WBA & Alta Ski Area Parking

5 minutes



Hello Backcountry Friends,

At the end of this ski season, Alta Ski Lifts (ASL) released their Parking Reservations plan for the upcoming 20-21 season. The announcement is here. While there are elements of the plan that WBA can support, the changes proposed are onerous for anyone not visiting the ski area, especially backcountry users, and open the door to creating restrictions around public lands access in upper Little Cottonwood Canyon.

What we like about the plan:

  • The proposed paid parking only applies to weekends and holiday periods;
  • There is continued support of the UTA bus system by ASL; and
  • No reservations are needed after 1pm.

What we don’t like:

  • There have been no carpool incentives suggested;
  • There needs to be proof of an ASL ticket purchase;
  • There is no ASL-controlled parking that does not have a fee associated with it;
  • There is no season parking pass available;
  • There are a limited number of reservations that can be made; and
  • Cancellations must be made 24 hours in advance (the time should be less).

Wasatch Backcountry Alliance has met with Alta Ski Area and the US Forest Service numerous times over the past two years regarding the challenges of parking and the automobile congestion in the upper canyon. Parking expansion at the headwaters of our watershed has been suggested as a short-term solution to parking issues, but we remain steadfastly opposed to the shortsighted nature that enabling the addition of more cars to upper LCC will in any way help address the parking and congestion problems.

To be clear: the resort clears and maintains parking under their Special Use Permit (SUP). Other partners include UDOT maintaining Hwy 210, and the Town of Alta with associated businesses and residences. But as we all know,  upper LCC serves many user groups in addition to ASL. It is a critical gateway to public lands and – according to the WBA trail counters – Grizzly Gulch is the most popular trailhead in the Tri-Canyon area and provides critical access to high elevation moderate terrain for backcountry users. ASL claims that non-resort people accessing their public lands are negatively affecting ASL’s profits by taking resort parking stalls from paying resort skiers; however, their “data” comes from anecdotal observations from parking lot attendants who make assumptions based on cars, type of equipment, and direction of people walking from their cars, and does not take into account the many ASL passholders who ski both in the resort and the nearby backcountry or people who drop off their kids at the ski school and then enjoy a day in the BC, to name just two obvious examples. 

We have communicated at length with Forest Service personnel (they administer the SUP and ensure compliance with its rules) and felt that they agreed with us about the importance of public lands access for all visitors. Unfortunately, their interpretation of shared use under the SUP has shifted – allowing the ski area to discriminate between visitor types, allowing people to pay $100 more for their season pass and then park all season for free while those who do not have a pass must pay $25/day to park. A flat fee for all visitors with progressive pricing incentivizing carpooling similar to the program Solitude recently implemented was thought to be a more fair model, and the Forest Service has expressed their satisfaction with Solitude’s program. However, to our surprise, and incongruent with all previous communications, the FS has sided with the big money interests of ASL, allowing them to implement a parking program that favors their users over the general public, despite the fact that ASL operates mostly on public lands.

In addition, the Town of Alta recently announced that it will administer 240 spaces on the north side of SR-210 from the Shallow Shaft to the Summer Road, which gives the appearance that the Town and ASL have come to some kind of deal regarding ASL’s parking on the north side of the road in the Grizzly Gulch area. The announcement from the ToA further stated that “the town will likely implement some sort of reservation and fee system for this area, but details have not yet been worked out. As of now, what is not known is who will park in this area, how many spaces there are, nor the cost for such parking,” and that they hope to announce their plan by September 1st. 

The Wasatch Backcountry Alliance is not opposed to paid parking or canyon tolling; we feel that financial disincentivizing of the use of single occupant vehicles is an effective way to help alleviate canyon traffic. However, as proposed, ASL’s system deliberately attempts to exclude non-resort users, and the Town’s recent announcement could lead to a further reduction in available free parking to non-resort visitors. Therefore, we are upset by the proposed changes and feel blindsided by the FS position shift. We are looking into options and recourse on behalf of public access – but legal recourse has limited applicability. Right now, our best option is to let Alta Ski Area (mikem@alta.com) and the USFS (rebecca.hotze@usda.gov) know that the plan is unfair and discriminatory and do our best to advocate for change that serves all users of upper-LCC, rather than just those who choose to ski the resort. As more information becomes available, we look forward to informing you of all updates and changes.

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