Why is Alta Such a Great Ski Vacation Destination?
The resort’s motto “Alta is for skiers” is a profound understatement. Blessed with the driest, fluffiest snow in the west (and copious amounts of it, the average is 551 inches per season), spread over more than four square miles, and lift-served terrain of more than 2,000 vertical feet, Alta is a skier’s paradise.
With so much adventure at your ski tips, you will need more than a weekend to experience it all. Carve out the time in your schedule, and spend a week here to take powder turns for days. Alta offers deals on multi-day passes, so you get more bang for your buck, and the overnight lodges, condos, and private homes are comfortable with killer views. Here are some suggestions for making the most out of 5 days at Alta.
Where to stay
You will probably be ready to flop in bed after each day at Alta, and lucky for you, there are five lodges, a broad selection of condo choices, and several private homes within the resort area—and many of them are so close to the slopes that you can ski in and ski out of via convenient rope tows. Most room deals also include breakfast and dinner, and private homes offer chef services. You’ll find bars like The Peruvian and the Sitzmark are ready to serve up après-ski. Each lodge has its own character and unique amenities, so you are sure to find the one that’s right for you and your family.
The mountain is divided into two main sections, Collins Gulch and Albion Basin, which are separated by a prominent ridgeline. Albion is the best place to start because of its variety of terrain for all abilities, and a chance to get accustomed to Alta’s famous powder and the high altitude. If it is your first time here, instruction from the Alf Engen Ski School could make a big difference. Powder skiing requires slightly different technique, so if you dream of departing the groomed runs for the allure of fresh fluffy stuff, skiers of all abilities will find value in a lesson. There are options for one-on-one private lessons, group lessons, workshops, and specialty camps.
To practice powder skiing on your own, try veering off the groomed surface and take some turns on the perimeter near the trees. The best runs for beginners to hit first are Crooked Mile and Patsey Marley. Intermediates should warm up on Blue Bell or Race Arena, and advanced skiers should take Vail Ridge. If you get the hang of it quickly, take a ride up Supreme or Sugarloaf lift and try out the steeper blue or black terrain.
Grab lunch at Alf’s Restaurant near the base of Cecret and Sugarloaf lifts. This location keeps you on the mountain and ready to jump right back on the lift. After lunch, beginners should lap Cecret lift and Sunnyside lift to get more comfortable with the terrain. Intermediate and advanced skiers should explore new runs higher on the mountain, but don’t push it too hard on the first day.
This is likely to be the sorest day, after your muscles have had their first foray into powder turns. On day two, you should have fun without overdoing it, because there is still much more in store. To start the morning, return to Sunnyside lift and get caffeinated at Alta Java, in the day lodge building at Albion Base, along the way.
Take Sunnyside lift and warm up on a familiar run. Beginners can stick to the greens in this area and maybe think about stepping it up to an easier blue. Intermediates and experts should take Sugarloaf lift, then ski Collins Return (East Baldy Traverse) and cross into the other half of the mountain, served by Collins and Wildcat lifts. From the top of Collins lift, take Mambo to Meadow to Corkscrew to the base of the lift. This is a long ride that provides a tour of the whole Wildcat Area, and a preview of steep runs to aspire to.
For a taste of real powder on ungroomed slopes, take Collins lift back up, then traverse into Ballroom. In this broad bowl, you can practice wide turns and maybe find a stretch of untracked fresh snow. If this run and all the other blues feel comfortable, try Stimulation or Johnson’s Warm Up, two relatively easy blacks from Wildcat lift.
If hunger strikes before you are ready to head down to the lodge, the place for lunch in this area is Collins Grill, located mid-mountain near the Collins lift line. On day two, however, it’s not a bad idea to turn in early. Take advantage of your lodge’s sun deck, hot tub, or bar and get some rest, with sweet dreams of deep powder in the morning.
Try to be first in line when the lifts open at 9:15, and take Collins lift up to start the day out right, with some fresh turns in Ballroom, especially if new snow has fallen overnight. With your legs loosened up, it’s time to try a harder blue like Lower Rustler near the bottom of Collins, or an easier black like Collins Face.
If you aren’t feeling quite ready for the steep stuff on that side of the mountain, there is plenty of unexplored real estate left in the Albion Area. After reaching the top of Sugarloaf, there is an excellent opportunity to hunt for untracked powder in a quiet glade. Ski down Supreme Access and find a spot that looks good to duck into the trees on your left, then carve through the woods on a gentle slope down to bottom of Cecret lift.
Experts will want to leave the blues behind and take on the real-deal steeps. The High Traverse from Collins lift is your ticket to glory. This traverse accesses nothing but black diamonds on both sides, either by dropping off to the left or by side stepping up and over the ridge to the right.
Why not switch it up and try something totally different? The out-of-bounds terrain surrounding Alta is some of the best in the world, but it’s guarded by the absence of ski lifts. Normally, backcountry access requires a lot of work and expertise, but guided tours make it easy at Alta. Afterward, simply return to the comfort of your lodge and rest up for the final day.
If you want to go big on your last day at Alta, here are some suggestions for wilder adventures. Catherine’s Area, a fairly long traverse from Supreme lift, is a great bet for untracked powder in relatively mellow black diamond terrain. Also from Supreme lift, you can traverse the other way into East Castle and get the feel of big-mountain skiing. Devil’s Castle is another great powder cache, accessible via traverse from Sugarloaf lift. Wildcat lift deals serious thrills on black diamonds with great tree skiing like Westward Ho. Then there are, of course, all the challenges along the High Traverse, like Alf’s High Rustler and Gunsight.
Even without pushing it on black diamonds, there is a bounty of blue terrain and opportunities to challenge yourself on the greens. Revisit your favorite runs from the days before and try skiing them in a new way–taking more turns in the powder, over the bumps, or in the trees. With the variety of slopes and quality snow, any type of skier is sure to get their fix and make noticeable improvement in five days at Alta, which is why your family and friends should make this famous resort your next winter vacation.
Written by Jesse Weber for RootsRated in partnership with Alta Ski Area and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Featured image provided by Jon Boyden.