Few things in the ski world mobilize the masses like a storm pounding Alta and Snowbird. Over the last few years I watched friends pile into 4x4s en route to Little Cottonwood, a heavy forecast in the Wasatch coaxing buddies to get shifts covered and postpone a few days’ worth of productivity. There are myriad stories of white-knuckle epics on I-70, snail-slow descents down Soldier Summit, and sleepless early morning hours parked in Sandy waiting for interlodge to be lifted. But, for every sandbagging story told, everyone who makes the Wasatch-bound exodus in search of snow has a handful of “best-day-of-my-life” and “100-percent-worth-it” stories to share about the skiing at Alta and Snowbird.
I am not an “Altaholic.” In fact, I had never before skied in Utah. But, we were running out of p-tex in Colorado because of the low-tide conditions in the Rockies, and we were jonesing for snow. So, when a three-day forecast for the Wasatch came over the transom reading “12 to 16 inches on Sunday, 18 to 22 inches on Monday, and 19 to 23 inches on Tuesday” the decision was made to head towards Little Cottonwood Canyon. Leaving Colorado sitting in a high-pressure system, I was finally Utah-bound to see what the hype was all about.
The forecast was downgraded as we barreled across the desert and the roads were dry as we dropped into Price, but my head was on swivel as we entered the Little Cottonwood Canyon, soaking in the frozen bedrock and towering peaks that tower above the two-lane road. The valley’s dry conditions quickly morphed into dark storm clouds shrouding Mount Superior and flying snow flurries burying Snowbird’s parking lot. Despite the downgrade in the forecast, it looked like the next morning’s scene at Alta was going to be rowdy.
Frozen in place at the base of Alta, the Alta Peruvian Lodge is a snapshot of days gone and served as our HQ. With crackling fires, communal dining rooms, chessboards in the lobby, and a ping-pong table in the basement, the welcoming atmosphere inside the Peruvian belied the howling winds and dumping snow outside. We saddled up at the Peruvian’s bar to talk shop with longtime Alta/Snowbird skiers Ben Wheeler and Carlo Travarelli.
“You’ve really never been here before?” Travarelli asked. “Dude, you’re never going to leave after tomorrow.”
The next few days were spent on the tails of Little Cottonwood’s locals, getting a feel for what’s on-tap at Alta and Snowbird. It was a whirlwind of rope drops into Supreme’s chutes, jump-lines underneath the Wildcat chairlift, and mini-bootpacks that access the Backside at Alta; thigh-burning tram laps, playful moonscape terrain in Mineral Basin, untouched mini-golf lines surrounding the new Little Cloud chairlift, and arching turns in the Cirque at Snowbird.
There is a community that we were introduced to over beers in the Peruvian, in the tram line at Snowbird, and while throwing elbows on the High Traverse that is the perfect example of skiing's front line. Some are held together by duct tape and clicked into garage-sale equipment, some star in film segments and sport sponsorships, and most are somewhere in between. But, they all live for skiing. Little Cottonwood is an amalgam of the best skiing has to offer, sans full-strength beer.