An expert’s guide to skier parking in Vail and Avon |

An expert’s guide to skier parking in Vail and Avon

The unscrupulous yet popular practice of “looping,” or exiting the structure and re-entering as a way of avoiding fees, has seen a crackdown in recent years as Vail’s ticket technology has been upgraded to identify those using the technique to avoid fees.
Anthony Thornton | Daily file photo |

New rates in Vail

0 to 1.5 hours: Free

1.5 to 2 hours: $5 (new pricing)

2 to 3 hours: $10

3 to 4 hours: $20

4 to 15 hours: $30

15 to 24 hours: $50

When it comes to parking for free in the Vail Valley during ski season, a quote from the cult classic film “The Big Lebowski” comes to mind.

“There are ways, dude.”

Like everything in life, if you’re looking to get by without opening your wallet, then you’re going to have to sacrifice certain conveniences. In the case of parking at resorts in Eagle County, less money spent will translate to more walking and/or bus boarding. If you don’t mind a short walk or shuttle ride, then you can definitely save money, and over the course of the ski season it will add up to savings in the hundreds, even thousands, depending on how much time you spend out on the slopes.

Vail recently reassessed its parking fees and scaled back on the two-hour free parking option in town structures, a favorite among locals looking to get a quick six or eight (or 11) runs in on the front side of the mountain. For this season it has been reduced to 90 minutes of free parking in a throwback to how it was in the first decade of the aughts. Last year, there was an 11-minute grace period on that two hour free option.


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Indeed, expertise — and a tolerance for a less-convenient option — is going to be your best way around fees, now and forever.

The town’s websites are a good resource and can be used as a justification for some behavior that might not feel right at the time.

For example, the trip to the Lionshead Village gondola from Red Sandstone Park in Vail is not bad for those who don’t mind a short walk. But in parking there, you may feel like it’s just not right, since you’re not actually using the park. Visit the town’s website, however, and you’ll see that there’s nothing mentioned about that lot being reserved for park users only. In fact, it’s the first place offered under the headline “Free Outlying Parking,” which can be found at under the Winter Parking button.

A similar situation exists in Avon. On the town’s website, under a paragraph that details how the town has free spaces which provide access to the Riverfront Express Gondola and Beaver Creek, the Avon Recreation Center is listed as an option. Your intuition may tell you those spaces are for rec center users only, but there’s no mention of that on the free spaces web page. That rec center lot has 93 spaces available and is a short walk to the gondola.

Other options for free parking in Avon near the gondola are as follows: Lake Street on-street parking, 41 spaces; Mikaela Way parking lot, 36 spaces; Town Hall parking lot, 82 spaces; East Benchmark Road on-street parking, 21 spaces; West Beaver Creek Blvd. on-street parking, 20 spaces.

In Vail, the town’s website actually lists all the various trailhead parking options under the “Parking Tips for Skiers” tab.

According to the town, skiers may find “Additional trailhead parking available daily at Gore Creek Trailhead, East Vail Interchange Trailhead, Pitkin Creek Trailhead, Booth Falls Trailhead, North Trail Spraddle Creek Trailhead, North Trail Red Sandstone Creek Trailhead, North Trail Buffehr Creek Trailhead and North Trail Davos Trailhead.” They do note, however, that “Parking availability at trailhead is limited and some spaces are restricted to three-hour trailhead use.”

Note the keyword, here, which is trailhead, not, simply, “trail.” Were you using the trailhead? Yes, you were. For parking.



Another great trick in Vail is to monitor the town’s structures on a busy day and get a good frontage road free spot when those lots fill. On holidays and weekends, especially if fresh snow recently fell, those lots will fill fast. And once they do, you can park in front of them for free. Watch the structures fill in real time using

Vail also has a multitude of other options, including:

The North Frontage Road in West Vail, across from West Vail Mall, which has 50 spaces available. The North Frontage Road near Middle Creek has 100 spaces. Donovan Park, located at 1600 South Frontage Road, has 90 spaces, but with this one, it’s only available when the pavilion is not in use. You’ll see signs at the entrance if there’s an event underway, or you can visit to know in advance.

All of the above listed areas are serviced by Vail’s bus system, which is free. Check out the schedules at

The county’s ECO Transit is a good option, as well, as those buses will drop you off right in Vail at the Transportation Center. A ride on the ECO costs $4, but a 24-hour pass is $8 and can be used three times in two days if you manage to scan it on day two a minute before you did on day one. A good trick here is on the first day of use, let anyone in line board ahead of you, and don’t be rushed when getting your bills (or change) out of your pocket as you pay. Then on day two, make sure you’re in line first, and do be in a rush to scan your pass that time. Or just catch it a half hour earlier on day two as the ECO buses run every 30 minutes in the mornings.

This story has been edited to remove information about grace periods at the town of Vail parking structures, as well as incorrect info about Vail Welcome Center parking vouchers. 

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