We all saw it coming. There were diagrams, multiple points of view, planners, consultants and even community open houses. But when you witness something in person for the first time that’s been talked about incessantly for the past 10 years, that’s when the cold, stark reality hits. Now all the parking on the street leading up to Lift 1A is gone. The immediate effect this year will be a deserted 1A, more congestion on Durant Avenue and a bigger skier-parking crunch around the base of Aspen Mountain.

A lot of people are in for a big “WTF?!” gut punch when they first see it. Gone are the days of driving up Aspen Street, parking in the precariously angled slots and walking up to old, reliable 1A. It’s part of a disturbing trend that been happening for quite some time. We are hemorrhaging free two-hour parking spaces in town and around Ajax at an alarming rate.

OK, to be fair, not all the parking on the 1A hill of Aspen Street is gone. There are still four spaces barely clinging to life at the very bottom —two on the left, two on the right. Still, it’s a devastating loss of over 50 coveted two-hour parking spots. To add insult to injury, what looks to be a shuttle pullout (the bowl-cat of Ajax) to take people unwilling/incapable of walking up a plainly inhospitable Aspen Street has absolutely devastated the Dean Street two-hour parking lot, cutting off at least half of it’s previous capacity.

Between Aspen Street and Dean Street, that’s 70 spaces up in smoke. The effect this will have is pushing all of that parking into the residential areas around the base of 1A. If you live over there, get psyched for that!

The latest parking grab is perhaps the most painful for those who frequented 1A, and it’s important to use the past tense here because at times there will now be nowhere to park. It’s hard to imagine skiers parking over by the Koch Lumber Park and walking all the way up to 1A, but that’s going to have to be the new trend.

It appears that the city snow removal department has been in cahoots with the parking department over the years in the areas around Ajax, particularly 1A. They’ve been conveniently using the free two-hour parking spaces as snow-storage areas and leaving the snow there indefinitely until it melts. It’s something you don’t see in the paid parking spaces.

Do you realize that the only place you can still park slope-side for free is Buttermilk? That’s one of the reasons it’s been one of my haunts for the past few years. It’s a lot easier to come here as a tourist and take the bus than it is for locals to drive and park. The parking at Ajax is an increasing impossibility. The parking at Highlands has been a crapshoot for years, even if you buy a parking pass. And Snowmass? Please.

Oh yeah, but what about the free-shuttle park and ride options, like the Buttermilk/Highlands shuttle? Please, don’t get me started. You buy a ski pass to park at another ski area and then take a shuttle to Highlands? Then the X Games hijacks that whole free parking lot for at least a month. Just to add a sprinkle of insult to injury, the Highlands shuttle – an HOV bus – won’t even go in the HOV lane while you sit in the town-bound lineup and other busses go flying by? Parking in the Rodeo Lot is flat-out humiliating. It’s a terrible way to start your ski day. Besides, until Snowmass gets a dispensary, it might as well be in Texas.

You know what the whole thing reeks of? Greed. That, and horribly bad planning.  Parking has to be a key priority, not an afterthought that falls victim to selling another timeshare. Cramming skiers into frigid, dank, poorly constructed and fluorescent-lit underground parking structures is a terrible response. When you have to pay people to wear neon vests, wave flags and manage loading zones at the base, that’s another clue you’re screwing up.

In what was perhaps a local lifetime achievement award for 1A skiers at the end of last season after the World Cup, it seemed like the parking department was letting people slide on Aspen Street. It was almost as if you could park there all day for free without getting a ticket.

Parking at Ajax has always been an issue. If you look at photos from the ’50s, you can see giant snakes of cars parked along Wagner Park. Today we’ve reached a new low-water mark. Someone said that the developers doing the project on 1A are supposed to build a 50-space free parking garage somewhere up there in the future. In the meantime, ski Aspen, park in Basalt.

suityourself@sopris.net