Solitude resort will now charge $20 for parking in an effort to lower emissions by encouraging people to take buses and carpool up the canyon.
Many think this announcement was sudden and unnecessary while others are saying it was a great decision. According to students at Westminster College, however, this charge will not affect their ski season and carpooling is already a big part of the ski culture here.
“I think carpooling has always been encouraged because not everyone has a car,” said Davis Lentz, a senior communication major and member of the ski and snowboard collective. “As a first-year student I didn’t have a car and I would take the 220 bus from the edge of campus and that would take you to the ski bus.”
Lentz, who is also an ambassador for Solitude’s social content team, said the charge seems like a lot, especially for students who try to ski in between classes and have to go up alone. He also said habits like that are what Solitude is trying to get people to change.
“It’s hard with a college mindset to appreciate those initiatives when […] that’s not another $20 you’re going to want to be spending when you have all these other expenses,” Lentz said.
Even though the charge may be difficult, Lentz said he is in full support of Solitude’s decision.
“It’s not just an initiative for traffic problems it’s also just for air quality,” Lentz said.
The parking charge is also tiered based on vehicle occupancy, according to Solitude. It’s $20 for one to two people, $10 for three people and $5 for four or more people.
According to Bridger Layton, a staff member at Westminster’s environmental center, the parking rates are extremely reasonable.
Layton, who is also a skier and Westminster alum, said the best parts of going skiing as a student was getting to know people by carpooling.
“The beauty of skiing, particularly in a college setting, is that it’s a great place to make new friends, make new connections,” Layton said. “It was rare for me to ride up the canyon in a car that didn’t have three or four people in it.”
Andrew McQuade, the president of Westminster’s ski and snowboard club, also doesn’t think Westminster’s ski and snowboard culture will change because of this.
“I think Solitude is one of the less popular ski areas for Westminster students,” said McQuade, a senior marketing major. “But that may shift in coming years now that the ski and snowboard club is offering student discounts for Ikon Passes.”
The Ikon Pass gives access to resorts all around the world, including a full season pass to Solitude and other resorts in Utah. Many, including McQuade, cited the Ikon pass as being one cause of the massive traffic in Big Cottonwood Canyon.
McQuade said he thinks while charging for parking may not be the best solution, it is addressing two major issues of parking and emissions in the canyon.
“The traffic in the canyons makes a significant difference in the skier experience, a significant negative difference in the skier experience,” said Environmental Center staff member Bridger Layton.
While Layton said he thinks the parking fee will be effective at reducing emissions in the canyon, he also doesn’t think it’s that bold of a move.
“There are examples of parking fees working in other places,” Layton said. “It’s not an unprecedented solution. Having people pay for parking is not earth-shattering. This doesn’t feel bold to me. It feels like the first step.”
However, Layton also thinks that Solitude charging for parking is better from an equity standpoint.
“Charging for parking at the resorts is perhaps a better option than just charging a fee to even be in the canyon,” Layton said. “This theoretical solution addresses [skiers] directly and doesn’t punish other people trying to use public lands.”
Even though resorts like Solitude are making efforts to lower emissions and traffic in the canyons, it is really an issue that the Utah government should be acting on, according to Carl Fisher, the executive director of Save Our Canyons: an organization dedicated to protecting the wilderness of the Wasatch canyons.
“When the government doesn’t act, private industry does,” Fisher said. “And that’s just the nature of the country we live in.”
Fisher said that while people can take the buses up the canyon to lower the number of vehicles in the canyon, the bussing system is inadequate. Others agreed saying taking the bus up the canyon can take close to two hours.
“We’ve been trying to get improved mass transit in the canyons for over 30 years and it’s just not happening,” Fisher said. “So at some point, something abrupt has to be done to change behaviors.”
According to Fisher, Utah legislatures invest millions in road-building projects, but they are not investing in mass transit which is cheaper.
The 2019 operating budget for the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) — which controls public transportation including buses up the canyon — is about $223.6 million. The 2019 operating budget for the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) — which oversees maintenance of all roads among other things — is about $1.6 billion.
Fisher also said this is where students can have an impact.
“Start talking to legislatures and ask them why they’re funding road-building projects in the canyons but not transit,” Fisher said. “Start challenging elected officials and start advocating for the change we need to see up there.”
*Davis Lentz was previously a reporter for The Forum.