December 8, 2021
Message from the Mayor about Parking in Alta

Dear Members and Friends of the Alta Community,

I write to you about parking in the Town of Alta (TOA). Like many issues in Alta, parking is complicated and confusing among other reasons because of overlapping jurisdiction.

For years, parking in Alta was first come, first served. The Alta Ski Lifts company (ASL) controls much of our parking – almost 95% — because of its Special Use Permit (SUP) with the United States Forest Service (USFS). It is the USFS that owns most of the land in the TOA, including most of the ski area.

The Town contains about 1900 public parking spaces in total. About 1650 are daytime parking only and most of these are located in the Albion and Wildcat parking lots. Overnight parking has been available on the north side of SR 210 in three areas (we call them the North Flagstaff, Snowpine, and Grizzly Gulch parking areas). Some of the overnight parking is on the SUP and some is on USFS ground outside the SUP and is simultaneously on the SR 210 easement for the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT), and some is on ground owned by the TOA.  Residents and homeowners in Albion Basin, Grizzly Gulch, and West Grizzly who do not have their own parking that is accessible in winter have used a good deal of the available overnight parking. Other users are residential employees of the lodges and overnight lodging guests.

The TOA itself – with the cooperation of the USFS and UDOT – potentially controls about 30 daytime and 90 overnight parking spots. That is it. That number is, unfortunately, insufficient for our needs, let alone our wants. But parking spots cannot simply be invented out of thin air. For there to be sufficient parking available for our residents, employees, overnight lodging guests, and other visitors to the town (e.g., early morning backcountry skiers, hikers, people coming for lunch, etc.), the ASL has to allow parking on its SUP.

The USFS has said that the ASL may charge for parking, and it has decided to do so. (Whether there are other claims on parking in the ASL SUP is a question that some residents have raised, but the TOA and I are assuming that the USFS’s decision is what governs the situation.) The USFS, being an agency of the people of the United States, has indicated that all patrons of the ski area must be treated alike and that no special accommodations can be made by the ASL for one or another group of users. We understand that means that residents, for example, would be subject to the same rules as any other users of ASL’s parking. However, if the ASL grants the TOA control over some of the parking in its SUP, the USFS has indicated that the TOA would be able to manage that parking in more tailored ways. We have been, and are still, awaiting confirmation of our understanding of this issue from the USFS.

ASL has suggested an arrangement with the TOA in which the total number of parking spaces controlled by the TOA would increase by 54. That would be helpful but still insufficient given the needs of our residents, businesses, and visitors. I have requested that ASL allocate to the TOA an additional 50 daytime spaces in their SUP to meet the needs of our daytime users including lodge employees. In addition, I have also requested that ASL accommodate use by daytime visitors before 8:00 am including ski area customers, when conditions permit. The ASL has declined both requests. The TOA has traditionally only enforced our time-of-day restrictions when snow removal or traffic and pedestrian safety require it, but the ASL has decided that they will not let its patrons use their lots before 8:00 am even if the lots are free of snow.

Because ASL continually has modified the details of its offer to the TOA, it has been very hard to know what opportunities are truly available to the TOA for managing parking. We have repeatedly offered to meet many of ASL’s shifting demands, but lately there are some that go beyond what it makes sense for us to do. ASL has demanded that all parking controlled by TOA, like that controlled by ASL, be subject to a reservation system but that the TOA’s parking, unlike that controlled by ASL, be subject to a reservation system seven days per week. ASL is demanding a large amount of overnight parking even though their need for overnight parking has not been defined or shared with the TOA. Additionally, ASL also insists that the TOA’s parking be closed before 8:00 am.

The Town’s ability to simply close down all parking at an arbitrary time is limited. Under Utah laws, the Town may close down the streets for health, safety, or general welfare of the occupants and inhabitants of the town. Otherwise, the Town should not be closed capriciously to the public because there is no parking offered even if there are spaces. ASL insists the TOA must comply with its demands not to allow public parking between 6:00 am and 8:00 am and to allow overnight parking only to those who have season permits, or else it is withdrawing its offer of an arrangement for the TOA to have a small amount of additional parking. ASL has offered to provide additional parking when it determines the town needs it, but the town’s needs are likely to be greatest just when the ski area is most busy. Relying on ASL to provide a program that provides additional parking on an ad hoc basis at its whim is not advisable.

Along with the town staff, I have spent hundreds of hours working on this problem. But we seem to be stuck with an insufficient number of parking spots because the TOA is committed to fulfilling its legal obligations by ensuring access to town occupants. The USFS has also told us multiple times that they prefer that we allow some public access. Given this situation, I know that residents, employees, and lodges will be unhappy with what the TOA can offer them. So am I. But unless the ASL comes back to the table and is more reasonable, this is where we find ourselves.

Feel free to let the ASL and the USFS know that this is an unreasonable outcome and that they should work with the town to provide additional overnight and daytime parking while allowing the town to meet its legal obligations.


Harris Sondak