Celebrating its 71st anniversary, the skier-only resort of Alta averages over 70 feet of snow a year, making it perfect for regular powder hounds and those leaving the piste for the first time
Some people go to mountain resorts for the food, a few for spas, others for fresh air or even to party. There is only one reason to go to Alta, though, and that is to ski. Set at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon, about 45 minutes drive from Salt Lake City, Alta looks too discrete to be one of America’s top ski resorts. However, this former silver-mining village, 10,000 feet up in the Wasatch Mountains, has several attributes which draw skiers from across the world back year after year.
Firstly the snow: Alta gets an average of 72 feet a year; a fine, light powder which earns the title, ‘the greatest snow on earth’. Secondly Alta is reserved for skiers; although snow boarders are welcome at Snowbird, the adjacent resort. Thirdly Alta operates a ski what you can ski policy, opening up most of the mountain for off-piste action.
With seven lifts and five tows, servicing 116 runs, Alta is not a big resort. However, it has a terrain of 2,200 acres with a vertical drop of over 2,000 feet giving beginners and intermediates a very decent skiable area on-piste and experts unlimited opportunities off-piste.
The Albion base with its ski school meeting points, gives access to the Albion and Sunnyside lifts and the main beginner’s area. Further up, the Sugarloaf, Cecret and Supreme lifts take you to some of the most popular intermediate and advanced zones. Linked to Albion by a tow, the Wildcat base is home to the Collins lift, Alta’s biggest, and the Wildcat, which is more attractive for advanced skiers.
Ski passes, which comprise a $5 photo ID style Alta Card, can be bought in advance online at: www.alta.com , from lodges or a ticket office. A single day adult pass for Alta is $54, however, you can reload this from $49 a day if you are skiing more than five consecutive days. If you want to ski at Snowbird too (www.snowbird.com), AltaSnowbird passes are $85 a day with a reload rate of $75 for five consecutive days. For those arriving at the resort late-afternoon you can ski for free after 3pm on the Sunnyside Lift.
Alf Engen Ski School offers group or private lessons and workshops for children and adults from beginners through to advanced, along with a series of clinics. Two hour group sessions for adults start at $48, while private tuition is $90 an hour. For more info see: www.alta.com or tel:1 801 799-2271
Ski equipment can be rented from Alta Ski Shop (mid-mountain at Alf’s or at the Wildcat base) $22 for one day, demo packages $48; or from Deep Powder House at one of the lodges; $18 for one day, demo packages $55. See: www.deeppowderhouse.com
Where to stay
While many who ski in Alta base themselves in Salt Lake City, those who stay in the mountains have a choice of traditional lodges or modern apartments or houses (condominiums). The lodges are all close to the slopes, offering a ski-in ski-out experience. A large proportion of guests are regulars who go back to the same lodge each year, creating a convivial atmosphere. The condominiums, which generally require a minimum stay of seven nights, are in developments heading along the canyon towards Snowbird. For more info on self-catering rentals see www.discoveralta.com
Alta's Rustler Lodge
The most luxurious lodge in Alta, Alta's Rustler Lodge has the best facilities in the resort with its heated outdoor pool, spa and glass fronted fitness centre. Slope view rooms are spacious and comfortable although cheaper dorms are also available. As with most lodges, rates include breakfast and dinner – a palatial buffet in the morning and a gourmet four-course affair at night. Doubles with shower from $329 per room.
With pine clad walls and large windows Alta Lodge is Alta’s oldest lodge and is well placed for the Wildcat base. Although original rooms are rustic, modern rooms, in neutral shades, and public areas with bold touches, are more stylish. Dating back to 1939, the lodge is decorated with ski memorabilia, best viewed over an après-ski drink in the Alpine style Sitzmark Club. Original doubles from $257 per room including breakfast and dinner.
Alta Peruvian Lodge
A range of dorms and basic rooms (think bathrooms on the corridor) makes Alta Peruvian Lodge popular with those looking for a more economical option in Alta. Facilities comprise a large heated outdoor pool and one of the liveliest bars in the area. Meals, which include a buffet breakfast and lunch and a table service dinner, are taken in a pleasant pine-clad dining room. Double rooms from $119 per person including breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Where to eat
At night most guests eat in lodges. The only independent restaurant open in the evenings is The Shallow Shaft, on the canyon road between Wildcat and Albion. Serving creative international cuisine, expect to pay from $45 per head for two courses. (Tel +1 801.742.2177; www.shallowshaft.com)
On the mountain, day time options include:
Alf’s Restaurant: Between the Cecret and Sugarloaf lifts, Alf’s offers typical self-service dishes such as burgers, fajitas, chilli, soup and cakes.
Collins Grill: Half-way up the Collins lift, on the upper floor of the Watson’s Station, Collins Grill is an elegant setting for freshly made salads, hearty stews and tarts served to your table.
Watson Shelter: Below the Collins Grill, this modern cafeteria has a good range of salads, burgers, sandwiches and soups, as well as a cafe area for coffee and brownies.
How to get there
A number of carriers fly to Salt Lake City from the UK with connections. These include Continental Airlines from Heathrow via Houston from £415, www.continental.com and American Airlines from Heathrow via Chicago from £451, www.aa.com. The only direct flights to Salt Lake City from Europe are with Delta from Paris (11-hours 15 minutes) from 740 Euros return. www.delta.com
If you want to visit other ski resorts in the area, you can hire a car at the airport; alternatively, there are plenty of transportation companies running regular pickups. E.g. with Alta Shuttle one way from $32 per person, Tel: 1-801-274-0225, www.altashuttle.com.