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Opinion: Ski resort parking changes make a proposed gondola unnecessary

By implementing a reservation system, Alta and Snowbird have largely solved the traffic problem in Little Cottonwood Canyon without the need for taxpayer-funded solutions

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A sign opposed to a gondola is pictured in a yard near the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon.

A sign opposed to a gondola is pictured in a yard near the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon in Cottonwood Heights on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Why build a half-billion dollar, taxpayer-funded gondola in Little Cottonwood Canyon when the ski areas themselves have significantly mitigated the traffic situation this year by making minor adjustments?

I got my first season pass at Alta in 1983 when season passes cost just $175 and you had to win a lottery to get one. Traffic in Little Cottonwood Canyon has always been an issue, especially on weekends and powder days. In fact, congestion has gotten worse in the past 10 years.

But this year has been significantly better with fewer traffic jams and much easier parking, even on weekend powder days.

What’s different? This year Alta instituted an advance-reservation parking systemfor weekends and holidays, just as Snowbird did several years ago — and Alta is actually enforcing it. Skiers simply make a parking reservation in advance, Alta checks license plates, and skiers with a reservation find a spot among the ample spots available in the Alta parking lot of their choice.

Finally, for the first time ever as an Alta season pass holder, I have been able to ski on even the busiest days, without fighting traffic. By implementing a reservation system, Alta and Snowbird have largely solved the traffic problem in Little Cottonwood Canyon without the need for taxpayer-funded solutions, proving that there’s no need to widen the road, and certainly no need to construct a half-billion-dollar gondola. The best part is that the ski areas themselves have found the solution.

The ski areas, especially Snowbird, should go even further to mitigate the problem by doing a better job of enforcing their parking restrictions. Skiers arriving at Snowbird without a reservation continue to park on the main highway with no penalty or enforcement, defeating the purpose of the parking reservation system. More traffic policing would cut down on congestion even more and eliminate a big safety hazard.

I wonder how many UDOT officials realize that traffic has been reduced dramatically from this simple change that Alta made? Have they done updated traffic studies this year and adjusted their models to show the effects of a variety of potential mitigation efforts like variable tolling and carpooling? Certainly, the success of Alta’s parking system should indicate that further tweaks would continue to reduce traffic without taking drastic and costly measures such as building a gondola or widening the road.

While Alta and Snowbird would like nothing more than for taxpayers to fund their growth in skier days with a massive taxpayer-funded project, UDOT should explore and model incremental and flexible traffic mitigation strategies, and encourage the resorts to further refine their parking solutions.

As citizens, we can lean on our politicians to find more worthy uses of our valuable tax dollars. The only people who could imaginably be in favor of a gondola would be the owners of Alta and Snowbird and developers — who ironically are former politicians.

Glen Spencer is managing partner at SmartClick Advertising in Salt Lake, a Millcreek resident, and has been an Alta season pass holder on and off for almost 40 years.