A group of hard-core skiers, mostly men, stands impatiently at the base of the Collins lift at Alta Ski Area, amped up on the promise of fresh snow. It's 9:10 a.m. on a bluebird morning and fine spindrift spools off of the frosted jagged ridges above. When the gates open at 9:15 the group surges forward, jostling and elbowing to get on the chair, apparently anxious that there's not enough first tracks for the 15 or 20 of them. After this group a mellow cadre of parents, kids and tourists, the author included, makes their way up the mountain under sunny skies chattering about whether to drop back down to Collins or over the other side. This is the essence of Alta, a skier-focused yet family-friendly mountain, two faces that co-exist peacefully on a big mountain where there's plenty of snow for everyone, despite the worries of the first group.


Alta has a storied history going all the way back to 1938 when a group of Salt Lake City businessmen worked with the U.S. Forest Service to develop the ski area in Little Cottonwood Canyon . It's one of the oldest ski resorts in the U.S. and is still a skier's ski resort--snowboarders are not part of the legacy and are banned from riding the lifts. Before the ski area there was mining and the original Collins lift, now replaced with a modern quad chair, was built from reclaimed mining equipment. Located in the Uinta Wasatch Cache National Forest, the ski area stretches across 2,200 skiable acres with over 116 runs. The terrain rolls over high ridges topping out at 10,550 feet with a vertical drop of 2,020 feet. Known for its preponderance of light, dry powder the area skis well even during dry spells with top notch grooming and a variety of open bowls, steep chutes and tree runs. There aren't many dry spells, however, as the unique microclimate collects up to 500 inches of snow a year. A variety of different exposures assures that good skiing can be found in most conditions, some protected from wind, others holding winter snow, others positioned to catch the first rays of sun.


Since Alta is a member of the Mountain Collective, a collection of 12 North American ski areas, Gold level season pass holders at Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows can ski at Alta for 50% off the price of a daily lift ticket. Mountain Collective skiers are welcomed with a prominent sign pointing to the office where they can obtain their tickets and information about the ski area, though tickets are also dispensed at any ticket window. A colorful red and white banner draped across the side of a snow truck states, "Welcome! Mountain Collective Skiers." Mountain Collective passholders can link their credit card to their Alta pass, just like at Squaw Valley, so they can enjoy the seamless convenience of charging food and retail purchases on the mountain with their pass.