By Diana Lambdin Meyer, Family Vacation Critic -- Alta Ski Resort isn't your typical western U.S. ski resort. Each of the five lodges is independently owned, and there isn't a village center in which skiers typically gather after a day on the slopes. Instead, the public areas and bars and restaurants in each lodge become the focal point of social activity. There aren't many restaurants nearby either, so all of the lodges offer some sort of meal plan that includes a minimum of breakfast included in the room price.
Alta typically receives more than 560 inches of snow each year and as such, has contributed to the development of deep powder skiing techniques used around the world. The snow in this part of Utah is very light and dry, which is very appealing to competitive skiers and those with advanced skills. This little resort in the Wasatch Range, part of the Rockies, is also the birthplace of Gelande competitions, which were the precursors of today's freestyle aerial skiing.
Defined by three bowls in Little Cottonwood Canyon, the highest trail served by a lift is 10,500 feet. Off-trail snowcat and heli-skiing appeals to some of the most adventurous who come to Alta. Despite the emphasis on extreme adventures, about 25 percent of the runs are identified as beginner level.
Alta is also distinguished in the snow-skiing community because it is one of only three resorts in the U.S. that does not allow snowboarding, so consider that before planning a trip here. The lack of snowboarders, however, does appeal to many serious alpine skiers who prefer to hit the slopes without the risk of hitting or being hit by boarders.
Located less than an hour from the Salt Lake City International Airport, Alta's roots date back to 1865 when miners first discovered silver ore in these slopes. The boom didn't last long and by the turn of the century, a lot of empty, rusting mining equipment was just lying about the fading landscape. It was in 1938 when a guy named George Watson took some of that old equipment and built the first Collin Ski Lift. The rest, shall we say, is snowy white history.
In many ways, Alta still has the appearance of an old mining community. With just one narrow mountain road leading in and out, the lodges are lined up against the base of the mountain. You won't find fancy frills at Alta -- it's simply authentic alpine skiing at its best.