Alta is recognized not only for its variety of terrain but also for stunning scenery and dry snow quality. There is plenty of beginner and lower intermediate terrain, as well as some steep chutes and powder bowls that you will have to hike to. Most of the beginner trails are accessed from Albion Base, with intermediates scattered around the mountain and some great advanced black diamond bowls off the Sugarloaf quad lift.
Any discussion of Alta begins and ends with snow. 500"+ of it fall annually and it's amongst the lighest, fluffiest snow anywhere in the world. "Cold Smoke" is a term often used to describe the snow here, but it hardly does it justice. In fact, the snow is so light that Alta actually publishes not only the snowfall total in inches, but the water content of the snow. Anything under 6-7% is considered to be very dry. Alta often records snowfall in the 4-5% range, which borders on vapor. Skiing Alta's light snow is truly a pleasure for all ability levels of skiers.
Neighboring Snowbird is the more aggressive of the two ski areas, though Alta's ski area still has plenty to test advanced skiers.
Alta has three double chairs, two triple chairs, two high-speed quads and four surface lifts. Lifts are open from 9.15 am to 4.30 pm and they carry about 11,200 people per hour onto the mountain. At peak times there may be lines lasting 10-15 minutes. Come early or ski during the noon hour to avoid them. Some older lifts have been replaced in the past few years with faster ones, and further improvements are planned, pending United States Forest Service approval.
The Sunnyside lift is good for beginners and enables skiers to ride up the mountain and then gives them over a mile (1.6 km) of great learning terrain back to the bottom. In the early 2000's, the Sugarloaf lift, which leads to access to Snowbird resort, was upgraded to a detachable quad and offers good progression for the beginner who has conquered the Sunnyside terrain.
A transfer tow strung across the side of the access road connects the two base areas at Alta.
The cheapest lift pass available is the Ski Salt Lake Super Pass, which gives skiers access to Alta, Brighton, Snowbird and Solitude. There is no restriction on how many days you must ski at any of the resorts, though the lift pass may only be used at one resort per day, so visitors to Alta could not use it on the same day in Snowbird. As the Super Pass does not offer discounts for children, families are better off getting youngsters' lift passes at each individual resort.
Skiers wishing to ski Alta and Snowbird on the same day will have to buy the AltaSnowbird lift pass. It is the most expensive lift ticket option when skiing at Alta, but you will not be disappointed at the quality and variety of the skiing on offer.
Note: Beginners may ride Alta's Sunnyside lift for free after 3pm each day.
Beginner skiers can access the mountain using the Albion, Sunnyside and Cecret lifts. The triple chair Sunnyside services a mile-long (1.6 km) beginner trail, originally named Never Sweat, now known as Crooked Mile, which gives beginners the chance to ski at altitude and enjoy the mountain views. Beginners can ride the Sunnyside chairlift for free after 3 pm each day.
A good day for a beginner would be to take the Albion double chair and ski down Crooked Mile to the base of Sunnyside triple chair, then take Sunnyside up and ski down Sunnyside green trail to Home Run, back to the base of Sunnyside lift. Then take Sunnyside up again, but this time cross over to Cecret double chair along Dipsy Doodle. Take Cecret lift and ski down Rabbit or Sweet 'n' Easy to join on with Home Run back to the base.
It is worth noting that Alta's 500" of annual snowfall can be a double-edged sword for beginners. Surface conditions are usually powdery and soft. However, all that soft, dry snow can be difficult to pack. As a result, the snow tends to get cut up more easily. That can mean that while experts are happy about fresh snow, some beginners can grumble about the skiing being more difficult than they expected due to the less smooth surface.
40 percent of the terrain at Alta is deemed suitable for intermediates, while there is plenty to either stretch experienced intermediates, or encourage novice intermediates.
Intermediate skiers can ride the Sugarloaf quad that accesses intermediate and advanced terrain. From Sugarloaf, you can ski the front of Alta by cutting back to the Supreme lift via Waldren's Way, Devil's Elbow and Razor Back, then take the Supreme triple chair for some good blue and black diamond trails. Or, if you have the right pass, drop into Snowbird's Mineral Basin from Sugarloaf.
The ride up Supreme is an experience in itself. From the top you can enjoy a panoramic view of Alta and the beautiful Heber Valley. From here, challenging intermediate and advanced trails such as So Long, Big Dipper and No 9 are favorites. On the front of Alta the Wildcat and Collins lifts provide more blue trails. From the top of Collins you can access Aggie's Alley, the Meadow and Corkscrew. Wildcat lift runs to the top of the Peruvian Ridge, accessing primarily advanced terrain. Aggie's Alley provides intermediate access off Peruvian Ridge.
