More Dogs on Main
March 25, 2011
There’s no doubt about it: The town has been busier this year than the last couple of recession-plagued seasons. I don’t have access to anybody’s books, but the resorts all feel busier, with more traffic on the hill, more traffic in the lodges, and chaos in the parking lots. Of course, if you know where to go, lift lines are not an issue here. Each resort has its bottlenecks and magnets for terrified intermediate skiers who are more comfortable on a very congested run with random "mogulettes" than on something steep. And then there is the mosh-pit line at Jupiter on a powder day. But if you avoid those, even during the big holiday weekends, the mountain is more or less your own.
But all is not as serene in the parking lots. There was a time you could roll in at 10 and still find a parking spot. Those days are gone. Even on weekdays with questionable weather, the parking lots fill up quickly. PCMR has a deal to use the schools’ parking lots on weekends. Deer Valley parks people all around the lower circle. Canyons just keeps parking people farther and farther out in the Back Forty. Most of the time, I approach Deer Valley from the Jordanelle Gondola. It’s more direct from my house, and avoids the general traffic cluster in town. But that is getting busier, too.
The most expensive dirt in town is the resort parking lots. Acres of land a stone’s throw from the snow should be worth a fortune, and we use it to park cars. In some Colorado resorts, it feels like the day-skier parking is miles from the mountain in some semi-paved remote lot, with slow and uncomfortable shuttle buses transporting people to the bottom of the lifts. Trying to impose that here, like trying to get people to park at the city’s unused parking lot at Richardson Flat, would be difficult. Everything is too close for that. About the time your car is warmed up, asking people to get out and wait for the bus is the kind of move that would have some of us driving to Alta (where there is even less parking).
The psychology of it is interesting. When I park at Snow Park, I’ve noticed that there are always people who believe the "Lot Full" sign does not apply to them and roll into Lot #1 expecting to find special parking roped off just for them. They then spend half an hour backing out so they can do it again in Lot #2. Those people are almost invariably driving Audis.
I’ve noticed that there is almost no correlation between the crowd in the parking lot and the crowd on the hill. The guests in town ride the bus or stay slopeside. They aren’t using cars at all, or when they are, the whole family rides together: sixteen in a Kia Rio. Day skiers from Salt Lake tend to arrive with several in the car. When you’re making a longer drive, getting organized makes sense.
But when you live here, carpooling for a couple of miles seems silly. The parking problem is us. I’ve got a couple of regular midweek ski groups. We all arrive one to a car. We drive past each other’s houses on the way. Married couples arrive with two cars so they can leave at different times. It’s a wonder they don’t tow a third on a trailer while they’re at it, so there is a spare just in case one of the others won’t start. My car is a kind of rolling ski locker, and the idea of meeting at somebody’s house and transferring all the gear and crap into one car for the last mile or two is just un-American.
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At the Canyons, they are proposing a 350-car parking garage right at the base of the mountain. That’s a great location, and it is also space dedicated to a plaza, so they don’t have to design it to support a hotel on top. Still, engineer friends say it is likely to cost $10 million or so. That’s a lot of dough to invest when it’s only really needed 90 days a year. The cheaper solution would be convincing us that we can’t arrive one to a car, at least not on the busy days. The convincing may come in the form of a charge for parking. But with lift tickets pushing $100 a day, charging for parking seems a little much. It’s like charging extra for ketchup, or installing pay toilets. For $100, you ought to get a place to park as well as a place to go.
So the solution seems to be getting there early, when the skiing is best anyway.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column for nearly 25 years.