Parking in short supply at Snowmass |

Parking in short supply at Snowmass

SNOWMASS VILLAGE ” A high-dollar bid to turn Snowmass into a world-class resort may have hit a snag.

The Aspen Skiing Co. and Related WestPac are pumping millions of dollars into on-mountain and base area improvements, which they say will solidify the ski area’s standing as a top resort in North America. But signs indicate they shortchanged the parking plan.

Snowmass has lost about 430 parking spaces for day skiers in recent years. Even when Related WestPac’s base area development is completed later this decade, only about 200 spaces will be recovered. That results in a net loss of some 230 spaces for day skiers.

“We could build as much as possible and fill it,” said Rich Burkley, Skico’s general manager of mountain operations.

The lack of parking is already impacting the ski area. The 300 free spaces at the Rodeo Lot as well as roughly 100 overflow spaces there filled shortly after 9 a.m. Saturday. The three-day skier lots, where fees are charged, filled a short time later. That left an unknown number of Skico customers without options.

The Skico posted signs Saturday at the full parking lots advising people to wait until noon, then use the numbered lots alongside the Snowmass Village Mall and lodges. Those 13 numbered lots are controlled by the town government and intended for use by lodge guests, residents and employees. Permits are required to use those lots, but enforcement ends at noon, said town transportation director David Peckler.

Saturday’s situation wasn’t isolated. The day-skier lots are filling to capacity with more regularity on weekends and powder days this season, Peckler said.

Saturdays at this time of year are particularly challenging because lessons are held for hundreds of kids enrolled in Aspen Valley Ski Club classes.

Burkley acknowledged that telling people to find something to do for two hours before they can park and go skiing isn’t up to the Skico’s standards for customer relations. But the parking problem is isolated to certain days and can be alleviated as skiers adjust to the crowding.

“Is it an Achilles’ Heel? Probably not,” Burkley said.

Maureen Poschman, spokeswoman for Related WestPac, downplayed the parking shortage’s impact on Snowmass’ status.

“I don’t think parking defines the quality of the experience,” Poschman said.

She noted that Related WestPac bought Base Village after the development plan was approved by the town government. It inherited what it is building. Therefore, Poschman said, the company shouldn’t be “thrown under the bus” for a lack of day-skier parking.

The Skico, Related WestPac and town government share responsibility for Snowmass’ parking situation.

The town oversees roughly 1,000 spaces in the village that it uses to accommodate destination guests and residents. In addition, the town government has limited how many additional spaces can be built in the village core.

“Clearly, Snowmass doesn’t want to become a sea of parking,” Councilman Arnie Mordkin said.

While day-skier parking is limited, it is far from absent. There are about 1,000 spaces available for day skiers this season. The Rodeo Lot and its overflow provide about 400 spaces. The lot is owned by the town but operated during winters by Skico.

Lot C near the base of the Elk Camp Gondola provides another 150 spaces, while the obscure Lot E has space for 30. The Two Creeks parking lot holds almost 400 vehicles. Skico owns the lettered lots and Two Creeks, and charges $13 per day for parking.

The Skico used to own two additional day-skier lots, A and B, in the village core. A combined 310 spaces were gobbled by the construction of Base Village, which Skico helped plan. Lot C also lost 45 spaces due to construction.

Related WestPac is phasing in 500 spaces that will be reserved for its retail shops and restaurants; 489 spaces reserves for property owners and renters; and 200 for day skiers.

Related WestPac has limited incentive to accommodate day skiers. Skico has more to lose when demand overwhelms supply because it might keep people off the slopes.

Mordkin said the parking problem is largely one of perspective. Day skiers coming from within the Roaring Fork Valley want to park for free as close to the chairlifts as possible.

“I don’t blame them,” he said.

The town’s perspective is that it must accommodate the destination skiers, the resort’s bread-and-butter customers, along with homeowners, Mordkin said. While Snowmass doesn’t want to pour a sea of concrete for parking lots, it also cannot afford to alienate day skiers, Mordkin said. They spend money in the village and produce sales tax revenues.

He believes one solution for accommodating day skiers is better utilization of the Intercept Lot at the intersection of Highway 82 and Brush Creek Road. Frequent service on comfortable buses could make it more attractive for locals, he said.

The Skico sees mass transit as the best way to ease the parking pain, Burkley said. Its contract with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority provides free skier shuttles between Aspen and Snowmass. It also worked out a deal with RFTA on Wednesday to provide free buses from the Intercept Lot to the village during most of the Saturdays when the ski club classes meet.

The Skico also urges employees to ride the bus. Those who drive are encouraged to park in a special place near the Snowmass Club so spaces elsewhere remain available for day skiers.

Burkley said that relying on the bus has limits. Parents delivering kids to ski lessons want the convenience of their private vehicles. “It is a hassle, no question,” he said.

Ultimately, the transit answer might be a transportation gondola which connects Buttermilk and Snowmass, Burkley said. That could eliminate the need for much of the traffic heading to Snowmass. The concept has been vehemently opposed by environmental groups because of potential impacts on wildlife.

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