Last year around this time, my family spent a few days of its April school vacation taking advantage of the final patches of snow that Sunday River had to offer.
This year, we spent a portion of the break at Disney World, where the only activity resembling skiing takes place at the blizzard-themed water park at the Florida resort.
Acknowledging the overwhelming popularity of Orlando as a family destination during spring break, there was decidedly something different about this trip to Disney World, a place long-known for overwhelming crowds and wait times better suited for the DMV.
Despite the masses of people crowding the parks and resort hotels over a three-day span, the lines for attractions remained long, but not unbearable. Much of the crowd control might be attributed to Disney’s new Genie-Plus and Lightning Lane offerings, a couple of premium park features that have replaced the ever-popular Fastpass, a free, first-come, first-serve ticketing system that allowed participants to skip the lines altogether.
I can’t begin to try and explain how the systems work, but with only the small sample size experienced, I have to admit being impressed with how traffic flowed much easier than in past trips to the parks. I was dubious going in and, of course, there are plenty of flaws, but overall, Disney seems to be setting its goals with the new offerings.
Which brings us to another resort conglomerate which has had its own well-publicized trouble controlling its own crowds.
Following another season of complaints about long lift lines and traffic jams leading to the mountains, Vail Resorts doesn’t exactly seem to be coming up with innovative ways to find solutions to the problems. Thus far, Vail’s only implementations to help control crowds have been a menial price increase on its popular Epic Pass (unlimited Epic Pass jumped from a cost of $783 last season to $841 this season, while the Epic Local and Northeast Value passes increased from $582 to $626 and $479 to $514, respectively) and paid parking at select base lots.
Premium parking first went into effect this past season at Mount Snow in Vermont. Parking ran $15 on weekdays and $30 on weekends and holidays. Vail must have liked the monetary returns, as it has recently announced that paid parking will be implemented at resorts like Park City, Utah and Stowe, Vt. beginning next season.
“We are proud to be a popular destination for skiing and riding, but we recognize that traffic is a key challenge,” Stowe general manager Bobby Murphy wrote in a social media post. “I’ve been asked what we can do to improve the flow of guests into and out of the resort. What can we do to help reduce traffic congestion, increase carpooling, and increase the use of public transit to the resort? How can our operations help change behavior? In response to this, Stowe Mountain Resort will implement a new parking plan for the 2022-23 winter season which includes free and paid parking, new payment strategies and special incentives for those who choose to carpool.”
Stowe has yet to announce what it will be charging for premium parking, but one could probably guess it will be similar to the fees at Mount Snow. Parking will remain free at all lots Monday through Thursday during non-holiday periods, and at all lots after 2 p.m. Paid parking will be implemented Friday through Sunday and holidays at all lots, except at the cross-country center and Toll House area lots, which will remain free seven days a week. Free parking will also be offered at all times in all lots to cars arriving with four or more guests, which the resort hopes will encourages carpooling.
Stowe will also ramp up its partnership with Green Mountain Transit, with proceeds from its paid parking going toward additional buses and capacity, as well as toward its own resort shuttle system to improve public transportation in and around the resort.
“By encouraging more people to use public transport, carpool or visit during non-peak times, we hope to move congestion off of the two-lane road leading to the resort and from our main lots,” Murphy wrote.
Maybe it can easily be seen as just another cash-grab for Vail, but there’s something to be said for charging a premium in order to control crowding. For instance, Disney charges an additional $15 for guests who want to purchase a Lightning Lane pass for the most popular attractions. Want to skip the 120-minute line for the new Star Wars ride? It will cost you, but it also helps distribute people throughout the park more effectively as well.
Paid parking won’t dramatically do the same for Mountain Road leading to Stowe Mountain Resort, but maybe it’s a small start of something. However, Disney also requires park reservations in advance of your visit, and has put further restrictions on the ability to hop from park-to-park on any given afternoon. Vail required its own reservations during the height of the pandemic, and it was a feature that proved pretty popular among Epic Pass holders. But Vail has yet to bring the idea back.
A mere $58 increase on its Epic Pass doesn’t seem to be the most innovative solution, which makes one wonder if Vail really even cares about crowd control. Vail claimed it sold 2.1 million Epic Passes prior to last season, leading to overcrowding and complaints at its resorts across the country. The frustrations have led many Epic Pass holders to the brink of bailing for a different pass next season. Then again, it is still the least-expensive multi-mountain pass available.
Requiring reservations was a system that seemingly worked, yet they have been scuttled for ideas like paid parking. When Vail needs new ideas, it instead delivers more eye-rolling.
It sounds ridiculous to suggest Vail take some tips from Disney, which has boasted some of the most over-crowded destinations for decades, but at least the latter is coming up with different ways to solve its own problems.