Alta Ski Resort Review

Alta, Utah

Alta is a mecca for those seeking out powder and steeps. Averaging 536″ of snow a year, this is the snowiest resort in the Rockies. It is also one of the oldest resorts in the country, being started in 1939. These factors combine to make it a haven for retro ski culture, pro skiers, and hard-core locals and visitors.  We have visited multiple times for this review.

Alta powder in Catherine's - February 2015

Alta powder in Catherine’s – February 2015


Real Vertical ? 2,020′, Rank: 72
Size 2,200 Acres, Rank: 39
Annual Snowfall ? 560″ claimed / 517″ actual, Rank: 1
Lift Pods ? 6, Rank: 47
Distinct Trails ? 116, Rank: 27
Review Date February 2015 (multiple from 1980)
Number of visits 4
Our Rating ★★★★
Resort Website


Alta Review – Overall

Alta is a very unique resort located at the end of Little Cottonwood Canyon above Salt Lake City. Snowbird is right next door and they are connected at the top. But you need a special “AltaBird” ticket to be able to ski between them. It took us more than 10-years of ski trips to Utah before we skied it together. If you are going to Alta, it’s best if you can ski the steep stuff. Thus for a variety of reasons, the stars never aligned for AiRung to ski this place until 2015. I had skied it 3  times previously, so I have a nice wide set of experiences to draw from for this review.

Out of 4 or 5 visits, I can’t remember a single time where it wasn’t either snowing or it had snowed the night before. This is great luck because, foremost, Alta is about skiing powder and soft snow. I can remember skiing Greeley Bowl with powder billowing over my head and lap after lap on Catherine’s where I skied mostly untracked lines. The 2015 visit was probably the least snowy, in that it had only snowed about 4″ the night before and the total snowfall for the season was less than 200″, which is in the record-low territory for that time of year. Still, we managed to find some decent powder stash’s in the Catherine’s area and trees below Spiney Chutes/Supreme.

Update 2021

Since we were last there in 2015, the traffic situation has gotten much worse and it deserves special mention here.  The problem has gotten bad enough that the state is trying to get consensus on a solution.  One controversial option is a gondola from the canyon mouth to Alta and Snowbird.  This is mostly a problem on weekends, holidays, and of course powder days.

Alta Sugarloaf summit - February 2015

Alta Sugarloaf summit – February 2015

Skiers Only!

“Alta is for skiers only”, which is a brand they are proud of.  Ironically, we find that when a resort does not allow snowboarders, it ends up creating some annoyances like skiers using the entire run width to carve huge turns.  We also noticed that the average age of people seemed to be way off the top of the charts, and there were fewer families.  There are some concerns about snowboarders clogging up the long traverses, but we feel like snowboarders should be allowed here anyway.  Alta is not the only resort with long traverses and it seems to work out in other places.

Trail marking or lack there of

I’m always cautious skiing at Alta, because they do not have any trail markings other than the 3 circle, square, diamond ones. Also, what would be marked double or triple black diamond runs at any other resort get a single black rating. That means you may be in for the scare of your life, or a cruiser down a nicely groomed steeper pitch. Many of the runs are impossible to see from above, and require traverses that take you so far away from the point of no return that you must ski down. Because of that, we’ve only skied a small selection of the very steep chutes and bowls available there.

Groomers and Intermediate terrain

Alta has groomers and mellower terrain too. These runs tend to be somewhat crowded because this is where the average skiers will be found. The Collins and Sugarloaf lifts serve most of that terrain. Collins is the best with some steeper groomed stuff. Another choice for steep groomers is the Supreme lift on the eastern side of the resort. That was upgraded to a high speed quad after our last visit.  Supreme is unique in that it has an 8.1 degree turn in the middle with only one stage (no detached mid station).  Very cool.

Honorable mention

One of the most memorable experiences at Alta is taking the “High Traverse” out a very long ridge, which terminates at the signature run at Alta: High Rustler. In years past the test of a great skier was if you skied that run.  With modern equipment it’s not really that big of a deal any more, but it’s still an iconic run.

Alta morning view from Sugarloaf - February 2015

Alta morning view from Sugarloaf – February 2015


Food and the lodges

The lodges and food at Alta are average at best. The one notable thing was the Espresso bar in the Watson Shelter building mid-mountain on the Collins side. I wish all ski areas had one of those.

Alta Sidewinder Chute - February 2015

Alta Sidewinder Chute – February 2015

The good

  • Most snow in the Rockies
  • Excellent steep terrain
  • Old-school ski culture
  • Views
  • Proximity to Salt Lake City
  • Steep groomers
  • High Altitude preserves snow
Alta groomer - February 2015

Alta groomer – February 2015

The bad

  • Limited vertical of only 2,000′
  • Anti-snowboarding policy
  • Legendary traffic getting up Little Cottonwood Canyon from Salt Lake on a powder day
Alta hiking to Catherine's - February 2015

Alta hiking to Catherine’s – February 2015

The Bottom Line

We are definitely planning to go back to Alta — probably many times.

Alta Stone Crusher - February 2015

Alta Stone Crusher – February 2015

3 thoughts on “Alta Ski Resort Review

  1. Scott

    The reason snowboarding is not allowed is because they literally could not do many of the traverses there without clogging up the mountain.

    1. Ron Thompson Post author

      Hi Scott — I was actually aware of that but left it out of the original review for some reason. I just updated it to point out the concern, but I still don’t agree with the ban. There are countless resorts with long traverses where it works just fine. One of my local resorts Kirkwood has long traverses everywhere. Snowbird and Snowbasin in Utah as well. What usually happens is that snowboarders who are stuck move off the track. Yes, there are exceptions but there are for skiers as well. I’ve been yelled a few times when I wasn’t on my “A” game. As a skier I see it as a special fun skill to jump high or low to avoid someone in my way at high speed. It’s all good and bring what you’ve got!

  2. Mark Johnstone

    You nailed it about some of the Alta black diamonds! My daughter and I had the scare of our life in parallel extreme chutes… but we both made it and I will never forget the exhilaration…


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