The following article was sponsored in partnership with our friends at the Alta Community Enrichment.
When I imagine the perfect mountain escape, I do not see myself sitting in a modern, mass-constructed, pre-planned ski village surrounded by boutique shops and over-priced restaurants. Quite the opposite, in fact. I imagine myself getting away from consumerism – escaping to a place where the impetus is on making memories, feeding the soul, and finding the soul of skiing. I want to be in a place not just in the mountains, but of the mountains – where you can form an intimacy with both nature and community.
For me, there is no better place for that intimate mountain experience than Alta, Utah.
Let me start by saying I am a powder-obsessed snow forecaster and there is no better place for skiing deep snow than Alta's eponymously named Alta Ski Area. With a true snowfall of 517” per year, Alta is one of the snowiest places in the world. Combine that with epic terrain, and you have an unmatched ski experience. It’s no wonder Alta has been a mecca for powder skiers on pilgrimage for over 80 years.
Alta is also a community of like-minded individuals who have gathered here for generations to be at peace with the mountains, and to find a reflective solitude for themselves and their families. While the growing popularity of Alta has at times made it more difficult to find the same "Alta magic" that we have known for generations, there are still ways for you to discover this intimate magic for yourself.
Tip #1: Visit During Non-Peak Periods (Early-Season / Mid-Week / Off-Season)
For most of us, the primary purpose of coming to Alta is to ski. If that is the case for you, I recommend visiting early season to get a much quieter, more intimate experience. Alta has been ranked as the #1 ski area for early season conditions. It is a bit of a locals’ secret that early season is one of the best times for powder skiing.
Alta averages over 60” of snow in November, which sets the stage for December, which is one of the snowiest months of the year with over 90” of snow on average. This means that most years, we are sporting a solid base long before the Christmas holidays, and the vast majority of the ski area's terrain is open. You will also have the benefit of a low sun angle, which helps to maintain the snow’s quality for several days after a storm.
Far fewer ski tourists book their trips prior to Christmas. Even many of the locals are out of town for the holidays – which makes for a low-stress, meditative mountain experience. The other benefit of visiting early is that lodging is often offered at discounted prices, leading to a more affordable getaway.
If early season skiing is not an option, then I would recommend visiting during mid-week rather than the weekends. There is a much higher likelihood of crowds on weekends during mid-winter. You can alleviate this by planning your travel days on the weekend and your ski days from Monday-Thursday. My personal recommendation for the perfect weeklong trip is to arrive in Alta on a Sunday night and ski Monday through Thursday. Chances are high you will get at least one powder day based on historical snowfall averages, and you won’t have to fight crowds to ski it.
For some, skiing is not the primary reason for traveling to Alta. If this applies to you, and you are simply looking to have a relaxing mountain getaway, then you truly must experience Alta during the summer or fall seasons.
In summer, Alta’s high elevation provides for cool, crisp air that revitalizes the soul. Wildflowers bloom in abundance during July and August, basking the mountain in color. Hiking opportunities abound as deer and moose freely roam the woods and meadows.
In the fall, the aspens and maples change colors and the mountains are aglow with yellow, orange, and red leaves. Frequently, we will see early snowfalls in late September and October that coat the mountains in white and cause the colors of the foliage to pop even brighter.
Tip #2: Immerse Yourself in the Alta Community
Sometimes when traveling, it is easy to forget that you are visiting a living, breathing community. The Town of Alta is a community that has gone out of its way to ensure that it is so much more than just a ski destination. Throughout the year, Alta Community Enrichment (ACE) dedicates itself to providing fulfilling events that promote “arts, culture, and education for the enhancement and well-being of the Little Cottonwood Canyon community.” Several years ago, I discovered ACE events and have been regularly attending ever since – from Mountain Film Festivals to summer drive-in movies in Alta’s Wildcat parking lot to weekly free yoga classes (Yes, you can take yoga classes in the most gorgeous mountain setting imaginable … FOR FREE!).
The enriching community events are not limited to just the town either. Alta Ski Area also hosts educational and fun on-mountain events throughout the season, including Ski with a Ranger, Snowshoe with a Naturalist, and Birding on Skis with a local aviary. The opportunities to enrich the lives of yourself and your family by becoming part of the Alta community are endless.
Lodges also frequently host events as well. In fact, I was recently lucky enough to attend a charcuterie class at the Snowpine Lodge. While this is something I never would have thought I would have an interest in, it turned out to be a wonderful experience. If you’ll allow me a bit of bragging, I must say my charcuterie board turned out quite lovely:
Tip #3: Stay in the Town of Alta
Alta is unique because, unlike many ski resorts, Alta does not have a lodge owned and run by the ski area itself. Each lodge in the Town of Alta is owned and operated independently, and each lodge has its own character that sets it apart from the others. It goes without saying, but these lodges also offer ski-in, ski-out access to the mountain, providing the level of intimacy with their mountain setting that most other ski lodges can only dream about.
The Alta Peruvian Lodge has provided an affordable camp-style ski experience at Alta for over 70 years. Locals affectionately refer to it as “P-dog” and you likely find yourself rubbing elbows with pros after a powder day as it’s a traditional gathering spot for après revelry.
Goldminer’s Daughter Lodge (GMD) is a name so synonymous with powder skiing that many of us hear tales of GMD as often as we have heard tales from the ski area itself. The halls of the lodge are lined with photos and memorabilia that give you a sense of journeying through Alta’s illustrious history. Goldminer’s Daughter is also located only steps from two of the most renowned chairlifts in the world.
Providing perhaps the most intimate experience is Alta Lodge, just up the hill from GMD. Your every need is attended to at Alta Lodge, including breakfast and dinner and afternoon coffee, tea, and cookies. I love staying at Alta Lodge because all my needs are met, and I need only worry about how to make the most out of my mountain experience each day.
Alta’s Rustler Lodge is another legendary name. Overlooking the famous run, Alf’s High Rustler, the lodge has been known to have the finest amenities in Alta since 1947. It’s also one of my favorite places to stop for lunch on a ski day when I want a gorgeous dining experience with a view.
Finally, Alta’s newest lodge after its recent re-opening in January of 2019 is the Snowpine Lodge. The Snowpine provides one breathtaking setting after another. I have been lucky enough to stay in some superb ski lodges in my years, but none hold a candle to the ambiance and luxury of the Snowpine Lodge. They have beautifully incorporated the original Snowpine building as well as Alta’s mining history into this fantastic building. The spa is one of the finest I have ever seen. In the off-season, I have a habit of escaping into the cool summer air and enjoying food and a drink on the balcony of The Gulch Pub at Snowpine, overlooking Eagle's Nest area of Alta Ski Area.
If you are looking for an even more intimate Alta experience, there are also a large number of cabins, private homes, and condominiums available to book year-round.
Without a doubt, skiing is the heartbeat that pumps blood through the town of Alta, allowing it to thrive. However, there is much more to this place than just the ski experience. There is also the intimate communion shared with the mountains and with nature as well as the enriching memories made in a community of passionate, like-minded people. The speed at which society lives continues to accelerate. The chaos of today's lifestyles is often reflected within skiing too. As powder panic grips the masses after each storm, it is important to remember that there are ways we can still find peace, solitude, and intimacy in the mountains.
To find out more about Time Well Spent in Alta, Utah, visit...
Snow Forecast & Report: Alta, Utah
Daily Snow Forecast: Utah
Download: OpenSnow App
This article was sponsored in partnership with our friends at the Alta Community Enrichment.