Alta

Utah, USA

Alta has just a few basic lodges making it feel more like what ski resorts would have been like in the 60's. But as much as people love it for the lack of overdevelopment seen in other resorts, the real reason they come here is for the mountain. Dedicated to skiers only it is steep and fast, has spectacular scenery, and the powder snow is some of the best in the world.

Scout Loves

  • The lack of crowds, especially during the week.
  • Free refills. It’s not uncommon for it to be snowing so hard that by the time you get come back for your next run, all your tracks have been covered.
  • Down-to-earth, lodge-style accommodation (such as Alta Peruvian) where you mix and mingle with like-minded skiers.
  • The silver lining from staying on the mountain is when high snowfall closes the road to the resort due to avalanche danger, guests must stay in their lodge. Once the mountain opens, lodge guests can often have the mountain to themselves, sometimes for hours before the road is open.
  • The Sitzmark bar in Alta Lodge – a favorite apres bar for many locals, and Scout.

Scout Tips

  • You won’t need a car in Alta. If you do want to ski Snowbird you can access it via gates or on the public bus.
  • Alta has very limited off-mountain facilities.
  • The one access road up the Little Cottonwood Canyon can be slow mornings and nights and sometimes closes due to bad weather or avalanche danger. 
  • Some of the lifts are old and slow. Relax and enjoy the scenery.
  • Snowboarders are not allowed.
  • Alta is part of the Mountain Collective.

Scout Review

Sometimes you wish you could bottle something and preserve it forever in its current state. Alta Ski Area is one of those. Situated at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon, east of Salt Lake City, the resort is one of the least developed among those on Scout, but that is what makes it so special. If you’re after luxury and five-star amenities then you will want to go somewhere else. Alta is about as down-to-earth as you can get in the way of a ski resort, where people come to ski and that’s about it. Their motto sums it up: Ski. Rest. Repeat. Coming up to 80 years of operations, Alta knows a thing or two about the perfect ski holiday.

That’s because Alta is an incredible mountain. A series of new and old lifts service terrain that is varied – there’s something for everyone here - but the mountain does favor the more advanced skier who will be able to find a challenging run, every run. Alta has some of the gnarliest inbounds runs in North America, especially the Baldy Chutes and East Castle. The legendary High Rustler is a steep shot straight down to the base area while the Supreme lift and Catherine’s area have endless lines in trees – you’ll keep finding powder stashes here all day.

One of the most recent developments to Alta has been the opening of several gates to Snowbird and a joint lift ticket allowing you to ski both mountains in one day. It’s definitely worthwhile if you’re here for more than a few days.

Part of the fun of skiing Alta is watching everyone else enjoy it too – incredible skiers flock to the mountain and they can be inspiring to watch as they rip up the powder.

Alta feels like a real ski community where everyone is welcome and locals will happily show you their favorite line. Well, most locals will.

Alta Skiing

Alta Ski Resort could possible be one of the best places you've ever skied. Not only does it boast an abundance of off-piste powder opportunities, it has incredible scenery to match (just don't get too distracted up there!). Alta is up there in the 'legendary' category among the most avid skiers, known for it's extremely challenging terrain, super steeps, fantastic tree skiing, and cliff hucking. Plenty of alpine areas with powder-filled bowls, and perfectly spaced glades for some memorable tree skiing (Catherine's area is our favourite). It's also a great place for intermediate skiers to learn powder skiing, with options like the Ballroom a good spot to perfect the powder turns. The Greeley Chutes and Yellow Tail areas offer up countless spots to drop in for some fantastic runs, or take a hike out to the Devil's Castle or Baldy Chutes, and be rewarded with steep powder (face-shots guaranteed!).

Alta also offers a good spread of terrain for beginners and intermediates. The Albion area has the best facilities in regards to a children's centre and ski school, with the majority of beginner terrain within close proximity. Those new to skiing will appreciate the quieter slopes, away from scarily fast skiiers. 

