Family Ski Resort Guide | Alta Ski Area

Family Ski Resort Guide | Alta Ski Area

Local Lexi

By Local Lexi \ December 16 2019

The moment you step on the snow at Alta Ski Area you immediately feel a powerful sense of history. When the silver ran out, famed skiing legend Alf Engen submitted a proposal to the U.S. Forest Service in 1935, declaring Alta the perfect landscape for a future ski resort. The first chairlift was constructed with surplus mining timber and Alta opened in 1939, offering a single chairlift ride for 25 cents. Alta Ski Area is for skiers only; snowboarders are not permitted.

Alta is about as family-friendly a resort as you’ll find. From gently sloping learner’s areas to gnarly powder-filled chutes, legendary powder snow, steeps and trees, Alta has enough variety and expanse to keep any family busy exploring for seasons upon seasons. The community, history, scenery and charm are what makes Alta a world-class destination.

Alta Ski Area is located at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon above Snowbird. Approximate driving times (in favorable driving conditions) and distances are listed below:  
Salt Lake City: 33 miles – 45 minutes
Provo: 48 miles – 1 hour, 20 minutes
Ogden: 69 miles – 1.5 hours
Logan: 113 miles – 2 hours, 15 minutes
St. George: 305 miles – 4 hours, 45 minutes


In a 5th Grader’s Words:
“Alta feels different than other places I've skied because there are so many different runs and you just feel really free there. I like Alta because it has so many secret stashes and nooks” - Grace, Age 10


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TERRAIN & MOUNTAIN STATS

Skiable Acres: 2,614 Acres
Vertical Drop: 2,538 Feet
Number of Runs: 116+
Terrain: 15% Beginner, 30% Intermediate, 55% Advanced
Chairlifts: 6, 1 Learner’s Conveyer
Night Skiing: None

The terrain, consistency of storms and snow, and friendly atmosphere are what attract families to Alta. Its location, perched at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon, is legendary for both the quantity and quality of powder snow. Alta is one of the best resorts to visit in the early season, often having better coverage than other ski areas in November and early December. You’ll find many families posted up with infants or young children at Goldminer's Daughter Lodge, taking turns making turns and watching the young ones.

Families with advanced skiers should begin their day from the Wildcat Base, the first parking area at Alta. Those who are learning or taking ski lessons should begin further up the Canyon at the Albion Base Area. Note that the parking lots of Alta can fill up on sunny days after a powder storm or weekends. It is best to either head up early, carpool, or catch a lift on the UTA Ski Bus.

Intermediates and beginners should start their day on the Sunnyside chairlift. There are gentle groomers to explore Alta and enjoy the jaw-dropping scenery. Hit Dipsy Doodle, Crooked Mile, and Patsy Marley if you’re seeking wide and friendly trails. To take it up a notch, explore the slightly steeper terrain of Blue Bell. True beginners can use the moving conveyer located west of the Alf Engen Ski School building.

There are steeper blue and black runs off the Sugarloaf Chairlift, accessible via Sunnyside. The easiest blue trail is Little Dipper. A nice long and winding blue run is Devil’s Elbow; Rollercoaster is a much steeper and thrilling blue route back down to the Sugarloaf chairlift. Advanced Skiers will enjoy Sugar Bowl or Keyhole Gulch and in the event of a powder storm, a bracing hike up into the Devil’s Castle will get the blood pumping. Additional steep terrain, the legendary powder of Catherine’s Area, tree skiing, and a handful of swooping groomers are available off the Supreme Chairlift for strong intermediate and advanced skiers.

If coming from Sugarloaf, Supreme, or Sunnyside, the Wildcat Base area can be accessed via the Transfer Tow or the East Baldy Traverse. There are no easy runs on this side of Alta due to the steepness of the slopes and all runs are rated blue or black. Perennial favorites include any of the steep terrain off the High Traverse, Fred’s Trees, and the playful, jibby terrain off the charming old Wildcat lift. Note that there is only one blue cat track run off Wildcat, Aggie’s Alley; the remaining terrain off the Wildcat chair is all rated for expert/advanced skiers.


