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A skier in a mask on a snowy day at Alta Ski Area

2020–21 Season Recap

By Adam Fehr 05-27-2021

We knew this season would look a lot different. and it did.

In Alta’s 83-year history, we’ve never experienced a ski season in the midst of a global pandemic. The 2020–21 season will be remembered as a challenging year for everyone as the pandemic impacted every aspect of skiing. We greatly appreciate everyone’s patience as we worked to stay safe and stay open. And we did just that—staying open for 150 ski days. We are all drawn to the mountains and skiing for different reasons.

It is our hope that this past season, or even just a single run at Alta, provided you with joy during a year filled with mountain top after mountain top of challenges.

Last summer, Alta Ski Area made the decision to control on-mountain capacity via parking, increasing the distance between cars to alleviate the stress on our lift and base area infrastructure. Social distancing guidelines drastically reduced carpooling and the use of public transportation which led to scores of single-occupancy vehicles in our already limited parking lots. Our parking lots filled up early and cars were turned away on several weekends and holidays.

Alta still only relies on five chairlifts to carry skiers up the mountain. In a normal year, these five lifts can manage even the busiest weekends and holidays. Social distancing guidelines cut our uphill capacity in half as chair after chair carried one or two skiers up the mountain. This led to longer waits than usual to load chairs. Ghost lanes and physical distancing guidelines also made the lift lines visibly longer than we’re accustomed to seeing at Alta.

Our on-mountain dining facilities implemented strict capacity restraints while Alta Ski Area worked with the privately-owned base lodges to limit access to those staying in the lodges. These changes were inconvenient, yet necessary, to ensure we were able to stay open and keep skiing. With reduced capacity in Alta-based lodges, a huge decrease in domestic and international travel and no après-ski scene, we saw season passholders and locals enjoying the mountain more than usual.

Simply put, Alta skiers came for the skiing and stayed for the skiing.

Some of the new policies and challenges created an opportunity for Alta to embrace change. We look forward to implementing some of these changes heading into the 2021-22 season, as we work to continue providing the skiing experience that has kept generations of skiers returning to Alta season after season.

Looking Back

Without further ado, let’s take a look back at the snowfall events, memorable moments and stories that made Alta’s 83rd season one of the more unforgettable seasons in recent memory. It wasn’t a record-breaking year by any means, but we made it through the season. And we even skied a little powder along the way.

November 2020

The 2020-21 season got off to a slow start. For the first time since the 2014-15 season, there was zero measurable snow by October 31st. That changed very quickly as a huge early-November storm delivered 55” of snow in the week prior to Alta’s opening.

Alta opened on November 21st, carrying Alta skiers uphill for the first time since the abrupt, season-ending closure on March 14th, 2020. As one of the first ski areas to open in North America, all eyes were on Alta employees and our skiers to see how the new pandemic guidelines would play out in real life. We were happy to see that our skiers were quick to adopt the new mask-wearing and physical distancing requirements.

A lone Alta skier rides Wildcat in November 2020

A lone Alta skier rides Wildcat in November 2020 | Photo: Iz La Motte

December 2020

Only ten inches of snow fell in the first three weeks of the season, but cold temperatures allowed for additional snowmaking as the Alta Ski Patrol worked to open additional terrain and we waited for the all-natural snow to start flying.

The season turned around quickly, just in time for the holidays. Sixty inches of very cold, low-density snow fell in the week leading up to the holiday season. December 18th will be remembered as one of the deepest days of the season.

Dash Longe skis deep powder at Alta Ski Area in December 2020Dash Longe dives into 19" of 5%-density powder snow at Alta Ski Area in December 2020 | Photo: Rocko Menzyk

As more terrain and lifts opened, Alta parking crews were able to decrease the distance between parked vehicles, allowing more skiers on the mountain. The base area lodging numbers were still well below normal and local skiers and those within driving distance flocked to Alta to enjoy the snow, the fresh air and a break from the stress of the pandemic.

