today is Oct 01, 2022

Alta A skier rips the deep at Alta Ski Area, UT. | Photo courtesy of Robert Hortlund

Early morning ski touring from the town of Alta just got a little trickier. For the first time ever, Alta began requiring paid parking reservations in its lots on weekends and holidays this winter, from 8 am to 1 pm. Then as of December 18th, 2021, daily parking in Alta’s parking lots between midnight and 8 am became prohibited, except in the designated early morning parking area where paid parking is allowed after 6 am. Since demand is expected to regularly exceed the capacity of this early morning parking area—and because Alta Ski Area owns and maintains all of the parking lots in the town of Alta—paid reservations will be required.

While there are no USFS developed and maintained parking areas in Alta, Alta Ski Area has allowed the use of its parking areas and private lands for backcountry skiers and other users for decades. But growth in the Salt Lake Valley coupled with an explosion in outdoor recreation has resulted in more vehicles coming to Alta than available parking capacity on many early mornings, according to the resort. Alta wrote on its website:

“When more vehicles arrive than available early morning parking it interrupts snow removal operations, becomes a public safety issue, results in illegal parking, consumes parking areas allocated for other users and impacts ski area operations.”

Thus Alta’s early morning parking reservation system was birthed. The dedicated early morning parking area and reservation pool will allow a limited number of early morning skiers to continue to recreate in upper Little Cottonwood Canyon during early morning hours after 6 am.

​Alta’s e arly morning parking reservations will be required:

  • Monday-Friday from 6-8am
  • Weekends holiday periods from 6am-1pm
  • Users with reservations must park in the designated early morning parking area and adhere to “Early Morning” signage.
  • Reservations for parking in the early morning parking area are not required daily after 8am except during Weekends and Holiday periods. 
  • Reservations will be $15 on non-Holiday weekdays and $25 on Weekends Holiday periods. 
  • Alta season passholders’ parking codes cannot be used for early morning parking reservations. 

Alta shared the following reasons as to why it’s implementing an early morning paid parking reservation system:

  • The number of users desiring early morning parking has exploded and is significantly greater than available early morning parking. First come, first served parking creates an early morning rush to secure a parking spot and does not ensure that more vehicles will come than available early morning parking. 

  • When more early morning visitors come than available parking in designated early morning parking areas it impacts snow removal, parking areas allocated for other users, and ski area and Town of Alta operations and facilities. It often results in illegal parking and public safety issues.

  • A reservation system allows the ski area to provide early morning parking that is managed and minimizes the impacts of early morning parking. We also hope the limited number of early parking spaces and reservations will result in more carpooling which is better for our environment and reduce canyon congestion. 

“Alta recognizes that its parking areas are some of the most popular and convenient access points to public and private lands in upper Little Cottonwood Canyon. Alta has allowed access to, and use of, its private lands adjacent to the ski area for decades. This has led many to believe these lands are publicly owned. It may be a surprise to some that most of the land on the North side of the canyon from Mount Superior through Grizzly Gulch is privately owned and that private land must be crossed to access the ridgeline on the North side of the canyon. Click here to see a land ownership map. Alta’s parking management plan is designed to allow human-powered recreation adjacent to the ski area on its private lands and use of surplus parking in a manner that is manageable and does not impact ski area operations, the Alta Community, and Alta skiers.” – Alta Ski Area | Photo courtesy of Alta Ski Area

The new early morning shuttle system

Along with the new early morning parking reservations, an early morning backcountry shuttle system has been put in effect for those who don’t want to pay for parking. The service is free and is provided and funded by Wasatch Backcountry Alliance and Utah Mountain Shuttle. It runs on Saturdays only and starts at 5:00 am.

“In an effort to enrich the public’s lives, preserve our landscapes and reduce congestion on roads and trail-heads, this service is provided and financed by Wasatch Backcountry Alliance and Utah Mountain Shuttle with sponsorship by Backcountry.com and others. Success is contingent upon community cooperation and future funding strategies being explored. Donations are voluntary and encouraged.” – Utah Mountain Shuttle

Pick-up locations:

-Cottonwood Heights Park and Ride 8101 S 3500 E. and Little Cottonwood Canyon Park and Ride 4183 E Little Cottonwood Canyon Rd.

Drop-off location:

-Grizzly Gulch Trailhead (end of Hwy 210).

Pick-up times:

5:00 AM (Cottonwood Heights PAR) 6:30 AM (LCC PAR) 8:00 AM (LCC PAR) 10:00 AM (LCC PAR) 12:00 PM (LCC PAR)

Return times:

7:15 AM 9:30 AM 11:15 AM 1:00 PM 2:30 PM

So did Alta kill the dawn patrol? As I’m writing this I’m wondering how the local backcountry skiing community feels about being required to pay for parking before 8 am at Alta. On a ski tour this morning, I spoke with one Utah native who has skied the backcountry around Alta for several years. He was strongly against the resort’s new initiative. I’m sure his concerns are shared by other locals like him who like to snag a lap in the backcountry before they have to be at work in the morning.

On the one hand, early morning touring from Alta has now become more complicated because you have to take time out of your day and money out of your pocket to set up a paid parking reservation—or take the shuttle. But on the other hand, the new system should negate canyon congestion, guarantee a parking spot, and promote environmentally-conscious practices such as carpooling—in theory at least. Alta, in regards to its decision to start charging for dawn patrol parking, wrote on its website:

“While change is difficult, it is long overdue. We seek your understanding, patience and support of a parking management system that allows, but manages, ongoing use of parking areas and private lands in Upper Little Cottonwood canyon for a wide variety of users.”