POW-Transportation


PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION

Little Cottonwood Canyon can experience road delays in the event of big storms or necessary avalanche mitigation. You should always check road conditions in inclement weather and never attempt a drive up either of the Cottonwood Canyons without 4-wheel drive or chains. For current road status, you can check Canyon Alerts.

Consider riding the UTA Ski Bus to avoid driving and help reduce canyon and parking congestion. In the winter months, the Utah Transit Authority (UTA), runs daily service from November or December until March or April. Routes 990, 953, and 994 service Little Cottonwood Canyon at 15-minute intervals during peak hours from West Valley, Midvale, Downtown, Cottonwood Heights, and Sandy. Check the UTA website for a current schedule and read our Guide to Ride the Ski Bus.


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BASE AREA & MAIN LODGES

Alta has two main base areas, Wildcat (near the Wildcat and Collins chairlifts) and the Albion Base Area located further up the canyon (near the Sunnyside lift). Daily rental lockers are located near ski school, the basement of the Albion Grill, and the Goldminer’s Daughter; Alta Java provides overnight ski check.

Ski lessons will depart from the Alf Engen Ski School building at the Albion Base, so it’s best to park here if lessons are on the menu or gentler terrain is desired. You can head inside the Albion Grill and get ready there before making your way to the Ski School building to check in. The grill is also a nice spot for non-skiers to hang out or wait for lessons to wrap up. Lift tickets can be purchased from the top level of the Ski School building.

From the Wildcat Base Area, you may head indoors to the Slopeside Café in the Goldminer’s Daughter to don boots and snow clothes. You can grab an espresso or snack here before starting your day. Lift tickets can be purchased from the Wildcat Ticket Office adjacent to the Collins lift. Note that there is no easy terrain on this side, so if you have beginning or beginner/intermediate skiers, it’s best to park at the Albion Base Area and start your day there.


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SKI SCHOOL

Since 1948, the Alf Engen Ski School has built on decades of tradition, helping skiers develop their confidence all across the storied slopes of Alta. Alta divides their adult and children’s lessons into various groups based on experience and ability level. Lessons are offered in half, full, and multi-day blocks. Alta provides a good number of clinics, workshops, camps, and seasonal programs; check their website for current offerings. The Alf Engen Ski School is located at the Albion Base adjacent to the Albion Grill.

Adult Lessons
Lessons for adult skiers are offered in group or private settings to develop skills, explore more terrain, and have fun meeting like-minded skiers. Options span the entire spectrum from beginner group lessons to expert off-piste workshops. Private lessons are available for adult skiers interested in honing either alpine or Telemark technique.

Children’s Lessons
Group lessons for children are broken down into several levels.

Beginner Ski Adventures (Ages 4-12)
These lessons are for those who are first-time skiers and provide an introduction to skiing. Students will learn how to complete consistent wedge turns and speed control on easy green slopes.

Advanced Beginner-Intermediate (Ages 4-12)
Children will learn and fine tune the art of parallel turns and hone the skills needed to explore green and blue terrain safely.

Advanced Mountain Explorers (Ages 7-Early Teen)
More experienced skiers will learn advanced skills to access the entire mountain with confidence.

Children’s Private Lessons (Ages 3 & Up)
Children three and up can be booked into private lessons that tailor the class to the child’s skill and area of focus. Parents may join children on their private lesson and several different lengths of lessons are offered.

Check out our cute friend Huck's first lesson/day on skis at Alta.


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SKI SHOP & EQUIPMENT RENTALS

Alta has a handful of shops offering boot fitting, demos, rentals, and a wide selection of ski equipment and accessories in addition to neat logo gear. There are a variety of shops available both on the mountain and at each base area.

Rentals at the Wildcat Base are located in the Wildcat Ticket Building in the Alta Ski Shop for snowshoes and alpine, Telemark and Nordic skis. Package deals are available for multi-day rentals. Skiers are welcome to swap out demo skis during the day as conditions change. Brands include Black Diamond, Atomic, Dynastar, DPS, Head, K2, and Nordica. Tuning services and overnight ski check are also offered.

