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BIG COTTONWOOD CANYON — Citing increased parking congestion and worsening air quality in Salt Lake County, Solitude Mountain Resort officials announced Tuesday they will now charge visitors as much as $20 per day for parking when the new ski season starts Nov. 23.
The move was made with the hope new parking fees will lead to increased public transportation use and carpooling to the resort as ways to reduce vehicle congestion and pollution in Big Cottonwood Canyon. In addition, officials announced they are investing in a ride-share app that will also advocate for more carpooling.
“Last winter was one for the record books, but there was some frustration around the number of cars on the road,” a statement from Solitude President and Chief Operating Officer Kim Mayhew said. “Our goal is to maximize the space we have and get everyone to the slopes safely and without delay.”
Solitude will be the first resort in the state to implement basic parking fees, according to Sara Huey, a spokeswoman for Solitude; however, it’s not the first resort in the United States to do it. Huey noted California and Colorado resorts have transitioned to parking fees as a way to alter transportation behavior.
Since it hasn’t been done yet in Utah, Huey called Solitude’s plan “an experiment.” In addition, Solitude officials said they have leased four UTA vans that staff will use to travel up and down the canyon, which they say will save as much as 60 vehicle trips in the canyon per day.
“We are using every tool at our disposal to encourage our staff and guests to use public transportation and to develop carpooling habits,” Mayhew said. “We are committed to reducing congestion in Big Cottonwood Canyon in order to preserve our canyon’s delicate environment.”
Here’s how the parking plan will work. First, visitors can obtain a seasonal parking pass. Those who purchase an Ikon Pass for skiing can purchase a seasonal parking pass for $150, while non-pass holders can purchase a seasonal pass for $225. The passes are valid for two vehicles, but only one vehicle per day and they don’t guarantee a parking spot. There’s also no overnight parking.
The daily parking plan is tiered based on vehicle occupancy. It’s $20 for a vehicle holding one or two people, $10 for three occupants and $5 for vehicles with four or more people in it. Huey said a portion of the money collected from the new fees will be donated to Breathe Utah, a nonprofit group that seeks to improve air quality.
The ride-share app Solitude plans to roll out is much like Lyft or Uber, but with resort members offering rides based on available space. That’s expected to be available when the ski season starts, Huey added.
In addition, resort officials encourage people to use UTA bus route 972, which has service to the resort. That service is free for Ikon Pass holders, otherwise standard UTA fare applies. Huey said the resort added locker space for those who use the bus to store their valuables.
Officials also announced Tuesday that 200 new parking spots were added in the resort's Moonbeam parking lot.
In the few hours after announcing parking fees, Huey said the resort had received mixed reactions. She said some voiced concern about a new fee, while others are optimistic it could help with the environment.
Jayme Blakesley, a board member of Save Our Canyons, a nonprofit group that seeks to protect the Wasatch canyons, is among those who welcome the decision. He said air quality continues to worsen as traffic in the canyons increases, especially on weekends and good-powder days. That increased traffic, he said, detracts from the experience of traveling to the canyons.
He's hopeful other resorts may follow suit.
"Anything that could be done to make the use of the canyons is responsible so that they're there for future generations in the same way they are right now is better," he said. "I have to expect that others will be watching how this works and if it does, they'll take similar measures."