Alta: The last great ski resort

No glitz, no attitude, waist deep powder. This is why you love to ski.

Ski Alta lift top
Photo: Brown Cannon III

'"I had such a crush on him when I was a kid,” says my friend Didi Linburn, pigtails peeking out from beneath her pink ski helmet rather than the wool pompom hat she wore as a kid. I peer into the tiny ski shop at the Alta Peruvian Lodge and catch a glimpse of a cute guy in glasses behind the counter. “No idea how old he is,” she says, “but I’ve seen him here every winter since I was 15.”

Twenty-two years later, and Didi and her teenage crush are still here? I’ve yet to even take a run down the powder white slopes, but I already sense that Alta, Utah, just might be as special as everyone says it is―including my self-proclaimed “Altaholic” husband.

Tired of not getting an invite to his annual “guys’ trip,” and admittedly jealous about the other love in his life, I decided to tag along on Didi’s annual father-daughter jaunt. And finally experience for myself this almighty Alta―with just seven lifts (and not much else) spread across 2,200 acres of heart-pumping hikes and narrow chutes, chest-deep powder, and total lack of pretension.

Skis slung over our shoulders, we walk out the weathered wooden door of the lodge, taking in a deep breath of fresh―albeit thin―mountain air.

I’m instantly happy to be here at 10,550 feet, on leased U.S. Forest Service land at the resolutely un-corporate resort, where faded one-pieces outnumber Bogner jackets, chairlifts seat at most four across, and five no-frills lodges, scattered up Little Cottonwood Canyon, sleep 1,200 skiers, tops. Skiers. Not shoppers. Not ski bunnies. And, above all, not snowboarders.

As the mountain motto goes, Alta is for skiers. During my stay, I see it flaunted on banners, baseball caps, bumper stickers. Alta is, after all, one of just three resorts left in the country that ban boarders, since Taos Ski Valley opened its slopes to all in March.

Geared up, Didi, her dad, and I creep along in a bar-less triple chair, surrounded by nothing save blue sky and the towering peaks of the Wasatch Range. “Same as it was in the ’60s,” says Geoff Linburn, who first came to Alta from California in search of what he’d heard was the best snow in the West. Back then, lift tickets cost $8, and there were only five slowly moving chairlifts, but apart from building a couple more and raising ticket prices to a reasonable $64, Alta remains Alta.

Didi’s dad smiles. “Still the best snow in the West.” A whopping 500 inches annually of light-as-a-feather powder―and I can’t wait to try it.

But that will take some effort. Without a convenient tram to Alta’s best terrain, the limited number of skiers allowed uphill work for every turn with an almost perverse pleasure. As a typically lazy, play-it-safe sort of skier, I’m intimidated.

 

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