7 Phenomenal Things that Make Alta Magic
Alli Widman January 2020
Just when I thought we knew Alta, our early January trip revealed just how magical is this easy-to-get-to (45 minutes from Salt Lake City), powder-filled, family-friendly resort. I have visited regularly for the last 20 years and one of our Avant Ski contributors, Lexi Dowdall, grew up around the corner, but staying at the base during our recent visit revealed that there’s no need to venture beyond Little Cottonwood Canyon. The Alta Magic is real, from the lake effect snow (yes, 3 inches forecasted turned into more than a foot of fresh powder with bluebird skies the next day) to the most welcoming community, amazing food and lively après scene. Put it on your calendar for your next trip — you will love it! Here are 7 reasons why we do.
1. 5 Lodges, each with unique character and a sense of community. Alta’s base has 5 independently-owned traditional mountain lodges, 4 with ski’n’out access. For an area of this size, there is remarkable variety. From the communal meals (largely included with room packages) to the friendly crowds, it was impossible not to make new friends. We stayed at the Alta Peruvian and forged strong connections with fellow ski enthusiasts, recounting our days on the slopes over fantastic meals, often shutting down the dining room trading stories and ski adventures.
2. Maximum downhill to uphill time. There are only 6 lifts (Vail has 31, Okemo 20) but their efficiency puts Alta in a league of its own for the number of runs and steepness accessible in a single chairlift ride — from the Collins Lift, access nearly 1,100 vertical feet and more than 600 acres. We could lap it all day! Lifts spin until 4:30pm so an afternoon session will feel like a solid day.
Sunset views from Goldminer's Lodge
3. Fine dining. For an a.m. fuel-up, an afternoon recharge or an evening wind-down, Alta has a sumptuous array of options, all in incredibly beautiful settings. For stunning views, check out the Shallow Shaft which sits at the top of the hill overlooking Little Cottonwood Canyon. Watch the snow cats grooming the Albion Base area as you kick back in the cozy mountain dining room enjoying salmon caught by the owners in Alaska over the summer. The wine list is excellent, twice voted “Best in Utah.” We also love friendly yet refined Swen's in the recently renovated Snowpine Lodge. Enjoy the regionally-sourced new American cuisine (chicken, burgers, salads and pizzas), open kitchen and elegant floor-to-ceiling windows.
4. A feeling of freedom and adventure. Locals joke that Alta stands for “A Long Traverse Again.” From the Collins Lift, there are so many different routes to choose from the High Traverse, and if you include Ballroom and/or hike to the Baldy Chutes, you can take a different line each time. There’s so much area, and so much freedom, it’s easy to find great lines and make fresh tracks. And that’s only one side of the mountain!
5. Locals are welcoming. Partly because there are so many different lines to ski (really, anything is fair game), locals are more than happy to share the primo spots. Plus, Alta ambassadors go out of their way to make sure you’re having a good time, down to helping scrape snow off of the bottoms of your boots to get into bindings.
6. Rare mix of extreme and beginner/family-friendly terrain. Don’t be fooled by the legendary powder and backcountry terrain here. A combined 45% is for Intermediates and Beginners. For those just starting out, for a reasonable $80, Alta offers a 2-hour lesson with access to tows and beginner lifts only. Classes meet at Albion Base at 1:30pm daily and have an additional morning session on weekends at 10:15am. Kids’ lessons and day care programs are also top notch — truly, the whole family can have an awesome time.
Fresh powder off of the High Traverse
7. Authenticity. Alta is a welcome throwback to another era, a simpler time. One of the oldest ski areas in the US (1938), it remains largely unchanged. The US Forest Service still owns most of the resort’s 2,200 acres, and no snowboarders are allowed. Here, investment has clearly gone into the skiing experience vs. fancy buildings, and it’s paid off, attracting experts and families alike for the past 8 decades and counting. Where else can you grab an après beer with this backdrop for $5?!
If you haven't been, add Alta to your list, and if you have, you can never get enough of this Magic. For more, see our full review.
Experts: to discover Alta's nooks and crannies, see our Expert Itinerary
Intermediates: Alta is your playground! See our full-day Intermediate Itinerary
Details so the whole family can have fun: see our Family Guide
And if that’s not enough...Snowbird is easily accessible, either from Alta’s European-style gates at the top or a quick shuttle ride