You wouldn’t guess it from the industrial modern exterior or its chic interior, but Alta’s Snowpine Lodge predates the ski area on which it stands. At least, technically speaking.
When skiing legend Alf Engen was hired by Utah’s Forest Service in 1935 to scout land at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon for the viability of a ski area, he would have found the remnants of an old mining townsite established in 1871. But by the time Engen got there, the town had largely been abandoned after the Depression, the decline in silver mining, and a series of disasters including avalanches and a devastating fire spurred most of its original inhabitants to move on to greener pastures.
Only one of Alta’s original buildings withstood that test of time: the Stillwell General Store which first served Alta’s mine workers but was transformed into the Snowpine Lodge, a public shelter for skiers, in 1939.
Fast forward nearly a century, and the original Snowpine Lodge has gone through several makeovers and changes in ownership. Today, it’s owned by real estate developer Brent Pratt and his wife Meg, who purchased the lodge in 2010—partly because it was a good investment, but partly because they needed a place to house their expanding brood of enthusiastic Alta skiers (the Pratts have eight children and three times as many grandchildren).
“After 30 years and many more visits to Alta, it was becoming increasingly difficult to find a place that could accommodate my extended family,” Pratt jokes.
Under the Pratts’ ownership, the Snowpine saw its most recent renovation in 2018, a $40M overhaul which gave the lodge a luxury facelift while retaining some of its historic character.
On my first trip to Alta in March of this year, I decided to stay at the Snowpine to follow in the footsteps of my dad, who had stayed at the lodge in 1972. Back then, it was still a budget lodge with dormitory rooms that catered to no-fuss, no-muss skiers looking for cheap digs with meals included. I was curious to see if any of this rough-hewn character remained.
As soon as we walked into the lobby, I guessed that my dad would no longer recognize the new and improved Snowpine as the same place he camped out in 50 years ago.
The entire 10,000-square-foot hotel is tastefully decorated with modern furniture and rustic undertones. Its 54 hotel rooms are elegantly minimalist. Some offer private slopeside balconies with views of Alta’s imposing steeps, some are luxury suites with separate living spaces ideal for families and larger groups, but all offer upscale amenities such as plush beds and walk-in showers.
The aesthetic throughout the hotel is decidedly modern and clean, though touches of the Snowpine’s rustic past remain in the wood beams on the ceilings and in exposed stone walls and fireplaces.
While most of these nods to the Snowpine’s past were re-created in the rebuild in 2018, some of the original Stillwell General Store foundation remains in the Snowpine’s Stillwell Spa, a full-service spa with massage rooms, an oxygen bar, relaxation room, and grotto, a large, indoor hot tub set amid the building’s original granite stone.
And despite the pivot to luxury, today’s Snowpine still offers dormitory rooms—redone in the modern aesthetic—which sleep two to four guests and offer skiers on a tighter budget comfortable slopeside lodging and access to all of the Snowpine’s upscale amenities.
These amenities include The Nest, a game room featuring ping-pong and pool tables, arcade room, and an in-house movie theater; a heated outdoor pool flanked by two hot tubs; the in-house Powderhouse ski shop for convenient gear rentals and purchases; a private chair lift to sweep hotel guests from Alta’s base area back up to their ski lockers in the lower level of the hotel; the Gulch Pub and Swen’s restaurant serving everything from craft cocktails and an expansive wine list to delicious small bites and entrees in a cozy atmosphere; and a plethora of communal spaces on each floor that encourage guests to mingle outside of their hotel rooms.
“These communal areas were intentional in the redesign,” explains Brent Hall, Director of Sales and Marketing for the Snowpine. “They’re places for guests to come together to relax and share their evenings after a day on the slopes.”
My dad, like many who have stayed at the Snowpine over the course of its long and revered history, would not recognize this lodge as the same building they once bedded down in. Some of these Alta diehards might grumble about the new look and posh atmosphere, but the new Snowpine doesn’t entirely dispense with what made the original Snowpine such a staple of the ski area. It’s still very much a place where skiers can come together and relax after a great day on the hill; but now they can relax in a more comfortable and fashionable style.