Perched atop a lofty canyon, wedged between the Great Basin and the Rocky Mountain ranges, lies a singular ski resort called Alta…
Alta Ski Area's favorable position entices prodigious powder dumps of the finest and deepest quality. Supercharged by the Pacific Ocean, storms are wrung of humidity as they cross the vast desert basins of Nevada. They pick up a bit of extra moisture when crossing the Great Salt Lake before they slam into the Wasatch Front and are forced to rise some 6,000 feet to cross the mountain range—with Alta blocking the path.
Since 1938 Alta has stood guard over narrow Little Cottonwood Canyon and skiers have traveled from faraway places to experience the magic. There’s something undefinable about the energy in this canyon and some spend a lifetime attempting to collect as many ‘Alta Magic’ moments as possible.
The latest ‘Steeped in Tradition’ story out of Alta retells the (in)famous February 2021 Interlodge event. Having been trapped in my partner’s 16x16’ room beneath the Wildcat Chairlift for the 60-hour duration myself, this is a story that resonates in my bones as loud as the heavy artillery that was used to keep avalanches at bay. Interlodge is a rare condition in the skiing world, one that only those present in Little or Big Cottonwood Canyons may be lucky enough to enjoy.
Interlodge status is imposed when storms rage with such fury that it is no longer possible for crews to keep pace with avalanche mitigation efforts. The threat of large avalanches grows so severe that Interlodge is issued, making it illegal to leave the shelter of your building. Interlodge isn’t rare per se, but it typically only lasts a couple of hours. This Interlodge event eclipsed all records at a mind-numbing 60 hours with 103" of snow and 210 recorded avalanches. While most waited it out in the comfort of their hotel rooms, Alta’s fine employees worked tirelessly to keep the town safe. Was the wait worth it? Judge for yourself…
There’s more to uncover with ‘Steeped in Tradition.’ I recommend time traveling back to the halcyon days of 1945 when lifts were slower and things were simpler. Follow Margie of the Wasatch as she visits the Alta lodge, enchanting most of the ski instructors and the handsome Snow Ranger, Sverre Engen, in the process. You could find no finer story that captures the essence of the tradition and history of Alta Ski Area. See if you can spy a familiar run or a beloved scenic vista as Margie charges across the terrain on her long wooden skis.
Alta wouldn’t deliver dreams on a daily basis if it weren’t for the heartfelt hours that the ski area’s employees dedicate to keep the place humming. I can vouch for this fact when my boyfriend crawls out of bed at 4:30 AM in the dark to climb up the mountain and shoot down avalanches alongside his fellow Ski Patrollers. It’s the snowmaking crew, the groomers, the plow drivers, maintenance folk and electricians whose work largely goes unnoticed. In the darkest hours, the work gets done. See it all come to light in ‘Nightshift’ and ‘Patrol.’
Another factor that sets Alta apart is the people and the community with ties to this high canyon enclave. Meet the Pollard siblings who grew up at the base of Alta and now ski alongside each other on the elite Freeride World Tour. There’s Lee Cohen, a photographer whose enthusiasm for Alta was waned little since his arrival over 40 years ago. Surely, you’ve seen Lee’s countless magazine cover photos and flawless powder shots. Tears welled in my eyes watching ‘The Farmer’ which commemorates a colorful and iconic character famed in Alta lore. Then there’s Mali, an adventurous nurse and fellow skier who has settled in and made Alta her home.
Alta is such a precious place. We all want the canyon to endure well into the future. Learn about stewardship and the effort to plant 40,000 seedlings in ‘Environment’. It’s hard to imagine today, but in the silver mining heyday of Alta’s frontier past, the canyon was almost entirely denuded of trees. A barren wasteland piled high with mine tailings marred the vista. It is because this place beguiles the soul that people have cared enough to restore and mitigate the environmental havoc miners once wrecked. There may be thousands of tunnels underneath our ski tracks, but many of the trees you spy have been replanted by loving human hands.
Alta isn't like other ski areas. It's a place where the soul of skiing lives on. It's the people, the traditions, the atmosphere and the landscape that make this resort so distinct. Alta is a place where stories and the culture of skiing thrive. Go find out for yourself what it is to experience 'Alta Magic.'
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