One of the many reasons Alta is so beloved by its loyal constituents–Altaholics, if you will—is that it’s still independently owned by its founding families who strive to keep the experience authentic (see: not a human gauntlet). It’s also one of the only resorts in the U.S. that offers up a European-tinged ski experience, complete with full board—meaning breakfasts and four-course dinners included in the room rate.
Annual Resort Guide: See Where Alta Landed in the 2022 Reader Survey
In order to retain its unique vibe, Alta is moving to the Base Plus Pass on the Ikon Pass for the 2022-’23 season. So if you’re planning to ski Alta, you can buy the full Ikon Pass for seven blackout-free days at the resort, or the Base Plus for five blackout-restricted days. Alta is no longer available on the Base Pass after this season. The ski area also partners with the Mountain Collective, which gives skiers two days at Alta and 50 percent off additional days with no blackout dates. Also good to know: For $55, single and multi-day Alta lift tickets can be upgraded to include access to Snowbird for the day.
Whether you’re planning a spring trip or pining for powder next season, here’s the inside scoop on how to plan a ski trip to Alta.
How to Ski Alta
This skier’s-only resort has the second-highest summit elevation of the Wasatch ski areas, making it one of the most snow-sure destinations in the region.
Alta is located eight miles up Little Cottonwood Canyon in the Wasatch-Cache National Forest. It’s in a catcher’s mitt for snow. If you look at a map of Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, you can see that Alta is situated in the cradle of the mitt with a base elevation of 8,530 feet and a summit elevation of 11,068 feet, which is why it consistently gets an average of 550 inches of snow annually—the most of all of the Utah resorts, making it one of the safest bets in region for spring skiing.
Because it’s so iconic, many skiers are surprised to find out that Alta is not as big as, say, Whistler or Vail. It just has a big personality. Five chairlifts and 119 trails span its 2,614 skiable acres with a vertical drop of 2,538 feet.
For experts, the Alta classics are Catherine’s Area, Baldy Chutes, Devils Castle, The Ballroom, and the High T. If you time it right and are there on a powder day, head to the Supreme lift to access Catherine’s Area if the gates are open. If not, opt for the fluffy fall lines of the Sugarloaf lift or the powder pillows between the trees accessible from the Wildcat lift.
Backcountry skiers love the easily accessible terrain to Catherine’s Pass accessed from the Supreme Lift. A short hike leads to a powdery playground between Alta Ski Resort and Brighton.
Where to Stay at Alta
Alta is home to five individually owned ski lodges: The Peruvian, Goldminer’s Daughter, Alta Lodge, Rustler Lodge, and the newly rebuilt Snowpine Lodge. The resort embraces the European ski experience, with all of the lodges except the new Snowpine featuring breakfast and dinner in the rates. Some, such as Alta Lodge, even include a complimentary kids program, so be sure to do your research to choose the one that’s right for your needs.
The building that previously served as a mining shack is now a luxurious slopeside hotel. Snowpine balances modern comfort and luxury without pretension. Accommodations range from roomy family suites with kitchenettes to budget-friendly men’s and women’s dorm rooms for solo travelers. Amenities like the heated outdoor pool and hot tubs, fitness center, game room, and lots of carefully curated lounge spaces give skiers good reason to book this property.
Alta Lodge is Alta’s first ski lodge and has been welcoming skiers since 1940. This midcentury-modern lodge has 57 rooms ranging from fancy slope-facing corner rooms that have fireplaces and balconies to no-frills four-person dorm rooms. Winter lodging packages include breakfasts and satisfying four-course dinners. The complimentary Kids’ Club provides ski school shuttling, supervised arts, crafts, and games après, as well as early kid-friendly dinners, giving parents more vacation flexibility. It’s no wonder 70 percent of guests are return visitors.
