Alta, P.O. Box 8007, Alta, UT 84092-8007 (tel. 801/359-1078; www.alta.com), is famous for its snow -- over 500 inches of some of the lightest powder in the world -- and at $59 for an all-day lift ticket, it's an excellent value. Located about 45 minutes southeast of Salt Lake City, at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon, Alta is an excellent choice for serious skiers of all levels. Beginners have their share of runs, and the more adventurous novices can even try a bit of easygoing tree skiing through the woods. Intermediates will find plenty of open cruising ground, forested areas, and long, arcing chutes to glide through, plus opportunities to work on their bumps technique (try Challenger for a moderately pitched set) or practice their turns in the powder. Experts will find an abundance of the Cottonwood Canyons' famous powder and spectacular runs, like steep, long Alf's High Rustler. Alta offers much for the expert and the extreme skier -- far too much to cover here -- but hard-core skiers should know that you'll have to step out of the bindings and do a bit of hiking to get to some of the longest drops and best powder-laden runs. Alta is one of the few Western ski areas left that forbids snowboarding.
Alta's fans are many and loyal. That's because the emphasis here is on quality skiing, and to protect that quality, Alta has chosen to limit its uphill capacity. This is a classic ski resort, with both European-style terrain and sensibilities. This means that people are turned away on those occasions when the ski gods determine there are already enough skiers on the mountain. An announcement is made on 530 AM radio about a half-hour before the closure.
More than 100 runs are served by two detachable quads, one detachable triple, one triple, three doubles, three surface tows, and a moving conveyor. Alta has 2,200 skiable acres, with snow-making on 50 acres. Although it's famous for its expert runs, Alta also has fine beginner and intermediate trails. The breakdown is 25% beginner, 40% intermediate, and 35% advanced, with a base elevation of 8,530 feet rising to 10,550 feet at the top, yielding a vertical drop of 2,020 feet. Alta is generally open from mid-November to mid-April, with lifts operating daily from 9:15am to 4:30pm.
Alta Ski Lifts Company owns and operates only the ski area; all other businesses and services are privately run. At the base of Albion and Sunnyside lifts is a day lodge with a cafeteria, lift-ticket sales, day care, the ski school, and rentals. Two more cafeterias are located on the mountain. A transfer tow connects the Albion and Wildcat lift areas; in this base area, there are four lodges with dining facilities, ski rentals, and kids' programs.
Lift Tickets -- All-day all-lift tickets cost $66, with half-day tickets at $56. Beginner lifts only are $34, as are children 12 and under. Combination lift tickets are available for both Alta and Snowbird. The area also has a "Ski Free After 3" that allows beginners to test out some of the easiest terrain in Albion Basin for an hour and a half at the end of the day.
Lessons & Programs -- Founded in 1948 by Alf Engen, the highly regarded ski school (tel. 801/359-1078, ext. 271) is recognized for its contribution to the development of professional ski instruction. Two-hour group lessons cost $48; private instruction starts at $90 for a 1-hour lesson. The Children's Ski Adventures program, for ages 4 to 12, offers fun skill development, and lessons in ski etiquette. Choose either a half- or all-day program.
Alta's day-care program (tel. 801/742-3042; www.altachildrenscenter.com) is open to children ages 2 months to 10 years old; reservations are encouraged. Call for current rates.
Where to Stay & Dine
The best places to stay in Alta are slope-side. The following accommodations add a 15% service charge to your bill in lieu of tipping; room tax adds about 13%.
Alta Lodge (tel. 800/707-2582 or 801/742-3500; www.altalodge.com) is perhaps the quintessential mountain ski lodge -- simple and rustic, with a touch of class. The lodge has Jacuzzis, saunas, a general store, a kids' program, a bar, and a restaurant with superb food. The comfortable units range from small and basic dormitory rooms to handsome corner rooms with fireplaces and a balcony. Rates, including breakfast and dinner, range from $255 to $541 for two, or $82 to $138 per bed (less for kids) in a dorm room.
Rustler Lodge (tel. 888/532-2582 for reservations, or 801/742-2200; www.rustlerlodge.com) is elegant yet relaxed, with a great mountain-lodge ambience, a spa, and rooms that range from basic to deluxe (several two-room suites are available). Rates, including full breakfast and dinner, range from $288 to $561 for two; a bed for one in a dorm room, with breakfast and dinner, costs $108 to $141.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.