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Affordable Skiing: Alta

Published: 12/13/2009
Picture the thrifty consumer who buys only one new sweater every few years but spends good money on a quality one. That's the type of skier Alta attracts. For 70 years, the Utah resort has been known for its no-frills approach, letting the challenging terrain and abundant snow speak for itself. Though you won't find dirt-cheap hotels or lift tickets, Alta offers few temptations for spendthrifts. Hard-core skiers come here to ski (snowboarding is still verboten), not to ride fancy gondolas or blow their budgets at trendy boutiques or aromatherapy spas.

HOW TO GET THERE The Salt Lake City airport is just 33 miles away, which means there are plenty of cheap flights to choose from, especially on Delta, which uses the airport as a hub. From New York City, Delta, Continental and JetBlue are among the airlines offering nonstop flights; a recent Web search turned up round-trip fares starting at around $270 for travel in late January. There's no need for a rental car in Alta because everything is within an easy walk. Alta Shuttle (866-274-0225; offers regular van service from the airport for $32 each way. There are also free buses that shuttle between Alta and neighboring Snowbird.

WHERE TO STAY Alta's five small base-area lodges have their own distinct personalities and fiercely loyal clientele. Each of the lodges also offers lower-priced dorms and rooms with shared baths. Ski-in, ski-out dorms are rare at other resorts . Even rarer, the lodges are very social - most have communal dining tables - so that solo skiers won't feel out of place. If that weren't enough, lavish breakfasts and dinners are included in the basic rate.

Among the friendliest is the 57-room Alta Lodge (10230 East Route 210; 800-707-2582; Built in 1939, it has a split personality: rustic, knotty-pine rooms in the original section; spare, midcentury-modern décor in the newer wing. Four gender-specific dorms, which sleep up to four, start at $133 a person and include breakfast, afternoon tea and a four-course dinner. The popular Sitzmark bar, his and her saunas, and two large hot tubs ensure a communal vibe.

The oldest and smallest lodge, the 18-room Snowpine (10400 East Route 210; 801-742-2000;, is also the cheapest. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1938, the lodge offers a hodgepodge décor of granite walls, pine accents and electric blue chairs. There is also a sauna and outdoor hot tub. A bunk in the gender-specific dorm rooms is $105, including breakfast and a four-course dinner.

True penny-pinchers can always stay in or around Salt Lake City, which has plenty of budget motels. A Studio 6, the extended-stay version of Motel 6 (975 East 6600 South, Murray; 801-685-2102;, has a room with queen-size bed and kitchen for $53. But be warned: during the frequent snowstorms, the road to Alta closes for avalanche control.

LIFT TICKETS Standard lift tickets are $66, which is far lower than most resorts with comparable slopes. After 3 p.m., access to the Sunnyside triple chair, which serves eight lower-level runs, is free. And if you're looking to hit Snowbird, the $85 combo ticket is a good deal.

WHERE TO EAT If you're staying at one of the base lodges, your only concern is lunch. If you're heading to the on-mountain Alf's Restaurant by the Sugarloaf and Cecret lifts, one of the best deals is a grilled cheese ($4.99) accompanied by a giant bucket of fries ($9.49) that can be divvied up among at least six skiers.

In the morning, the smart money is on filling up at your lodge's breakfast buffet so you can have just a snack and a hot chocolate at lunch. But if you skip breakfast in favor of first tracks, the most convenient place to get a quick bite is the ski-up service window at Alta Java (801-742-2614), in the day lodge at the base of the Albion and Sunnyside lifts. Order up a fresh-baked bagel ($3) and a Suzie's coffee ($4.25) - a double shot of espresso with chai tea - to jump-start your morning.

For dinner, the always packed Saloon at the Goldminer's Daughter (1 Main Street; 801-742-2300; serves up giant burritos (starting at $9) and tasty pizzas (from $14), along with 10 beers on tap ($2.50 to $4.50). The generic wooden bar décor is overshadowed by the mesmerizing views of the ski slopes from giant, atrium-style windows.

APRÈS SKI Each lodge has a good après-ski scene. For an easygoing vibe and friendly prices, follow the local ski bums to the bar at the Alta Peruvian Lodge (10000 East Route 210; 801-742-3000; - nicknamed the P-Dog for reasons no one can recall - where you can nosh on free appetizers (mostly of the fried variety) and wash them down with $2.50 cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon while admiring the mounted animal heads and Western memorabilia.

WHERE TO SHOP The only place to get provisions of any substance, including a better selection of wine, is actually in Snowbird. General Gritts, in the concrete tram building (Snowbird Center, Level 1; 801-933-2222, extension 4035), is a glorified convenience mart with reasonable prices.