Ski Resorts
Articles & Tips
Ski Gear
Search FamilySkiHub
Alta Ski Resort Profile

Summary: Less than 35 miles from Salt Lake International Airport, the best snow Utah has to offer is also some of the most accessible anywhere. Skiers of all ability levels have enjoyed Alta Ski Area's incredible lake effect snow since 1939.

Beware, families with boarders: snowboards are not allowed at Alta. However, neighboring Snowbird does welcome them, and "AltaBird" passes are available for skiers to go between both areas without even taking off their skis.

Whether it's the lack of snowboarders or the lack of monstrously huge buildings (as seen next door at Snowbird), Alta has a special and unique atmosphere. The ski area owns none of the small lodges at its base, though package deals including lift tickets are available with lodging.

All five lodges at Alta are ski-in ski-out. Vacation homes are also available, as well as condos and larger hotels in the Snowbird area. Newcomers will be stunned at how quickly accessible Utah ski areas are from Salt Lake City, which of course offers everything from cheap motels to five-star hotels that are only 20-45 minutes drive from all of the Cottonwood Canyon ski areas (Alta, Snowbird, Solitude, & Brighton). Nightlife up the canyon is essentially non-existent, so vacationers looking for some fun after sundown may find staying in Salt Lake to be an excellent choice.

There are many shuttle and taxi companies offering transport to and from Alta, and public transit through UTA is also a cheaper but slower route. Free shuttles also run a loop between Snowbird and Alta, hitting key lodging points along the way.

Folks don't come to Alta for a day of pampering at the spa or a night on the town, they come to ski. Instead of expanding amenities at its base, Alta lets the quality of the mountain, the snow, and the outstanding terrain access speak for itself. Management has focused on enhancing the skiing experience itself, and not the après ski, perhaps as a part of its dedication to being environmentally responsible. While lifts and tows are frequently updated, no major construction has occurred recently except for the replacement of the old Watson Shelter with a new, more sustainable and efficient modern building.

While local skiers would like to keep Alta's abundant powder a secret (700 inches each of the past two seasons), highly publicized praise for Utah's snowiest resort continues to escalate. Outside Magazine joins several other publications in proclaiming AltaBird the continent's best ski area.

Alta is great for beginners and expert skiers alike. A discounted day pass accesses the three beginner lifts only. Those who feel they have mastered the beginner terrain can pay to upgrade their pass and go try the advanced terrain. Families with a range of ability levels can easily split up to go find their appropriate challenges, then meet for lunch at one of three cafeteria-style restaurants.

The Alf Engen Ski School, staffed with excellent instructors, offers a wide variety of classes, workshops, and private lessons for all ages and ability levels. The school, like the resort, is one of the oldest in the country, and it continues to earn awards for being a top ski school in North America.

Lodging Choices: Vacation homes and ski-in ski-out lodges at Alta, condos and hotels at Snowbird. Nothing available at the resort on a low budget, though the cities of Sandy and Salt Lake City are within 20-45 minutes and offer all the lodging choices of a metropolis.

Terrain: 2,200 acres (25% Beginner, 40% Intermediate, 35% Advanced)

Highest Elevation / Vertical Drop: 10,550 feet / 2,020 feet

Snow: Average of 500 inches per year. The last three seasons' totals have been 401 inches, 701 inches, and 696 inches (08-09). So it can vary by 300 inches from one year to the next, but a bad snow day at Alta is a good snow day elsewhere.

Activities for Non-Skiers: Not much, once you have become a prune in the hot tub. Don't stick around, unless you like snowshoeing or wilderness photography, spend the day in Salt Lake City (45 minutes to downtown), with lots of shopping, arts, movies, and sporting events.

Ski School: One of the best around. Kids lessons range from $48 (half-day) to $118 (full-day beginner). Combo ski school/day care option is available. Adult workshops are $48 (beginning/intermediate alpine) or $62 (advanced or telemark). All private lessons are $90/hr, and advanced reservations are highly recommended.

Day Care: Under 3 years old: $95 full-day, $80 half-day. 3 years and older: $90 full-day, $75 half-day.

Getting there: Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) is less than 35 miles away. From there, several shuttles and taxis are available. If you rent a car, make sure it has four-wheel drive, or else you might be turned away from the canyon on a snowy day.

Logan Campbell is a local Utah skier, middle school teacher, and writer with published works of fiction, poetry, op-ed, and now ski reviews. Contact Logan by email- lcampbell@mcgillisschool.org.