Skiing Alta for the first time is a memorable and addictive experience. The hallowed ground for powder skiing in North America has sculpted the lives of skiers who chase that ethereal feeling of arcing down the mountain in a weightless snow globe.
For everything that makes Alta magical are the distinct nuances that make it unique. The town, access and the way the mountain is skied are likely different than any other mountain you have skied. After a couple of days, you’ll feel the hum of this skiers’ mountain and wonder why you ever skied anywhere else. Consider the below tutorial as your intro course.
Alta is located 26 miles from downtown Salt Lake City, 32 miles from Salt Lake City International Airport and 42 miles from Park City. The proximity to Salt Lake City provides an urban contrast to the wild nature of winter within the cottonwood canyons.
If you are arriving to Salt Lake City via plane and are staying at one of the several lodges in Alta, there’s no need for a rental car. The easiest way to visit Alta is to leave the driving to someone else. This will save you time, money and hassle. Once you have arrived, there are various shuttles around Alta to get you from the chairlift to your hotel and to other nearby locales.
Transportation from SLC International Airport can be provided from the following:
If you are staying in the valley and driving up to Alta, consider carpooling or using the Ski Bus, a service provided by Utah Transit Authority (UTA). Ikon pass holders can ride the UTA Ski Bus for free.
Alta sits at the terminus of Highway 210. The dead-end road is 13 miles long, crosses 64 avalanche paths and has the highest highway avalanche hazard index of any major road in the United States. It’s a stunning and beautiful ride, even for the most seasoned local, but needs to be treated with respect during the winter months.
Rules of the road
You’ll notice signs along the highway that read ‘Snow Avalanche Area No Parking or Standing’. Please respect those as well as No Parking Signs within the Town of Alta.
State law requires that you carry chains in your vehicle or have snow tires on your vehicle from November 1st through May 1st. There are times when the Little Cottonwood Canyon Road, SR 210, may be restricted to travel
Interlodge means everyone must stay inside a building with no outdoor travel. Simply put, there is too much snow outside for you to travel safely.
For skiers, Interlodge means deep powder skiing and a unique experience you’ll likely tell your friends and perhaps your grandchildren about. Yes, you’ll have to weather the storm and follow the rules of Interlodge—which we highlight below—but you might also experience the best day of skiing of your life.
Staying inside during Interlodge protects you from the avalanche control that is taking place outside. Alta Ski Area or the Utah Department of Transportation are intentionally triggering avalanches to make the road and ski area safer for travel.
For updates on Interlodge and Road status you can check UDOT Avalanche or the Town of Alta’s Twitter Page.
The feel-good Alta vibe is not only a product of the copious amounts of snow and locals that frequent this place, but also because Alta is about the skiing not opulent amenities.
"Heated sidewalks with villages full of trendy strip mall stores, well you won’t find that here and that’s the way we like it."
However, that is not to say that Alta doesn’t provide modern-day amenities, which it does. We just rather focus on the skiing and the mountain rather than things that detract from spending time in the mountains and skiing with friends.
However, that is not to say that Alta doesn’t provide modern-day amenities - we would just rather focus on the skiing, time in the mountains, and catching up with friends. Spas, après hot tubs, bars, and restaurants are all available.
While you are skiing, you’ll find some chairs are faster while others are classic old-school doubles, including some without safety bars. Take time to enjoy the slow rides as they preserve snow quality and can often spark a good conversation.
On-mountain amenities can be found near the Sugarloaf and Supreme chair at Alf’s Restaurant or at Watson’s Shelter near the Collins chairlift. Both are ideal for lunch and midday snacks.
Upon Arrival—Navigating Two Base Areas
Upon arrival, you can begin your day at the Wildcat and Collins base or at the Albion. Each of these areas provides specific needs that cater to the individual skier and family, so it’s best to plan ahead to which suits your needs. Both are connected via a rope tow or shuttle.
Albion Base Area
The Albion Basin is ideal for beginners, families and those who are enrolling in a ski lesson with the Alf Engen Ski School. The Albion Day lodge is also a bit quieter than the Goldminer’s. The Albion has food, a ski shop and Alta Java—a local’s favorite for coffee.
Collins Base Area
Advanced skiers typically park at Wildcat and Collins and use the Goldminer’s Daughter Lodge as their home base. There’s food, lockers and two ski shops. The Deep Powder House and Alta Ski Shop provide rentals, gear, and novelty items.
Managing the Traverses
Typically at ski resorts, skiers unload the chairlift and glide onto the best trails at the mountain. At Alta, this isn’t always the case. Here you may find sidesteps and traverses that lead to the most popular runs. The main access point is the High Traverse, aka the ‘High-T,’ which as located at the top of the Collins chair. Once you learn the tools of the trade you’ll quickly find that traverses and sidesteps are an extremely efficient way to access terrain.
"Typically at ski resorts, skiers unload the chairlift and glide onto the best trails at the mountain. At Alta this isn’t always the case."
How to Navigate The High Traverse (High-T)
- Think of the High-T as a freeway. There are multiple exits for ski runs and a few places to pull off and take in the view. Use common sense. You wouldn’t hit the brakes in the middle of the highway, nor should you stop in the middle of the traverse.
- If you’re skiing with a group make a plan on where you’ll be heading before venturing out on the traverse. If you’re waiting for someone to catch up, pull off the traverse and let others go by.
- Hear a pole tap? Then heads up behind you. The pole tap is a universal call that someone faster is approaching and they’d like to pass.
- Sometimes a traverse will lead to a sidestep. Keep your skis on here. Boot packing is only allowed to access Baldy Chutes. You will earn the hot-tub session at the end of the day on these side-steps!
- The key to traversing is to find the smoothest and most efficient route. Have fun and keep your speed up.