Vail seeing less frontage road overflow parking than last season, so far
January and February will be better markers for how well the town's parking plan is working
When the Vail and Lionshead parking structures filled Wednesday, and cars began parking on the South Frontage Road, it was the third time the town had used its overflow parking this season.
Compare that to six times as of this time last season, and it’s beginning to look like Vail is on pace to have fewer parking spillovers than in years past.
It’s worth noting that this season is a particularly good year for snow, as well, with snow-water equivalent being above average and plenty of powder days already enjoyed by skiers and snowboarders.
As of Thursday, Vail Mountain has recorded a cumulative 142 inches of snow, more than 2 feet over what the resort had recorded last season as December came to a close.
Vail Mountain reported 13 inches of snow over the last two days; Wednesday’s 6-inch powder day helped see both parking structures fill by 11:15 a.m.
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Both structures also filled on Saturday, Dec. 17, with 175 cars parking on the frontage road, and on Saturday, Dec. 10, the structures filled with 179 cars on the road.
Differences from last season
Last year at this time, Vail had seen six days of frontage road Parking, said Kris Widlak with the town of Vail.
A few factors are at play that could help explain why this year has seen fewer days.
One is what market watchers call a negative holiday shift, which means not as many families are traveling due to the timing of the Christmas Day holiday on the calendar and which weeks students are off of school.
DestiMetrics, a company that collects future booking and pricing data for hotels at Western U.S. ski resorts, said there was a year-over-year decline in occupancy from Dec. 25-31 “which was extremely busy last year but had trouble filling in this year.”
And specifically affecting Vail Mountain, the fact that sales are down 12% on the full Epic Pass — that’s the one that gives guests unlimited access to Vail Mountain and Beaver Creek — could be playing a role in reduced visitation to the Eagle County ski areas this season, as well.
New parking plan
But as it relates to parking, neither of those other factors is likely to have as much impact as the town of Vail’s parking plan overhaul which went into effect this season, aimed at managing peak days through increased rates. The goal was to reduce the number of overflow days on the South Frontage Road.
The town is now offering only one hour of free parking, (frustrating locals who enjoyed the two hours of free parking offered in recent years) and on peak days, the next hour starts at $10 per hour, increasing to a maximum price of $40 for a ski day or $60 for an overnight stay. That’s an increase of roughly $10 an hour over last year’s rates.
The parking plan was based on recommendations from a parking and mobility task force created earlier in the year, which was comprised of representatives from the retail, restaurant and lodging communities as well as the town’s community-at-large, Vail Resorts, the Vail Town Council and the sustainability community.
While the parking plan seems to be helping the task force reach its goal of reducing the number of cars parked on the South Frontage Road in Vail, the true story of how this year’s parking situation compares to last year will not be told for several more months.
Last season there were 11 spillovers in January and 16 in February, with some busy days in there, including a two-day weekend in February which recorded more than 650 cars on both Friday and Saturday.
So far this season, the largest car count has been Wednesday’s, with a total of 202 cars taking advantage of the free parking on the South Frontage Road.
— Ali Longwell contributed reporting