Following a ski season that saw miles-long traffic jams caused by thousands of Stowe Mountain Resort-bound vehicles on weekends, holidays and powder days, resort officials will institute a pay-to-park system next year they say is meant to reduce congestion and encourage carpooling.

Resort general manager Bobby Murphy on Monday announced the new parking plan, a system that combines free days and fee days.

Under the new system, the resort will charge for parking on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at all lots, except for those at the cross-country center and Toll House areas, which will remain free at all times. The rest of the week, parking will be free Monday through Thursday during non-holiday periods and at all lots past 2 p.m.

Parking will also be free for anyone who arrives at the resort with four people or more in the vehicle, which Murphy said he hopes promotes carpooling.

The resort will introduce a smartphone app and on-site kiosks where people can pay to park.

According to Murphy, proceeds from parking fees will go to help beef up public transportation, both the free Mountain Road Shuttle operated by Green Mountain Transit and the resort’s shuttle service that runs laps around the various parking lots.

As of press deadline, resort officials did not have specific prices available.

Responses to the announcement on the resort’s Facebook page were swift and sometimes brutal, with many people saying the real problem is the sheer number of Epic ski passes that Vail Resort sells without cutting them off, as well as the limitations for Mountain Road, also known as Route 108, a two-lane state highway.

However, some also touted the idea of more people taking the bus and carpooling.

Resort officials will iron out details in the coming months — and people will be debating about it for at least that long — but Quinn Kelsey, Vail’s eastern region communications director, said this week that the announcement was made early so people deciding whether to purchase an Epic pass at the current least-expensive deal can factor that into their decision making.

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Murphy offered an exclusive email Q&A with the Stowe Reporter about the parking changes.

Stowe Reporter: Does the decision to charge for parking next season come strictly as a reaction to the traffic you saw this season, or was it part of a longer-term plan going back to when Vail took over operations, or even before, when AIG was running things?

Bobby Murphy: Traffic congestion has been an ongoing issue in the town of Stowe for many years, not just this year — as pointed out just last week by one of your columnists here in the Reporter (“Traffic: new phenomenon or a step back in time?” Ski Bum Corner, April 7, 2022). In recognition of that issue, we have worked for years with the town, Stowe Area Association, and the Lodge at Spruce Peak to support shuttle services and explore all options for alleviating traffic. We believe paid parking is a step toward reducing the number of vehicles on the road. By encouraging guests to use public transport, carpool or visit during non-peak times, we hope to move congestion off the two-lane road leading to the resort and from our main lots.

SR: Is this decision based on empirical data, or anecdotes, or a combination? What have your observations of traffic patterns and parking capacity this year taught you?

BM: We arrived at this decision with careful consideration, and the data certainly supports it. Paid parking is a proven solution that reduces traffic congestion with increasing parking availability by virtue of increased carpooling and use of public transportation. We expect to see a 25 percent increase in carpooling, which will help reduce wait times to enter our parking lots, reduce the number of vehicles on Mountain Road, and increase available parking spaces. It has worked elsewhere within the industry. The parking vendor used by Solitude, Alta and Breckenridge implemented a similar program and said they saw on average a 25 percent sustained increase in carpooling and traffic reduction since the first year of implementation.

SR: Often, people can’t be convinced to do things to lessen the human and technological impact on the world, whether its carpooling or composting, until they get a little nudge, whether through law — in the public sector — or through industry changes — in the private sector. Do you see this as one of those nudges to adopt practices that are less impactful on the environment, or the local/regional infrastructure? How so?

BM: Absolutely. This is about changing behavior and rethinking how people arrive and depart from popular destinations they share with others. Our goal is to give guests a variety of options, both free and paid, to access the resort in the way that best meets their needs, including paid and free parking lots, carpooling, shuttles and public transportation.

SR: Can you share any long-term strategies the resort is exploring regarding off-site parking, in conjunction with the town, the state or private entities?

