Big Changes Are Underway This Season. Will They Help Solve The Problem?

Little Cottonwood Canyon last winter.

Flashback To Last Winter

Bumper to bumper traffic creeps up Little and Big Cottonwood Canyons toward Alta and Snowbird, Brighton, and Solitude. But resort parking lots are already full.

It’s mid-morning on a typical weekend.

Rabid skiers ignore the parkies. And they ignore One Way signs. They drive the wrong way and create blockades. They ram their cars onto berms and they jam up fire lanes.

Every parking spot is taken. There’s no place to park. Cops turn cars around and head them back down the canyon.  

Outraged skiers then park along the 2-lane road — further and further away from their resort. They park on both sides of the narrow, twisting road.

Car doors hang wide open into the traffic lanes while skiers sit to put on boots. High snowbanks force skiers to trudge on the car-clogged road toward their resort, hauling their equipment, kids and coolers. The 2-lane road becomes a 1-lane obstacle course.

Some cars that park along the road sink into the deep snow and must call a wrecker to get pulled out. Other cars that park sloppily and threaten safety are often ticketed and are sometimes towed away.

That was last winter. It wasn’t pretty.

Why All The Mayhem?

Salt Lake City’s economy sizzles. Home and apartment construction booms, and that spikes the local skier population. 

More than 300 flights arrive daily at Salt Lake International Airport, and 10 resorts are within an hour’s drive. Skiers with a multi-resort pass, such as the Ikon pass, flow unpredictably from resort to resort.

The only way up each canyon is by two-lane road. Resorts on national forest land must comply with regulations and cannot make changes on a whim.

Last winter topped the charts with 711 inches of snow, and, like a magnet, it sucked skiers up the canyons. Just add up all those issues. The net result was humongous traffic jams.

Partners For Solutions

Canyon roads have been a concern for more than 30 years. Solutions have been proposed, and some have been tinkered with. But last winter’s traffic nightmare pushed the hot button.

This winter, it’s all hands on deck. Ski resorts plus Save Our Canyons, Wasatch Backcountry Alliance, the Central Wasatch Commission and the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) are stepping up efforts to change skier behavior and solve the traffic issue.

What’s Up For This Winter?

UTA added more ski buses in both canyons. It removed the inside ski/board bins to provide more standing room. And it eliminated some bus stops to speed up transit times, Skiers with a resort-specific season pass or an Ikon season pass can ride the UTA ski bus free.

Snowbird expanded its R.I.D.E. program—an Uber-type ride share app so skiers can carpool. (R.I.D.E. is the acronym for Reducing Individual Driving for the Environment. Download the iOS Snowbird R.I.D.E. app or the Android Snowbird R.I.D.E. app.)

In addition, Snowbird skiers who carpool or take the UTA ski bus earn R.I.D. E points toward sweet rewards. And carpools with three+ people get VIP parking.

This year, Alta, Brighton and Solitude implement the R.I.D.E. app.

At Alta, there are ride share vans for employees, and it dedicates 25 percent of the Wildcat parking lot for carpools with 3 or more.

Solitude takes a bold step and will charge for parking. Daily fees range from $5 for cars with four passengers to $20 for just one or two passengers. Those with a Solitude or Ikon season pass can buy a season parking permit for $150. The permit will cost $225 for non-season pass skiers.

More To Come

The question remains: What will it take to change skier behavior and eliminate the traffic jams? Stay tuned. The 2019-2020 ski season is arriving right now.

6 Comments

  1. Parking…

    A new profit center for the ski industry.

    Now if they recycle the parking fees into improving the parking areas.

  2. Join the club. As a former Colorado front range skier this problem has existed for decades on weekends. Now, with rock slides, last week , I 70 was closed for two days. I now live in the PacNW and ski mid week.

    Require the resorts and mega pass sellers to add carpooling to the fee.

  3. Avatar michele jacquin says:

    get out of the car. little cottonwood needs a narrow gauge train from the valley (yes tunnels for the avi areas). Zermatt works just fine with one. It will happen eventually. the longer Utah waits the more it costs.

    • Avatar Lynn A. Kane says:

      Hello, Michele!

      I was JUST thinking about my 1986 week in Zermatt—-and the joy of the single-gauge railway whisking skiers up the mountain—once I could get the silly image from my mind, that I was geared up to ski—but boarding and riding, instead, my daily NYC subway commute!!! My sister and I laughed so hard, when we first stepped into the car of this terrific transport—because we simply could not remove that image that when we reached the top of the mountain—at the final stop—-we would find ourselves ready to tackle the concrete—-on Broadway and 50th street. ) LOL!

      But, what a wonderful suggestion, Michele—–a single-gauge railway—-all the way up Cottonwood Canyon!! We Americans need to start thinking “RAIL”!!

  4. Thanksgiving and friday after 2019, Big Cottonwood Canyon: snow, and no cop to stop vehicles wihout 4wd etc, so the canyon was strewn with cars off the road and skidding. Solitude’s ride share app does not yet work. The bus parkinglots were full, with cars parked on the roads around them. No info available about the not yet normal bus schedule. Solitude has not kept its promises to skiers, but it expects them to pay for parking.
    So, is anyone serious about improving the canyon situation? You can’t take the bus if you cannot park at the bus stop.

  5. Avatar danno in SLC says:

    having driven LCC road since 1980 on ski trips from NH, but as a resident of sandy for the past 6 years, the solution to the traffic is an easy one:

    add a 3rd lane that would be reversible; UP in the morning
    and DOWN in the afternoon, EXCLUSIVELY FOR BUSES and shuttle vans – and its already mostly there, just needs a few miles added.

    the biggest cause of the traffic in the afternoon is the DOWNHILL PASSING LANE just below snowbird – this causes the idiots who drive like it’s some kind of competition – to get one car length ahead – to step on the gas, only to stomp on the brakes a 1/2 mile down, causing both lanes to choke to a stop, as they try to merge back into the one lane, which then causes traffic to jam all the way back upto alta.

    adding the 3rd lane would cost far less than anything else thats been proposed and it could be completed in ONE SUMMER.

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