For those visiting the Albion Day Lodge, check out the new Alta Ski Shop location beneath the grill.


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LODGING AND DINING OPTIONS

Four of Alta’s five lodges offer ski-in/ski-out access. The newest lodge, completely rebuilt in stunning mountain modern style, is The Snowpine Lodge. This 5-star luxury hotel offers exquisite views, a world-class spa, and beautiful rooms.

A more traditional Alta experience can be had by booking a few nights in the Alta Peruvian Lodge, the Goldminer's Daughter Lodge, or the Alta Lodge. Many different options are available ranging from simple dorm rooms to luxe suites. High-class lodging can also be secured at the Rustler Lodge. All lodges, excluding the Alta Peruvian, feature ski-in/ski-out access. It is a short walk across the parking lot from the Alta Peruvian Lodge, or they offer a free shuttle service to either base area.


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For those lapping Sugarloaf, Supreme, or Sunnyside, the Albion Grill or Alf's Restaurant is ideally situated for a hot meal or snack. Indoor and outdoor seating with beautiful views are guaranteed. Alf’s is a fun spot to stop off and admire the collection of antique skis, photos, and Alta memorabilia dating back to the 1800’s. Albion Grill is a convenient place to fuel the kids after lessons. Locals favor Alta Java for a quick snack; it’s a little walk-up coffee shop beneath Albion Grill with piping hot empanadas, grilled paninis, and the best coffee around.

Over on the other side of the resort, most folks opt to stop off and warm up or grab a meal at the Watson Cafe. Superb views of Mount Superior and Mount Baldy can be enjoyed here along with an extensive menu of salads, pizza, soups, chili, sandwiches, and daily specials. Watson Cafe is convenient because it is located mid-mountain near the Collins chairlift angle station. Great coffee, espresso drinks, and snacks are whipped up daily at Baldy Brews, with a few outdoor tables. A full-service, fine dining restaurant, Collins Grill, is located on the 3rd floor of the Watson shelter featuring a European style bistro-grill inspired menu.

At the Wildcat base, cafeteria-style food is served out of the Goldminer’s Daughter from the Slopeside Café which features a sunroom and patio seating. Upstairs lies the famed Goldminer’s Saloon (open at 11:00 AM) with famous nachos and beer on tap. This is a great place for parents to take turns watching young kids or take a break between laps as there is a play table, cozy seating, and multiple fireplaces. It’s an added bonus that parents are able to grab a beer (no liquor here) while remaining with kids in the family-friendly saloon.


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CHILDCARE

Alta offers childcare out of the Alf Engen Ski School building through a state-licensed and full-service daycare called the Alta Children’s Center. Children two months to age 10 are welcome to spend the day here and will enjoy world-class care and excellent, nutritious food offerings. Many different packages are available and childcare is guaranteed for every reservation made 24-hours or more in advance. The center is conveniently located upstairs above the ski school.


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POINTS OF INTEREST

For a memorable visit, consider these unique points of interest when planning a trip to Alta.

Tour With a Ranger
On weekends and holidays, you can join a naturalist from the Cottonwood Canyons Foundation to ski along groomed trails at Alta and learn about local history, wildlife, geology, and winter ecology on a 30-minute tour. This is a great way to get plugged in to the rich and wonderful lore of Alta.

Fireside Chats
Hosted by the Alta Historical Society, these free events are open to the public and cover the rich history of Alta’s skiing, mining, and historical figures. View Alta’s event calendar for dates and times.

Self Guided Ske-Cology Tour
"Two interactive trails in Albion Basin highlight Alta's diverse and fascinating ecosystem. Interpretive signs tell the exciting story in a fun and interactive way that provides children and adults with a sense of adventure and appreciation for the beauty that surrounds them." The tour can be done on skis and is fun for the whole family. To find all of the signs, be sure to take a look at the winter ske-cology map.

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