Insider's Guide to Resort Skiing at Alta

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Alta was born as a mining town in the 1870s, and it still holds to its outlaw roots. The resort is renowned as one of the finest in the U.S. as far as terrain and snow are concerned, yet it refuses to get uppity or formal. However, like a salty old miner, it holds fast to its traditions, one of which is very controversial: its ban on snowboarding.

As much as that may irk snowboarders, the resort’s traditional ski roots are also a big part of its charm. Its Collins lift was one of the first ski lifts in North America. The lift machinery may have been updated over the years, but skiers are enjoying the same classic lines as Alta-goers did in the thirties. The buildings retain their rustic look, an ongoing reminder that this resort helped define what skiing is as a sport. It’s “the original.”

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It fully lives up to its tagline, “Alta is for skiers.” (Sorry again, one-plankers.) Many self-professed ski snobs in Salt Lake will only ski Alta and proudly slap its bumper stickers on their Subaru wagons. The resort’s unique location, perched high up at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon, sets it up for maximum snow accumulation during storms. Its amenities are simple and no-fuss; don’t expect an entire village full of fine eateries and signature cocktails. This place is about the skiing.

But don’t mistake Alta’s old-time traditions for sleepiness or slowness. This place is abuzz with activity. Since many of the best local skiers insist on skiing here, things track out quickly. The traverses move fast—don’t be the bumbling one, because there is no slow lane. People move through the lines and board the lifts with brisk efficiency—no seat goes unfilled with people waiting.

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Skiers here charge hard; it’s a blast to watch and even more fun to get swept into the momentum. But don’t stick too closely with the herd. Sometimes, as the powder-hungry hordes accumulate in an obvious spot like the Collins lift, they’re overlooking old standbys like Wildcat or the farther reaches of Sugarloaf or Supreme. And when a traverse opens up on a powder day, word spreads fast; you can choose between racing to beat everyone there or letting them run for it while you enjoy the goods they just left for you.

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Alta’s terrain varies from long, steep straight shots to cliff hops and rolling gullies that serve as natural playgrounds. The mountain lives up to its reputation as a challenging area for advanced skiers, although about half of its terrain is also beginner-friendly. The resort knows that generations of Salt Lake skiers have earned their chops here, and it makes sense to continue welcoming families and learners alongside the usual seasoned experts. It even offers ultra-cheap $10 lift access after 3:00 on its beginner lifts to encourage parents to bring their future shredders up for an hour of afternoon practice. At Alta, it’s never too early to start embracing a skiing tradition.

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