January 2021

Like the rest of the world, we were thrilled to see our calendars no longer read 2020. Mother Nature didn’t get the "new year, new me" memo for a few weeks as promising forecasts waned and approaching storms seemed to disintegrate at the Utah border. We enjoyed the respite that skiing has always provided, but the mountain seemed to be getting smaller by the day. Winter weather was fairly quiet until the end of January when a series of storms took aim at Little Cottonwood Canyon and ushered in the Return of Winter.

Jennie Symons enjoys a deep January powder day | Photo: Iz La MotteJennie Symons enjoys a deep January powder day | Photo: Iz La Motte

Back-to-back 20” storms started an unusual string of six consecutive weekend snow events. The new snow was greeted with open arms and the weekend warriors were happy. Weekend and holiday snowstorms tend to create more headaches than the typical midweek powder day and Little Cottonwood Canyon experienced road closures, midday avalanche control work on Highway 210, full parking lots and lift lines.

February 2021

February was downright wild. The first week of the month delivered a hard-hitting storm and 27” of new snow. A President's Day weekend storm started on a Thursday and dropped three feet of new snow by the end of the holiday weekend—historically, one of the busiest weekends for the ski industry. And that was just the start.

Jonah Williams dives into the first 3 of the 13 feet of snow to fall in FebruaryJonah Williams dives into the first three feet of February snow. Little did he know there would be another ten feet by the end of the month | Photo: Rocko Menzyk

Due to the new snow and another storm on the doorstep, an Interlodge order went into effect just before midnight on Monday, February 15th. Alta employees, residents of Alta and lodge guests were required to stay indoors until avalanche conditions were tended to by Alta Ski Patrol, Snowbird Ski Patrol and the Utah Department of Transportation. The snow kept falling. As 210 natural and controlled avalanches occurred during the storm cycle, Alta and Snowbird remained closed and the Town of Alta remained Interlodged on Tuesday, February 16th and Wednesday, February 17th.

Finally, on the morning of Thursday, February 18th, after 60 Hours of interlodge, the lifts started spinning. With Highway 210 still covered in avalanche debris, there was still no way for skiers in the Salt Lake Valley to reach Alta Ski Area and the 65” of fresh snow that had fallen since the Interlodge started. Skiers who had waited out the storm indoors had to choose between making their way home or enjoying a powder day at Alta Ski Area, open only to the lucky few who had weathered the storm in the Town of Alta—a rare phenomenon known locally as a Country Club day.

Cars buried during the 60-Hour Interlodge at Alta Ski AreaSkiers on Baldy Shoulder at Alta Country Club

Digging out after the 60-Hour Interlodge

Alpenglow after the storm

The Alta Country Club after a 60-Hour Interlodge in February 2021| Photos: Rocko Menzyk

February ended the way it began—snowy. In total, 162.5” of snow fell during the 28 days of February. With 103” falling in just one week. The 13.5 feet of snow was the snowiest single month at Alta in the past decade, almost doubling the 10- and 40-year average snowfall for the month of February. Not bad for the shortest month of the season.

March 2021

On March 15th, 2021, Alta turned on the lifts and we went skiing. While it doesn’t sound like much, it marked the one-year anniversary of Alta’s season-ending closure due to worldwide COVID-19 concerns. With just over a month left in the season and vaccination rates on the rise, we started to feel optimistic about our chances of enjoying a full ski season. If we stayed vigilant, continuing to wear masks and practice social distancing, we may be able to pull off this pandemic-altered ski season.

Spring Skiing's triumphaat return

March Powder Day with GMD employee Connor Pelletier | Photo: Photo-John

March skiing at Alta Ski Area typically consists of deep powder days and lots of neon | Photos: Photo-John (left) and Iz La Motte (right)

On March 21st, 2021, we welcomed the first official day of spring skiing in almost two years. As March drew to a close, we witnessed an infusion of energy and stoke from newly vaccinated out-of-state skiers that had been patiently waiting to visit Alta.

