Ski area takes steps to ease powder-day parking crunch

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Chair 6 shuttles skiers from the Base Lodge at Whitefish Mountain Resort. (Matt Baldwin file photo/Daily Inter Lake)

Powder hounds at Whitefish Mountain Resort will be encouraged to carpool or take public transportation this winter to help relieve parking congestion on busy holidays and weekends.

Between 6,000 and 8,000 skiers will visit the resort during a typical day over Christmas week, which can create a serious parking crunch, explained resort spokeswoman Riley Polumbus.

“The past two years, we haven’t had a day with less than 6,000 skier visits over Christmas,” Polumbus noted.

Add on the lure of fresh powder or blue sky, and holiday or weekend crowds can easily swell over the 8,000 mark, she said.

“That makes it hard, when everyone wants to go at the same time,” she said.

Resort officials hope to ease the parking bottleneck by encouraging more skiers to share rides. Beginning this season, the Dogwood Lot will be a designated carpool lot. Friday though Sunday, vehicles with three or more passengers can park for free in the lot that sits below the Chair 1 and Chair 2 lift plaza. Vehicles with less than three passengers will be charged $5 in this lot Friday through Sunday, and during the holiday weeks of Dec. 26-Jan.1 and Feb. 15-17.

Daily parking in the Cedar Lot, which sits just above Dogwood, will remain at $5 on weekends, and $10 during the holidays. The upper-most Birch Lot will cost $15 on holidays and $10 daily.

All other parking at the resort remains free.

The resort also plans to install an LED sign on Big Mountain Road near Glades Drive that will indicate the status of each parking lot, and whether it is full.

For those who would rather not deal with parking, the free SNOW bus will provide additional downhill routes in the afternoons Friday through Sunday, and on holidays. The new routes will leave the mountain at 3:35 and 4:52 p.m.

The nonprofit Big Mountain Commercial Association, which funds the SNOW bus, conducted a survey last year that indicated most riders wanted additional afternoon routes off the ski hill.

“That was one of the really important pieces of feedback that we got,” Association Director Jenny Cloutier said.

The new routes will also make it easier for students to catch the SNOW bus after school for night skiing, Cloutier added.

Funding for the additional routes came from added BMCA membership dues and some savings on hand, she said.

This season, riders can track the SNOW bus location in real time through the BMCA website or by downloading the Ride Systems app.

Also new this winter, skiers or resort employees who live in Columbia Falls will be able to take an Eagle Transit bus in the mornings and evenings from Super 1 Foods or Pizza Hut, which will connect with the SNOW bus stop at the Whitefish Community Library.

Whitefish Mountain Resort plans to open for the season Friday, Dec. 6.

Visit skiwhitefish.com/snowbus/ for the 2019-2020 bus schedule.

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