Monday, April 22, 2024

Lookout battles parking issues on busy weekends

Staff Writer | February 6, 2024 1:00 AM

MULLAN — The snow may be great at Lookout Pass Ski and Recreation Area, but it could be tough sledding for those not among the first to arrive at the mountain.

In late January, following a week of heavy snowfall, the parking lot at Lookout was beyond full and people were forced to park on the side of the road, including on the shoulder of Interstate 90, along the exit and across the overpass. This resulted in more than a few vehicles being towed, especially on the Montana side.

Lookout Pass spokesman Matt Sawyer said he believes the parking issue was indicative of what he described as a "perfect storm" of conditions: heavy snowfall, mild temperatures and a pent-up demand to get out on the slopes after a slow start to the ski season.  

Add in the first week of Lookout’s long-running free ski school, and it is a recipe for chaos. 

As staff at the mountain watched the parking lot fill and the problematic parking begin to take place, they tried to communicate with the public that the lot was full and attempted to turn people away before they got too far into their commutes.

But it was too little too late. 

“Were people disappointed? Certainly,” Sawyer said. “Especially those who made a drive up from Coeur d'Alene, Spokane, Missoula or even further. For a large number of our guests, it was their first time on snow this winter. Those guests that arrived early were treated to pretty good conditions.”

Several people took to social media, posting that the parking issue has been consistently getting worse over recent years, especially as the mountain is discovered by people from outside the region.

“We do want people to know that we have been constructing more parking spaces each summer,” Sawyer said. “We also ask reasonable minds to consider the topography. It's not easy to just build more parking where we are located, and everyone knows that building up would be very costly. Many guests choose Lookout because we present a pretty nice value equation, even with all the expansion we have undertaken over the last few years. We don't want to mess too much with that key component. It may not be all that comforting to know, but crowds form at many other ski areas around the country, for many of the same reasons.” 

Guests who park at the mountain can also help improve the situation for everyone by following the parking instructions given to them by mountain staff when they arrive. 

Sawyer said some people will take up multiple parking spaces with a single vehicle to give themselves space to unload and flexibility when they depart the parking lot. 

One of the more common suggestions Sawyer hears is the idea of adding a shuttle service and developing a parking area in a nearby town, like Mullan or Wallace, and then driving people to and from the hill. Lookout already has a fleet of shuttle vehicles that they use in the summertime for the Route of the Hiawatha.

“Our shuttle busses that we operate on the Hiawatha might seem to some to be an easy solution,” Sawyer said. “But Americans enjoy their freedom and want to come and go on their own schedule. They likely wouldn't want to commit to taking a bus unless the lot was already full, or close to it and that was their only option.”

For now, on those busy weekends after a healthy snowfall, Sawyer and his staff will continue working to make sure as many people can enjoy Lookout as possible.  

“We advise guests to carpool, to park closer to the vehicle in front of you on weekends — we don't want to go to paid parking,” Sawyer said. “Know that our staff will be doing their best to park people a little closer together on busy days. Also know that space frees up as some of our early risers start to leave the area between 11 a.m. and noon.”