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Ski Guide: Alta, Utah Deep Powder and Rugged Terrain

Published: 11/04/2015
In 1938, thanks to the concerted effort of the US Forest Service and the Salt Lake City Winter Sports Association, Alta Ski Area opened as a small, one-lift ski resort. Before that, it was a silver-mining center. The small town, located near Alta’s Albion lift, had a reputation as a wild, somewhat lawless mining outpost and was home to some 20 whiskey saloons. But by the 1930s, the mining boom was over and snow, not dust, defined the small town. Alta sits at the end of Little Cottonwood Canyon within the Wasatch-Cache National Forest in north-central Utah just south of Salt Lake City.

Only at Alta It’s perhaps best-known for 3 characteristics: reliably good snow (the average annual snowfall is a whopping 500 inches), the absence of a ski village (Alta is comprised of 2 base areas, Wildcat and Albion, about a half-mile apart) and an absence of snowboarders. That’s right, Alta is a skiing mountain only.

Best-Kept Secrets

At Alta, powder rules. During the last 3 ski seasons, snow totals per year ranged from 560 inches (2009-10) to 701 inches (2007-08). Since 1980, close to 80 inches of snow have fallen on average per month.

Where to Sleep 

A handful of lodging options at the mountain’s base include Alta Lodge, Alta Peruvian, Rustler, Goldminer’s Daughter and Snowpine. All the lodges offer ski-in, ski-out accommodations. There are also condominiums and vacation homes for rent near the resort. For more options nearby, consult the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Where to Eat 

Alta has plenty of eating options. The Alta resort owns and operates 3 mid-mountain eateries that offer lunch and another that provides hot liquid refreshments. A few other base locations offer meals throughout the day and evening. Atmospheres range from convenient cafeteria set-ups to cozy and intimate dining rooms.

Where to Shop or Not 

Alta is both a haven and a heaven for skiers, especially those looking to embrace the skiing atmosphere of old. There’s no pedestrian village lined with shops selling the latest fashions or gear, the lodging is limited and there are no plans to modernize the mountain—or to admit snowboarders. Lines are kept longer to minimize slope-side numbers and lift prices are some of the lowest in the country.

Biggest Bang for Your Buck

Lift-ticket day rates range from $31 for beginners to $69 for adult skiers. Beginners can ski free after 3 p.m. on the gentle slopes of the Albion base.