Despite anecdotal reports of frustrated would-be skiers circling the Creekside parkade looking for free parking on recent busy weekends, and full parking lots at Base 2 while pay spots in Day Lot 3 remain empty, a top Whistler Blackcomb (WB) manager said this week that pay parking is not affecting mountain operations.
Still, WB and municipal officials revealed on Tuesday (Jan. 18) that a committee is developing a future plan for Day Skier Lots 1 through 5 and information on planned changes to pay parking operations will be released in early February.
Doug Forseth, WB’s senior vice-president of operations, confirmed that parking patterns have changed in Whistler this winter. Fewer vehicles are parking in Lots 1 through 3 than previous winters, even though visitor numbers haven’t dropped.
He said he doesn’t have the data to explain where the vehicles have gone, but it’s possible that more people than ever are using the transit system to get to the lifts and fewer people are choosing to drive alone.
Despite the drop in the number of vehicles parking close to the lifts, Forseth said WB is having a “pretty good year” with visitor numbers are the same or higher than in years past.
“We had some big days at Christmas time on the hill,” said Forseth. “We had at least one day that was in the top 10 we’ve ever had with all of our experience here. Even on that day we did not use all the parking spaces.”
Lots 1 and 2 are seeing “relatively good use” on weekends, he said, but “less so” in Lot 3.
“We saw probably up to 50 per cent of Lot 3 filled during the Christmas period,” he added.
According to statistics provided by WB, there are approximately 3,500 parking spots available at no cost to drivers in Day Skier Lots 4 through 8 and at the parkade in Creekside.
Forseth said there was just one day when all the spots at Creekside were taken and on that day there were vacant spots in the lots at Base II.
When Day Skier Lots 1 through 3 were available at no cost as many as 450 employee vehicles were parked in those spots, he said.
“Those same cars are now parked in Lot 4,” said Forseth. “They didn’t used to park in Lot 4 and Lot 4 was empty.”
Forseth said the shift is good news.
“The guests now get the best parking, which makes a lot of sense to me, and they’re using it as they see fit coming in,” Forseth said.
At a meeting of Whistler council last month, municipal staff members reported that on busy days since pay parking was introduced in Lots 1 through 3, it is common to see vehicles circling around Lot 4 waiting for space to become available while in Lot 3 many of the pay parking spots sit vacant.
The municipality and WB issued a joint statement on Tuesday indicating that the Parking Lot Operating Committee overseeing operations in Day Skier Lots 1 through 5 is working on a future plan for the parking lots. According to the statement, information on planned changes to the future of the lots will be released early in February.
The committee is made up of two WB representatives along with municipal CAO Bill Barratt and another municipal representative.
While Forseth said the current parking situation isn’t having an impact on mountain operations, Village business owner Wayne Katz said he has noticed impacts on his operations because of pay parking.
According to Katz, Gone Bakery was impacted when pay parking was introduced to the Tapley’s loop and then again when the Conference Centre underground became a pay parking area.
“I don’t think we should be charging for parking; however, we have to raise revenue somehow so I understand that there needs to be a charge,” said Katz.
He said that he sympathizes with the decision makers because they have difficult decisions to make in tough times.
“Something like this should have had a little more forethought put into it,” Katz said.