Alta Ski Area
Reviewed by Mark Lesh
Nov 06, 2008
Trace a line formed by Maine's State Routes 16, 27, 4, and 142 and you will encircle some of the state's highest mountains. In the southern part of the circle you'll find the long, impressive mass of Saddleback Mountain, from whose summit drop the twisty, wooded trails of Saddleback the ski resort.
Sugarloaf boasts 138 trails, 15 lifts, and a bustling village at the base.
Even on the biggest dump days the place is peaceful: Lift lines barely push four minutes, and locals take leisurely dips into untracked shots all day.
In 2004, sleepy Alta ripped out a triple and a double chair and replaced the aging lifts with a high-speed quad. It was a big move for a resort that prides itself on minimal grooming, stay-fresh powder, and a skiers-only policy. But don’t be thrown off by the progress. Alta controls the number of people it lets on the mountain, and the Collins quad only makes access to the resort’s 700 acres of steeps, bowls, and chutes six minutes faster—and more comfortable on the butt. So it’ll help you conserve energy for all those extra laps off Germania Ridge.
Powder Day: First, head way out the High Traverse from the top of Collins lift and hit the open pitches of Greeley Bowl and Greeley Hill. Then beeline it to Baldy Shoulder, a short hike from the Wildcat lift to the mountain’s deepest snow.
Three Days Later: Sidestep 20 minutes from the top of the Supreme lift to East Castle for lonely, 800-foot-long lines. Later in the season, hike Mount Baldy, a 30-minute, 1,000-foot boot-pack from the Interconnect Station at Sugarloaf Pass. You’ll earn access to the legendary Baldy Chutes—and the respect of Alta’s hiking elite.
Park and Pipe: Alta won’t even have a terrain park this season. The real hits are the natural cliffs and wind lips tucked in Alta’s wide-open bowls and gullies.
Backcountry Access: It’s an open-gate policy. Skilled and properly geared-up backcountry skiers can exit the resort from the gate in Catherine’s Area and hike to the mellow, 30-degree trees off the back of Patsy Marley Ridge. Track avalanche conditions at avalanche.org/~uac.
Weather: Alta’s light and fluffy is created by orographic lift. Storms cruising east out of the Great Basin rise, cool, condense, and dump in the Wasatch. If it’s storming in the northwest, wax your boards and start traveling.
Après: Head to the bar at the Peruvian Lodge for a laid-back atmosphere and free popcorn and appetizers (now that’s a perk).
Fuel: Slurp down a Susie’s Special (double espresso and chai; $4) at Alta Java before first chair. For lunch, the new midmountain Watson Shelter café has Alta’s best burger (the Baldy). Not into greasy beef? Take it upstairs to the Collins grill for Provençal fare.
Up All Night: Alta powderhounds pass out before midnight, but if you’re hell-bent on raging, head to the Tram Club at Snowbird, or to Port O’ Call for dancing in downtown SLC.
Digs: The Alta Peruvian Lodge (altaperuvian.com) offers three meals and a dorm-style room starting at $120 per person per night. —Mark Lesh