vail’s Epic Pass season passes — are up 76% compared to the 2019/2020 ski season. That equates to 2.1 million passes being sold this year, an increase of approximately 700,000 pass holders from last year and 900,000 pass holders from two years ago.

Privately held Alterra Mountain Company, which operates 14 ski areas, does not provide specific sales data. However, a company representative recently told TPG that the company is very encouraged by its sales numbers, including its popular “Ikon Pass” products, adding that skiers and riders are quite enthusiastic about the upcoming season. The Aspen Skiing Company, which operates four ski areas in Aspen, Colorado, told TPG that it's seeing record pass sales this season.

Related: Best annual ski pass: Battle between Epic, Ikon, Mountain Collective and Indy

Likewise, the National Ski Areas Association told TPG that it estimates that more than 1 million people tried skiing or snowboarding for the first last season, with many of them expected to hit the slopes again this season.

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All of these advance pass sales, along with new interest in skiing and riding, are great news for the industry. But all these record sales in advance are a clear indication that parking at many resorts this ski season will be at a premium.

While resorts have added additional lifts with more uphill capacity, very rarely do you find new parking on the improvements list. Resorts would rather spend their capital expenditures on lodges and faster and larger lifts, not parking lots. Only a few resorts we spoke with – Aspen, Big Sky and Breckenridge – have opened new parking structures in recent years, with a new parking structure under development at Deer Valley.

Finding your spot

As a result of increased demand, resorts around the country have changed their parking strategy this season. Some are requiring paid advance reservations (along with the license plate of the vehicle you plan to use) that guarantee spaces, while others have premium lots that come at premium prices. And while many ski areas have free lots, many of those lots are expected to be filled early in the morning, especially on weekends, holidays and, of course, powder days.

TPG has broken down some of the major resorts throughout the country and how they are tackling parking this season in order to prevent you from being turned away unexpectedly.

All the resorts that TPG contacted are aware of the challenges. They are advocating that their guests use public transportation and carpooling whenever possible while providing more parking-related information on their websites and mobile apps.

East Coast

Camelback Resort (Pennsylvania): In close proximity to New York City and Philadelphia, the resort does not have any advance parking reservations, but charges $12 per day for regular lots and between $25 to $40 per day for premium lots. Camelback has complimentary parking in regular lots for season pass holders.

Mount Snow (Vermont): Mount Snow, a resort owned and operated by Vail Resorts, is now charging for 50% of its parking for the first time. According to Vail Resorts, Mount Snow is the only resort out of the 37 the company operates that has implemented a paid parking program this season. Premium parking will cost $15 on weekdays and $30 on weekends and holidays; the process is managed through this website. The remaining 50% will be free parking. Mount Snow also offered a season parking permit for $399, which is now sold out.

Okemo (Vermont): The majority of parking at Okemo is free, but the resort does have two preferred parking lots that are subject to availability.

Stratton (Vermont): Stratton has plenty of space for parking, and its four parking lots throughout the resort area are completely free. The resort also has free shuttle service from its parking lots between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Sugarbush (Vermont): The majority of parking at Sugarbush is free, but the resort does have a close-in, paid valet parking lot that is subject to availability.

Rocky Mountains

Alta (Utah): Starting Dec. 18, Alta, near Snowbird in Little Cottonwood Canyon, will charge for all parking – and require advance reservations by registering your license plate – on weekends and holidays (parking after 1 p.m. on those days will still be free). This means that paid parking reservations are needed 40 days out of the resort's typical 152-day season. Additionally, even on days when Alta does not charge for parking, all of its primary parking lots will now open at 8 a.m. The only exception is a specially designated area for backcountry skiers, which now requires paid parking reservations every day this season.

According to Alta, this new system provides skiers the assurance that there will be a parking space before driving up the canyon and will ease early morning traffic congestion. Skiers will no longer need to arrive hours before the first chair to secure a parking space, as most parking lots will only open at 8 a.m. Even on weekday powder days when reservations are not required, expect a very busy parking lot, so plan in advance.

Reservations are available for $25 per day, and Alta guests 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 $25 on weekends and holidays.

For guests using a rental car, Alta recommends setting up your Alta parking account using ‘RENTAL’ as the plate while completing the reservation. Once you obtain your rental vehicle, you can log back into your account and update the vehicle information prior to arrival at the resort. Cancellations made online 48 hours prior to your parking reservation are refundable.

Alta encourages carpooling and public transportation The Utah Ski Transportation Ski Bus, which serves Alta, is free for season pass/Ikon pass holders and is $5 each way for all other guests. The resort has also launched a dedicated site for parking, which includes frequently asked questions.

Backcountry skiers who plan to park in a specially-designated area between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. will be charged $15 on weekdays and the standard $25 on weekends and holidays. Here are additional details regarding Alta’s early morning parking process.

Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass (Colorado): Aspen parking might be expensive, but the City of Aspen has free transportation available. Aspen does not provide any advance reservations for parking, and the cost ranges between $30 and $40 per day at most of the paid parking lots. The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s (RFTA) Four Mountain Connector Buses are free and connect all four resorts. If you are planning to drive, Aspen’s parking website has all the details regarding parking at its four resorts, and its mobile app provides real-time space availability. Aspen also has free lots that connect to RFTA buses and many hotels in the Aspen area provide free private shuttles to all four ski areas.

Beaver Creek (Colorado): Beaver Creek does not offer any advance reservations for parking, and rates will vary from $10 to $35 per day, based on where you wish to park. The $10-per-day lots are served by free bus transportation provided by the resort. The Town of Avon also provides free — but limited — parking options.

Big Sky: (Montana): Approximately 90% of the parking spaces at Big Sky remain complimentary, and the resort offers free shuttles from the parking lots to the base area daily from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Big Sky also has two premium lots. One is based on availability and charges $10 per day (free for Big Sky Gold Pass season pass holders) and a second can be reserved in advance, which also comes with a steep price tag during the holidays. Pre-reserved parking spaces in Big Sky’s Exchange Lot – the closest lot to the mountain – can range from $40 to $70 a day.

(Screenshot from Big Sky)

Brighton (Utah): Brighton, near Solitude in Big Cottonwood Canyon, provides 95% free parking. The remaining 5% is pre-reserved parking — $25 per day — that can be reserved in advance online. The resort's parking lots are regularly filled early on weekends, holidays and powder days. If you want to avoid paying in advance for guaranteed availability, make sure you arrive early.

Additionally, the Utah Ski Transportation Ski Bus serves Brighton, is free for season pass/Ikon pass holders and is $5 each way for all other guests. The resort and the Utah Department of Transportation regularly post parking updates on their Twitter feeds regarding parking availability.

Copper (Colorado): Parking reservations are not required to access the mountain and free parking is available every day with free resort shuttles. However, the mountain is encouraging its guests to pre-reserve a parking space in one of Copper's close-in, paid parking lots. Prices on its parking website for pre-reserved parking range from $30 to $50 per day.

Deer Valley (Utah): The vast majority of Deer Valley’s parking is free — only one small lot at Silver Lake charges $30 per day. Deer Valley’s main parking lot has 1,200 spaces in five surface lots at the resort's Snow Park base area. On peak days, the resort offers complimentary priority parking for guests who arrive with three or more in their car. If Deer Valley’s five Snow Park lots reach capacity (which only happens on peak days), the resort will work to accommodate the remainder of its guests with street parking that surrounds the surface lots. All of these parking spaces are either served by Deer Valley’s parking trams or city buses. The resort strongly encourages people to use the buses that connect Park City with the resort. Deer Valley can be easily accessed via Park City’s free buses — Park City Transit — and Summit County’s High Valley Transit.

Jackson Hole (Wyoming): Parking at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is managed by the Teton Village Association. Parking in the closest lots to the resort (approximately 1,600 parking spaces) will cost between $30 and $40 per day. Carpooling is encouraged and will be free with three or more guests in the Ranch Lot, which is 0.3 miles from the base of the resort. Jackson Hole’s primary free parking lot (800 parking spaces) is 7 miles from the base of the resort. This lot is serviced by a free shuttle bus that operates at throughout the day. Another easy way to access the mountain from the Town of Jackson is to utilize the Southern Teton Area Rapid Transit (START) bus. The distance between the Town of Jackson and the base of the mountain is approximately 12.5 miles, and the cost to use the bus is $3 each way.

Park City (Utah): While Park City does not offer advance parking reservations, the resort offers a mixture of free and paid parking at Park City Mountain Village and Canyons Village. At Park City Mountain Village, the resort offers preferred paid parking under the Lodge at Mountain Village which costs $25 and $30 on holidays and peak days. A reduced rate of $12 to $15 is available for carpool vehicles with three or more adults. At Canyons Village, the resort has preferred paid parking which costs $12 and $15 on holidays and peak days. Similar to Park City Mountain Village, a carpool rate of four or more adults will be $5 a day. Additional preferred parking is expected to be added in the new Pendry Garage this season. Park City can also be easily accessed via Park City’s free buses — Park City Transit — and Summit County’s High Valley Transit.

Snowbird (Utah): Snowbird, near Alta in Little Cottonwood Canyon, offers a variety of parking options this season: free lots on a first-come/first-served basis, paid lots reserved in advance, carpool-only spaces, valet parking and even a $699 preferred parking pass (which is sold out). Snowbird continues to provide parking updates on its website, including its anticipated free parking inventory, that is also communicated to guests via the daily mountain morning report. Booking an advance parking reservation will cost $20 and valet parking will cost $40. Advance reservations are refundable as long as they are canceled by 7 a.m. local time on the day of the reservation. The Utah Ski Transportation Ski Bus serves Snowbird and is free for season pass/Ikon pass holders and is $5 each way for all other guests. The resort and the Utah Department of Transportation regularly post parking updates on their Twitter feeds.