Nearly all of the trails at Alta link to an easy way down, so nervous intermediates can try to test themselves, safe in the knowledge that there is an escape route at hand.
With 35 percent of the mountain dedicated to black diamond trails, advanced and expert skiers have plenty to choose from at Alta. The Collins quad provides access to a wide variety of advanced terrain. Race Course, Sunspot, Yellow Trail, Greeley Bowl, Lone Pine and Alf's High Rustler, to name just a few, are for the expert skier.
Advanced trails below Germania triple chair include Nina's Curve, Schuss Gully and Collins Face. From the top of Wildcat, skiers can choose advanced trails down Peruvian Ridge, Punch Bowl, Rock Gully, Wildcat Face and the Westward Ho Area (which connects with Snowbird resort). The toughest skiing in terms of moguls is Alf's High Rustler; the steepest slope is Gun Sight; and the best for powder are Greeley Bowl and Yellow Trail.
Any expert skiers visiting Alta would be advised to make the short hike required to ski Baldy Chutes and Devil's Castle. Favoured by many locals, the chutes are steep, challenging, and in fresh powder - scintillating.
Telemarking and high-altitude ski-touring is available through the Alf Engen Ski School, and heli-skiing is available through Wasatch Powderbird Guides.
New since 2003 is guided backcountry skiing (and boarding) in Grizzly Gulch, located adjacent to the ski area. It's a unique skiing adventure of guided off-trail skiing. The day starts with check-in at the Albion base area, followed by an orientation and continental breakfast at the Albion Grill. Then enjoy a heated snowcat ride to the top of Grizzly Gulch at 10,500 feet (3,200 m).
The guided off-piste trails take skiers and boarders on pitches with an average of 1,500 feet (457 m) of vertical drop. The group may consist of any combination of up to 11 skiers and snowboarders and two guides. Snowcat skiing is only for advanced and expert skiers and riders with strong off-trail skiing skills and experience. Powder skis are recommended.
There are three mid-mountain and six base area restaurants at the resort. Mid-mountain are the Collins Grill, on the third level of new Watson Shelter, a traditional sit-down restaurant with waiter service; Watson Shelter, a cafeteria offering morning snacks, lunch and a shop; and Alf's Restaurant at the bottom of Cecret double chair, a cafeteria with lunch and snacks.
At the base there are restaurants at Alta Peruvian Lodge, Alta Lodge, and Rustler Lodge, all offering waiter service. Goldminer's Daughter has a restaurant with sit-down lunch, breakfast and snacks, and the Goldminer's Bar serves Mexican food. The Albion Grill at Albion Base has a cafeteria where you can get breakfast, lunch and snacks and then there's Joanie's, above Deep Powder House, with made-to-order sandwiches and smoothies. The Shallow Shaft restaurant, opposite Deep Powder House, is more sophisticated.
Skiing is the thing here. Alta has five lodges, strung out in a linear-type arrangement, and all offer accommodations and restaurants as well as bars and cafeterias. Created in 1939 with Alta Lodge, Alta is one of the longest-established ski villages in the U.S., and still very popular with well-heeled families who stay in the comfortable but not necessarily luxurious lodges. It's a quieter village than most, with not many après-ski opportunities apart from the lodges. But everything is within walking distance and the atmosphere is friendly and cozy.
The Alta Peruvian Lodge, Alta Lodge, and Rustler Lodge all have restaurants offering waiter service; the Goldminer's Bar serves Mexican food. The Shallow Shaft restaurant, opposite Deep Powder House, has a sophisticated menu and an extensive wine list.
Alta is a quieter village than most, with not many apres-ski opportunities apart from the lodges.
The best places in the resort for après-ski are Goldminer's Bar, the Alta Peruvian Bar, Sitzmark Club at Alta Lodge, and Eagle´s Nest Bar at Rustler Lodge. The minimum age for consuming alcohol is 21 and children cannot typically accompany parents in bars and other places serving alcohol. A few of the bars have a marked "zone" where children can hang out.
The newest thing to do at Alta is cross-country or skate skiing on a three-mile (5-km) groomed track. Track tickets are only available at the Wildcat Base ticket office. There's a full range of classic skate, telemark, and snowshoe gear with sales of clothing, coffee, shakes and rentals. Lessons are available at the Alf Engen Ski School. Also available is snowcat skiing.
There are four ski stores with rental and retail, but the shopping opportunities are not extensive at Alta-that's not the reason most people come here. Several massage therapists will come to your ski accommodations to soothe away stressed muscles. Check out the Alta website, www.alta.com, for details.