Ski-in/ski-out between the Wildcat base and Albion Basin, the Rustler has 85 comfortable rooms where daily breakfast and dinner at the Rustler Lodge Dining Room is included in the rate. Soak in the outdoor hot tub and heated pool then sip a nightcap in the Eagle’s Nest Lounge for the full Rustler experience. Nightlife is scant at Alta, so plan to be up early for a full day of adventure—that’s what it’s all about here.
Where to Eat and Drink at Alta
Since the dining rooms at most of the lodges are exclusively for guests, the dining scene at Alta is unique. Only the Snowpine has a traditional restaurant and bar, and they are both worth a visit. Also consider Snowbird for more culinary options.
Swen’s Restaurant is the main dining option at Snowpine Lodge and serves locally sourced small and large dishes, like coffee roasted carrots and mountain trout, along with stunning mountainside views. They also have a substantial beer and wine selection as well as craft cocktails and mocktails.
Snowbird is a five-minute shuttle ride away and has several dining options. Dine at The Aerie for tasty gastropub cuisine. It’s hard to go wrong ordering, but don’t miss the butternut starter with pistachios and shaved beehive cheddar or the chocolate banana creme brûlée dessert. Pair your entrees with a microbrew from one of the many local breweries represented on the menu to make your meal even better.
Many people don’t know that you can have lunch at the Alta Lodge even if you’re not staying there. The menu features reasonably priced soups, sandwiches, and salads as well as daily lunch specials, like Meatloaf Sandwiches on Mondays.
Where to Après at Alta
The bars at the five lodges are all open to the public and each has its own unique vibe.
In order to have the full Alta experience, you’ll need to sink an Alta Bomb. Available exclusively at Goldminer’s Saloon, inside the Goldminer’s Daughter Lodge, the Alta Bomb is a double shot of espresso dropped into a PBR. Once you’ve got that under your belt, you can explore the multitude of other nearby après offerings.
Head to P Dog at the Peruvian Lodge if you’re keen to mix in with the locals and looking for a live-music-and-shot-skis kind of vibe.
Visit the Sitzmark Club at the Alta Lodge for a cozy retro vibe where you can swirl a glass of whiskey or two by the fireplace.
The next-level way to après at Alta is to book a spa treatment at the Snowpine’s Stillwell Spa. Get a massage, a body rejuvenation treatment, or a 20-minute inhalation therapy at the oxygen bar to aid with altitude adjustment. Get there early or plan to stay after your appointment so you’ll have time to enjoy the relaxation suite, sauna, steam room, and grotto–the large indoor hot tub exclusively available to spa guests.
Where to Demo Skis at Alta
Alta has two ski rental shops—in the Wildcat Ticket Office building and at the Albion Day Lodge. They have demos from Atomic, Dynastar, DPS, Elan, Head, K2, and Nordica. Visit Utah’s oldest ski shop, Deep Powder House next to the Alta Lodge if you’re after a Blizzard, Rossignol, Salomon, Armada, or Völkl set-up.
If you prefer to bring your own skis but don’t want the hassle of traveling with them, you can use Ship Skis, a door-to-door round-trip shipping service for your ski equipment and luggage. Send your ski bags and other luggage two or three business days prior to your arrival and your gear will be waiting for you when you get there.
How to Get There and Around
Several airlines have direct flights to Salt Lake City daily. If there’s no traffic, it will take you about 45 minutes to get from the Salt Lake City International Airport to Alta. If you’re taking an Uber or Lyft to Alta, be sure to request a 4×4 vehicle that can accommodate your skis. The Utah Department of Transportation regulates traffic in Little Cottonwood Canyon and enacts a traction law requiring 4×4 or chains during snowstorms. Otherwise, you can book a private or shared one-way or round-trip ride on the Alta Shuttle or use another transportation service, such as Alpine Transportation.
If you’re driving, it will take you about five hours to get to Alta from Jackson or Sun Valley, and about eight hours from Denver.
Some of the lodges offer free shuttle service for their guests between Alta and Snowbird and there’s also a free resort shuttle that runs in regular intervals during the day and on-demand during the evenings.