Alta's big claim among the plether of world-class ski resorts in North America is that they're home to "The Greatest Snow on Earth". This could possibly be true. Averaging almost 14 metres a season, Alta receives snow of incredible quality. It's location in the Little Cottonwood Canyon means the resort is in a perfect catchment area, bringing light dry snow throughout the season.

Only 7 chairlifts provide access to the 2200 acres of skiable terrain, so a little traversing is required at times, however, the reward is always worth the effort. Upgrade to a Alta Snowbird lift ticket to access even more terrain, with easy access to the Snowbird Ski Resort via shuttle bus from the Albion Base (or off the Wildcat chairlift for expert skiers).

Alta For Families

Alta Ski Resort does cater to families rather well, depending on personal preference. For those who love the lodge-vibe and community feel of mingling with other families, Alta is an incredible ski holiday destination. Almost all accommodation runs as it did back in the old days as a communal affair, with breakfast and dinner (and sometimes lunch) included in the room rate. You'll often find many families huddled around the fire, sharing stories from their day on the slopes, or rubbing elbows at the communal dining tables. It's a wonderful atmosphere and what makes Alta stand out from other purpose-built ski resorts (with all the bells and whistles).

Condos and townhomes are available close to the ski area for families that prefer a bit more privacy and a self-contained option. They're generally only within a few minutes drive via the Alta Town Shuttle. They're closest to the Wildcat Base.

The terrain at Alta provides a good spread for beginners through to expert skiers, and a fantastic slopes at the Albion base for learning to ski. The Alf Engen Ski School provides a great range of ski lessons for kids aged 4 and up, and adult programs. Ski rentals, lessons, and resort facilities are all in a central location, and easily accessible. With not a lot of other activities beside skiing at Alta, children may get a bit restless, however, Alta is a fantastic choice for families who like the traditional ski-lodge vibe and being right the in the heart of the action.

Alta Accommodation

There are just a couple of lodges in Alta, most of which work on the old-school basis of including breakfast, dinner and sometimes lunch in the rate. That’s because there aren’t really any other restaurants in the village. They’re more of a communal affair with large dining tables where everyone mixes in together. The lodges are all spread out however you can walk amongst them if you really wanted to (but it can be freezing at night). So usually once you’re in for the night, you generally stay in, but this makes for a great experience to mingle with the locals and share shred stories at the end of the day. See Scout’s favorite - Alta Peruvian.

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Resort Activities

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There aren’t fat stacks of other activities in Alta. You can experience snowcat skiing in Grizzly Gulch, which includes five guided runs and breakfast. There are several guiding operators who can safely take you backcountry from the resort. Scout has used Alaska Mountain Guides.

 

Getting There and Around

Salt Lake International Airport (SLC) is 33 miles from Alta. Travel time from the airport to Alta is about 45 minutes. The one access road up the Little Cottonwood Canyon can be slow mornings and nights and sometimes closes due to bad weather or avalanche danger. Allow extra time if heading to the airport. It would be wise to take out travel insurance in case you are stuck.

The Alta Shuttle departs every 20-30 minutes from the airport until 1am and costs approx. $37 pp one way. Book in advance.

When To Go

Alta opens towards the end of November (usually around the 22nd, conditions permitting) and stays open until the end of April. It continues to open on weekends until the first weekend of May (conditions permitting).

Alta can get very cold – particularly in late December and January. But the snow can be fantastic. February is usually the most reliable month and sometimes the snow can be excellent until the end of the season.

Facts & Figures

Mountain Information   Lifts   Terrain    
Base Elevation 8530ft / 2600m Express Quads 2 Beginner 25%  
Summit Elevation 10,550ft / 3216m Triple Chairs 2 Intermediates 40%  
Vertical Drop 2020ft / 617m Double Chairs 3 Advanced 35%  
Skiable Area 2200ac / 890ha Surface Lifts 4      
Annual Snowfall 560in / 14.2m          
Longest Run 3.1 miles / 5.1km          
Operating Hours 9.15am –3.00pm          
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