April 2021

April delivered some phenomenal skiing as we started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Locals were even treated to a few overdue—and overperforming—midweek storms. Like clockwork, a mid-April tax-day storm delivered some of the deepest spring powder turns of the season.

Evan Thayer skis deep powder in April

Wiggle season at Alta Ski Area | Photo: Rocko Menzyk

April powder days and wiggles | Photos: Photo-John (left) and Rocko Menzyk (right)

The season ended on April 25th, and locals were able to celebrate this unusual season with sunny spring conditions, silly costumes and even some live music in Alta's Wildcat parking lot—an ending to the season beyond our wildest expectations and a reminder of what we have to look forward to next winter.

2020-21 by the Numbers

Seasonal Snowfall

  • 2020–21 Seasonal Snowfall = 486.5 inches
    • 2019–20 = 542”
    • 2018–19 = 626”
  • 88.9% of Alta's 40-Year Average Snowfall of 547 inches
    • 2019–20 = 99.1% of average
    • 2018–19 = 114.4% of average
  • 99.1% of Alta's 10-Year Average Snowfall of 491 inches
    • 2019–20 = 110% of average
    • 2018–19 = 127.4% of average

When it was all said and done, Alta received 486.5” of snow, which was 11.4% below our 40-year average and 1.3% below Alta’s 10-year average. The season was buoyed by an incredible February while all other months saw below-average snowfall relative to Alta’s 40-year average.

February 2021

  • February 2021 snowfall = 162.5”
    • 178% of Alta’s 40-year average snowfall for February (90.9”)
    • 183% of Alta’s 10-year average snowfall for February (88.7”)
  • 33.4% of Alta’s seasonal snowfall fell during the month of February
  • Alta received new snow on 19 of 28 days in February (67.9% of days)
  • On average, 6” of new snow fell each day in February
  • Between February 11th–18th, Alta received 103” of snow (21% of the season’s snowfall)
    • 19” of snow fell on February 15th (3.4% of the season’s snowfall)
    • 28” of snow fell on February 16th (5.8% of the season’s snowfall)
    • 9.2% of the season’s snowfall fell on the two days mid-month that Alta remained closed

2020-21 Snowfall Totals |

2020–21 powder skiing probabilities

  • 150 total ski days during the 2020–21 season
    • 2019–20: 107 total ski days (COVID-19 closure)
    • 2018–19: 153 total ski days
  • 66 days delivered 1 inch or more of new snow = 44% of all ski days
    • 2019–20: 54 days = 50.5%
    • 2018–19: 80 days = 52.3%
  • 41 days delivered 3 inches or more of new snow = 27.3%
    • 2019–20: 41 days = 38.3%
    • 2018–19: 53 days = 34.6%
  • 24 days delivered 6 inches or more of new snow = 16%
    • 2019–20: 23 days = 21.5%
    • 2018–19: 41 days = 26.8%
  • 13 days delivered 10 inches or more of new snow = 8.7%
    • 2019–20: 12 days = 11.2%
    • 2018–19: 21 days = 13.7%
  • 2 days delivered 20 inches or more of new snow = 3%
    • 2019–20: 2 days = 1.9%
    • 2018–19: 7 days = 4.5%

While snow fell less often and in smaller quantities than we're used to at Alta, the 2020–21 season was a huge success. There were plenty of deep powder days— Alta saw 13 days with over 10 inches of new snow. When it wasn't snowing, we enjoyed a great stretch of bluebird spring days in March and April. And there was no shortage of fresh snow for the weekend warriors as the six weekends between January 22nd and February 27th saw an average of 21” of new snow.

The weekend storms and holiday crowds put a lot of stress on Alta's pandemic-modified infrastructure. But we made it work and, most importantly, we were able to stay open and keep skiing in a ski season unlike any other in Alta’s 83-year history.

2019–20 Season Recap: A Deep Dive into Uncharted Snow Banks

2018–19 Season Recap: A Deep Dive Into A Deep Year

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