Solitude (Utah): Solitude, near Brighton in Big Cottonwood Canyon, charges for parking each day. Its rates are tiered based on vehicle occupancy and range from $25 per day for a vehicle with a singular occupant to $5 per day for a vehicle with four or more passengers. The resort also offers a $275 seasonal parking pass and $150 weekday parking pass. However, these seasonal parking permits don’t guarantee parking availability. Since the canyon can fill up rapidly (and usually does), guests should either arrive early on peak days or use public transportation. The Utah Ski Transportation Ski Bus is free for season pass/Ikon pass holders and is $5 each way for all other guests. The resort and the Utah Department of Transportation regularly post parking updates on their Twitter feeds.

Vail (Colorado): Parking at Vail is managed by the Town of Vail. Parking at the town’s parking structures will cost $30 per day for 4-15 hours and $50 per day for 15-24 hours. If you want guaranteed availability in the two primary garages at Vail, get ready to spend $3,300 per season for that privilege. According to the Town of Vail, free satellite parking is “limited” and is serviced by the town’s free transit system. The town also has free overflow parking on South Frontage Road, parallel to I-70, but parking is only allowed in this area once both parking structures are full.

(Screenshot from Vail)

Winter Park (Colorado): There are approximately 3,200 free parking spaces at Winter Park, which is more than 50% of the resort's total parking. The resort also provides free shuttle service that operates from all free parking lots. For more premium parking, Winter Park charges between $10 and $30 per day. According to a Winter Park spokesperson, Winter Park has no advance parking reservation system and has no plans to implement one. The recommendation for Winter Park guests is to plan to arrive as early as possible for the best parking options and be prepared to jump on a shuttle to get dropped off at either the Winter Park or Mary Jane base areas. The shuttles drop off skiers and riders within 100 feet of the resort's primary two lifts.

West Coast

Crystal Mountain (Washington): For the first time, Crystal Mountain will charge for parking for this season on Fridays, weekends and holidays. According to the mountain, “As we started planning for this winter season, our attention turned to one issue that has been obvious as demand for Crystal days has spiked the past few seasons. While our mountain is big – with 2,600 acres of expansive skiable terrain – our parking situation is a lot more constrained. At times, when everyone else in our region wants to ski or ride too, arrival can be the most difficult part of the day for our community.” Parking will be included with the purchase of a season pass (including the Ikon Pass), but all guests will be required to register their license plates before arrival. Parking now costs $20 on Fridays and Sundays and $30 on Saturdays and holidays. Carpooling is encouraged and parking is free for vehicles that arrive with four or more guests, who get designated spaces and priority shuttles. The resort has also launched a dedicated site for parking along with helpful frequently asked questions.

Kirkwood (California): Kirkwood does not offer any pre-reserved parking, but the resort does offer a mixture of free and paid parking options.

Palisades Tahoe (California): At Palisades Tahoe, parking is the limiting factor for how many guests it can accommodate each day on the slopes. The resort offers one option for 75 advance-paid spots on weekends and specific holidays at its Alpine Meadows base. These spaces cost $40 in advance for a guaranteed spot. If you don't reserve in advance, Palisades Tahoe will charge $50 at the lot based on availability. The resort had previously offered a seasonal preferred parking permit, but the pass is already sold out. All other spaces – 4,200 parking spaces at Olympic Valley and 1,825 at Alpine Meadows – are free, and there are dedicated spaces for carpools. The resort offers up-to date information through the Palisades Tahoe App and mountain operations Twitter account. Its app also provides real-time lot availability, along with estimated times for when lots are expected to be filled to capacity. The resort continues to encourage guests to use carpooling and public transportation options, especially on peak days, in order for it to accommodate more skiers and riders on the slopes.

Bottom line

Every resort is a little different this year, with a mixture of free, preferred and prepaid advance reservations. With some proactive planning, there is no reason you should be turned away. However, your strategy for the day might need to require you to arrive extra early to beat the morning rush, especially during peak periods and on powder days.

With the added cost of pre-reserved parking, some travelers may want to explore ski-in/ski-off accommodations, which at many resorts, include free parking and takes the hassle out of battling traffic to the slopes. Other hotels (and sometimes condominium developments) in and around ski resorts provide their own door-to-door transportation. For example, Beaver Creek and Deer Valley offer free, on-demand door-to-door transportation (hailed via an app) for guests staying at the resort, even if the guests don’t have ski-on/ski-off accommodations.

Vail Resorts encourages its guests to visit an individual resort's website prior to arrival, specifically reviewing the “Getting Here” section of the site.

Beyond that, all the major ski resorts are encouraging visitors to consider public transportation, carpooling and checking their apps and websites to get important details, including real-time parking information.

It is going to be a busy ski season. But with a little planning in advance — which in some cases, comes with an additional cost — you can ensure you are out on the slopes when you want rather than sitting in your car waiting for a parking space to become free.

Featured image by Getty Images/Maskot
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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It's hard to find a card that competes with the mile-long list of benefits that come with the Amex Business Platinum. While it's certainly not the card for the average consumer, a business owner with tons of expenses -- especially related to travel -- will find this card incredibly valuable. This card is similar to the consumer version that Amex offers, but with more business-oriented perks around statement credits and earning rates that are a better fit for business owners.

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