Utah’s Alta Ski Area near Salt Lake City is famous for some of the deepest powder snow and challenging terrain in the west. Many of the world’s best skiers cut their teeth at Alta, and come back to get their kicks on this classic mountain. It is the second oldest lift-served ski area in the west, and is still old school in many ways. Most famously (or notoriously) as the ski area that does not allow snowboards, Alta’s powder privilege is exclusive to skiers. Another throwback is that Alta does not differentiate between black diamond and double black, so the trail map alone won’t reveal the steepest of the steep, and with 35 percent of the resort’s nearly 120 named runs marked as expert, you could chase steeps all day without finding the best. You have to know where to go. Some self-proclaimed shredders will rag on Alta for being “flat,” but these are the loafers who don’t know the mountain well enough, or can’t look beyond the chairlift to get the real goods.
Alta actually has some of the steepest in-bounds runs in America, though it’s true that side-stepping and even booting are sometimes required to get to them. The plus side is that plenty of powder caches and steep shots stay guarded from gapers who would chunk up the turf, and sending the fresh is all the more rewarding when you really earn the turns. This guide will help you step up the steep, make the most of the mountain, and allow you to find your own features to pile on the challenge.
These descriptions do not boil down to exact science in calculating steepness, because there are different methods of measurement and results may vary depending on where you break out the clinometer. Overall average pitch and maximum pitch are two common reports for steepness, but each can tell a very different story for the same run, at Alta especially, where U-shaped glacial valleys make most runs steep at the top and gradually flatter toward the bottom. Therefore, average pitch tends to underestimate the pucker factor while staring down the initial drop of an Alta steep. This guide lists slope angle for the money sections of the highest quality runs.
1. West Rustler Area
On a powder day, ride Collins lift first, to fuel the stoke by watching local shredders dominate the tiered terrain, and use your chair time for soul searching to find what it takes to follow their flight paths. West Rustler is a good place to start the steeps. The tree-lined chutes begin at audacious angle of nearly 45 degrees, delivering a few real-deal turns before leveling and widening into the gully below. From the offload of Collins lift, turn right and hook back under the lift to start the High Traverse (Hi-T). Continue for about 3 minutes, past Sunspot and onto the more heavily treed slope, then eye your line down one of the West Rustler shots.
2. Alf’s High Rustler (aka High Boy)
Further along the High Traverse is Alta’s (and maybe Utah’s) most famous steep shot, the High Rustler, now named after Alta legend and powder skiing pioneer Alf Engen who reportedly straight-lined this beast in the leather boots and long wooden boards of his day. If you can follow in Alf’s ski tracks, drop in for a screaming start of nearly 45 degrees (interspersed with options for glorious air time), and enjoy the ride of more than 1,000 vertical feet down to Wildcat Base and another round on Collins lift.
3. Hourglass Chute
A bit further still out the High Traverse, near the end of the ridgeline, lies Hourglass Chute. A short but sweet—and very steep—shot between the trees that connects with Eagle’s Nest for a full 1,000 vertical feet of black diamond bliss. Hourglass drops at the precipitous pitch of 42 degrees, and the trees dictate tight turns. Once it runs into Eagle’s Nest, the angle relaxes and trees open up, just in time to give your burning legs a breather before finishing the long descent.
To experience Alta’s second-most-famous expert run, stick to the higher road on High Traverse for about 2 minutes from Collins lift, then look for the side-step track leading up and over the ridge. Follow this for brief weave among the rocks, and you will suddenly find yourself staring down the “gunsight” notch. This very tight entry slot of 45 degrees will make you wish you had practiced more jump turns before coming up here. Remind yourself that there’s no time like the present, then send it. The angle mellows gradually, but your legs won’t get a break until the broad bowl at the very bottom.
5. Glory Hole
For even more thrills, check out Glory Hole Area, which features an extra-tight entry slot between two cliffs called Keyhole Gulch. All the drop-ins here are steep, approaching 40 degrees, and the angle hardly lessens up for a few hundred vertical feet, but the narrows soon give way to wide open hillside. To get here, ski Sugar Bowl from Sugarloaf lift and cross Devil’s Way.
6. Baldy Chutes
The Baldy Chutes are a very committing series of gullies that plummet from the 11,068-foot summit of Mt. Baldy. Getting into them requires a long but rewarding hike from Sugarloaf lift to the mountaintop, where you can see the Wasatch Range in all directions on a clear day. From there, the way down is a wild ride. Main Baldy Chute is a screamer that hits 44 degrees, not counting obligatory airtime off the cornice that forms up top. Main Chute is actually the easiest option for reaching the Ballroom Bowl below. Give a scout to Little Chute or Dog Leg to explore a step up in difficulty, where the turns get tighter and more technical. These runs are worth lapping when the snow is good. They are sure to keep you gripped and the hike is sure to keep you fit.
7. Devil’s Castle
This wide open slope, named after the towering cliff bands above, is a favorite for supreme powder on a steep pitch. Getting to it requires a long traverse from Sugarloaf lift, so it doesn’t get as much traffic as it deserves. You can pole along the track for up to 45 minutes to reach the far east end and connect with Castle Apron, but there is plenty of real estate along the way, where you can drop in and choose your own adventure. Most of the run sits at a no-joke 35 degrees, but flirts with 40 in a place or two, with some rock feature goodies thrown in the mix.
8. Spiney Chutes
Flying under the radar of many would-be powder pilots are the Spiney Chutes. They are deceptively steep at the top, which you will quickly discover as you dive into the trees on a 40+ degree drop in. Like most Alta runs, the chutes here deal a few quad-firing turns before gradually lightening up. To get there, take Supreme lift and exit toward Back Forty and So Long. Before reaching So Long, head down the spine of the ridgeline and pick a spot to drop left into the steep trees of Spiney Chutes.
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.