BM: We are exploring all options in terms of parking and will continue to do so. In the meantime, we are ramping up our commitment to public transit as a key component in addressing the traffic issue, as exemplified by an important strategy within this new plan: Revenue from the implementation of paid parking will be reinvested in resort infrastructure including transit and parking management, along with increased contribution to Green Mountain Transit to enhance public transit services.

SR: The environmental court appeal of the Harlow Hill parking lot has moved forward this week with Vail filing its appellant’s brief. Can you characterize the importance of that lot to the overall parking strategy, and whether it would be free parking or fee-based if it the project does get approved and completed? (Editor’s note: the resort is appealing the denial by the Stowe Development Review Board of a proposed parking lot).

BM: We had hoped to start construction on more than 280 additional parking spaces for our guests this year at Harlow Hill. While we were disappointed with the Stowe Development Review Board’s decision to deny a project with such immediate benefits for both our community and our visitors, we remain hopeful that our history of collaboration with the town and the community will help us to eventually make this project a reality.

SR: Finally, can you explain the importance of maintaining a local identity in the Stowe area while also positioning the resort as a regional destination, as well as acknowledging its role within the whole Vail family?

BM: The Stowe senior leadership team and I, as the general manager, make decisions locally for Stowe Mountain Resort. We live, work and play here as locals in this community. It is important to us that we are committed to being great neighbors. With that commitment comes a responsibility to play our part in helping to find solutions to community challenges. We recognize that traffic is one of those challenges, and this parking plan is one way we can help address it. We have discussed this plan with the town, Stowe Area Association, Green Mountain Transit and others and are grateful for the partnership.

Stowe remains a premier destination for visitors from all over. The resort plays a part in that, as do the village and surrounding area and all the popular businesses and destinations within them. As I mentioned in my guest perspective last month in the Reporter, we are grateful that our mountain is so loved. Stowe Mountain Resort, and Vail Resorts as a company, are committed to continued improvement so our guests have a great experience.

(2) comments

LKLA

Not sure how this is going to help with traffic - on or off the mountain.

A great percentage of cars already have four people in them, so in terms of the parking lots filling-up it will just delay that from happening by an hour or two. So instead of being full before 9am like was often the case this past season - at least on weekends - they will be full by 10am.

Offering free parking 75% plus of the way to the mountain in order to improve traffic seems silly. The free parking is about 5 miles from the town center, and the mountain is about 7 miles away. Not only will the traffic issues remain for the first 5 miles on Mountain Road and the side streets that flow in and out of it, but there will now likely be a bottleneck at Toll Road as cars slow down to get in and out of the parking and vans and buses stop to pick-up and drop-off riders.

This has a lot more to do with Vail seeing an opportunity to monetize an asset (demand / supply) than it does with solving traffic issues.

The only way traffic issue will be solved - other than building more roads - is for Vail to restrict overall access to the mountain, via limiting the days on certain passes, charging more to ski at Stowe, etc.

Vermontverdi

This is inevitably the result of vail offering access to arguably the best mountain in the east (and experience) for the same price as all the others.

My only hope is there’s a season parking pass and seamless electronic implementation.

Parking on a “per use” basis will hurt locals most (maybe that’s the point). Locals use the mountain differently and have a different relationship with it. Local families often go for a couple of ours every weekend and will even switch with different kids.

Naturally, tourists from major metros plan a big visit and spend all day at the mountain - which makes sense if you ski fewer than 10 days a year. For people not from ski towns skiing is almost synomous with vacation, for locals it’s a part of regular life. You might have to go grocery shopping or get someone to hockey which is another reason the bus is more practical when you’re on vacation.

Last , taking young children skiing is difficult enough. When people talk about buses and kiosks they often envision adults spending a day skiing. None of the local families I know take the bus for obvious reasons. Even with a car onsite, getting families under 10 to the lift is a lift. Plus the mountain is something you do for a couple of hours with young kids. Go to church, get 4 runs in before dance class or hockey… put the equipment in the car or pickup grocery’s on the way home.

For locals skiing is a part of life and not a synonym for vacation.

If parking is not seasonal and it’s not done in a seemless way for in/out then it will be local families who used to use the mountain as a weekend resource for a few hours of skiing who get hurt most.

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