Oh, how I wish there weren’t a need for this article. Alas, as the ski industry rapidly adopts the airline model of “always monetize everything, always,” the simple act of getting to the mountains around Salt Lake City has become the most challenging part of any day. I don’t know if the Cottonwood Canyons are shrinking or if there’s been enormous population growth along the Wasatch Front coupled with a renewed enthusiasm for outdoor sports in the wake of a pandemic—it’s probably the latter isn’t it?—but whatever the cause, ski traffic and parking are increasingly problematic.
Proposals to alleviate the issue are being bandied about, from gondolas to buses (just definitely not trains), and in the meantime parking restrictions are all that’s keeping the levees from breaking as the powderhounds flow in. While opening dates have been pushed back throughout Utah, here’s a little breakdown of the parking situation at resorts near Salt Lake City so you can be ready when the snow starts falling. We’re going to focus on the ones in the Cottonwood Canyons (and touch on Park City), since that’s generally where the issues are focused. No matter where you’re headed, leave early, be patient and pray for snow.
Little Cottonwood Canyon Resorts
Free lunch at Alta is over. The resort is implementing a weekend and holiday paid parking reservation system. They say it will keep them from having to turn cars away, but also I think the resort likes to make money. The $25 per-day fee will apply not only to those who park in the resort area base lots to ride the lifts, but also to backcountry skiers and snowboarders who park at the Grizzly and Flagstaff lots. That’s a bummer for people trying to access public lands.
About 40 days of the season are subject to parking restrictions. The remaining days will be just like the free-for-all they’ve always been. What about passholders? There’s a special reservation system for Alta passholders to hold two reservation days at any time, though there is a $25 no-show fee and I’ve heard anecdotal evidence of it being a bit difficult to use. Reservations and paid parking for public land access aren’t fun, but it appears the demand has far outstripped the supply. Carpool and take the UTA ski bus if you can.
The Bird is ditching mandatory parking reservations after last season’s ParkWhiz powered system left something to be desired for many, especially late arrivals who ski after work. Free parking will be available on a first-come, first-served basis at Entry 1 (the Upper Gad Valley Lot and Wilbere Hill), the Main Lot, Chickadee Hill, the Superior Lot and the Bypass Road excluding the preferred parking area.
Carpooling will be encouraged, and those with four-plus people in a car will have access to carpool-only parking areas and discounted preferred parking in Gad Valley (both as available). Paid parking with reservations is available for $25 per day, as the $699 preferred parking season pass is sold out. The Bird is the word, but unless you show up early, off hours or with a car full of your friends you may have to pay to play.
Big Cottonwood Canyon Resorts
Paid parking is back at Solitude this season. Thankfully, it’s tiered by vehicle occupancy, so if you like to ski or ride with friends it won’t be too burdensome. For four or more occupants, the cost is just $5 per day, $10 for three occupants, $15 for two and $25 for one. As of this publishing, season parking passes are still available for $275 ($150 for a midweek-only pass) which makes sense if you’re a frequent visitor. Some of the namesake Solitude is vanishing as evidenced by the scores of cars stashed along the roadway to skirt the parking charge, but at least it encourages people to carpool.
Brighton doesn’t charge for parking, but they will turn you around if you get up there at 10 a.m. on a Saturday powder day expecting a primo spot. There’s no way to ensure a spot at Brighton, so the resort recommends showing up early or late (before 8 a.m. or after 1 p.m.) to get a spot. Let’s be honest, if you’re arriving after 8 a.m. on a weekend, you’re not going to make it up the canyon anyway. Carpool with friends and adhere to the off-hour shuffle to avoid maddening traffic and the dreaded turnaround.
Park City Resorts
There is wonderful and woefully underutilized public transportation from Kimball Junction and Ecker Hill to both Park City Mountain and Deer Valley. The best option, especially when it’s crowded, is to leave your car at the park and ride and enjoy relaxing, regular bus service to whatever mountain it is you’re trying to ski. If you simply must burn your own gas, here’s where to go.
There are base areas with parking at Park City Mountain, one at the Canyons on 224 and one in town. Both are free (for now) and offer paid, preferred parking options. The base area in town fills up super early, so if you aren’t on the strict a.m. program, start at Canyons base area. Even if you want to start skiing or riding at the Park City base area, you can hop a bus from Canyons to PC. Afternoons tend to open up a bit in town for later arrivals. Carpooling is key as traffic from I-80 and U.S. 40 can be rough, especially on powder days.
There’s a huge free parking area at Deer Valley’s Snow Park base area, though it can fill up on snowy weekends and holidays. There is also a paid parking garage with very limited space at Silver Lake. Driving all the way through town can be anxiety-inducing, even if there is ample parking, so don’t be afraid to take the bus.
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