Alta - No snowboards, just the "greatest snow on earth" and plenty of varied skiing. Alta is located in the Wasatch Mountains just east of Salt Lake City, Utah; the skiable area consists of 2,200 acres (8.9 km²) beginning at a base elevation of 8,530 ft (2,600 m) and rising to 10,550 ft (3,216 m) for a vertical gain of 2,020 ft (616 m). Local websites - Altacam and GravityFed
Alta resides in a unique micro climate characterized by high volume, low moisture snowfalls. Typical annual snowfall totals exceed 500 inches, it is famed for its reliable and feather-light champagne powder. This is an old-school resort, people have been skiing here for 70 years; so there's a friendly & traditional atmosphere.
Not as picturesque as some European resorts, high Alta is a scattering of lodges, with the main village a hotch-potch of condo's and hotels. Not known for its nighlife, so we prefer to stay in downtown SLC with all its cinemas, shops, and dining; and drive up to resort (which also gives you the option to try other local resorts, depending on conditions). They do have a good massage also available to non-residents at the Goldminers Daughter; the Peruvian Lodge and the Rustler Lodge have good facilities too.
The restaurant at the mid point of Collins lift is very nice (waitress service - try the brownie cup cake dessert), self service on the lower level is also very good & prices are reasonable.
Beginner skiing is based at the Albion / Sunnyside lifts (serve the same runs, Albion only opens when it gets busy), and further up the mountain at Cecret, blue runs down from Supreme above that, or down from Sugarloaf. Link across to he Collins lift from the top of Sugarloaf (or off to Snowbird for Alta/Snowbird for combined area pass holders). For the more advanced skier, popular areas on the mountain are:
- Baldy Chutes (a hike from the top of Sugarloaf lift) - Excellent snow, good pitch, expert only.
- Catherine's Area (accessed from Supreme lift) - Superb powder, excellent pitch, intermediate and expert.
- Greeley Chutes (accessed via Collins lift) - Excellent powder, good pitch, expert.
- Rustler (accessed via Collins lift) - Powder, powder and more powder, excellent pitch, expert.
- Glory Hole (accessed via Sugarloaf - a small bowl of incredible powder
- Devil's Castle (accessed via Sugarloaf) - open steeps, excellent powder, expert's favourite
- Wildcat Steeps (accessed via Wildcat lift) - superb deep powder through the trees...
Snowbird - linked to Alta (snowboarders allowed), more built-up than Alta and generally a little busier. The combined area of Alta/Snowboard makes it one of the largest resorts in the US (but generally without the crowds!). There's an excellent day spa with an open air (heated!) pool & hot tub at the Cliff Lodge (a huge hotel/condo complex).
Next to the Little Cottonwood canyon home of Snowbird/Alta, is the Big Cottonwood Canyon - with the resorts of Solitude (quiet as suggested by its name), and the forgiving pistes and the picturesque fir-lined glades of Brighton. Brighton is known as the place 'where Utah learns to ski' - children aged less than 10 ski for free. It also offers quieter more advanced skiing (see Solitudes Honeycomb Canyon).
Snowbasin - a huge area with mixed skiing, and stunning, chandelier-adorned Lodges serving good food at reasonable prices. Sister resort to Sun Valley in central Idaho, owned by Robert Earl Holding, a self made businessman (son of caretakers, now ranked the 59th richest person in the US).
Park City - possibly the busiest resort in the area, the only resort offered as a package deal from the UK (try Virgin or Crystal). A historic resort built above a warren of 19th century mining tunnels with original buildings dotting the slopes. Eight peaks, nine bowls, tree skiing and North America's largest superpipe.
Neighbouring Park City is Deer Valley - over hyped - but a great real estate and marketing exercise! Highest lift pass prices of the area, supposedly restricted numbers of skiers per day (but I saw the biggest queues I've seen in the area there). Lots of easy runs for flattering beginners/intermediates (less friendly and less well mannered on piste than other local resorts). Tissues dispensed at the lifts is a nice touch though.
Also nearby is the Canyons, but given the busyness of Park City and Deer Valley, we've not ventured there yet.
Also worth a mention, is the nearby (to Park City) Tanger Outlet centre (buy the coupon booklet before you shop for further discounts).
Free first day skiing on production of a boarding pass - see http://www.parkcityinfo.com/quickstart/ (valid for Park City Mountain Resort, The Canyons, or Deer Valley).
Powder Mountain - still on the "to do" list! Extensive patrolled backcountry, vast areas for cat skiing and heli-skiing, but also has groomed/managed pistes. Supposed to be flattering for intermediates. See The Guardian article.
SLC Hotels: The Little America offers luxurious tower rooms, or more resonably priced Garden rooms; the Red Lion has pretty basic rooms which would be OK if it were not for the coaches that seem to arrive in the early hours of the morning and leave their engines running for hours; the Sheraton is our favourite so far for a combo of facilities / price.
I also must mention THE best custom boot fitters - thesportloft.com These guys offer an absolutely brilliant service and can advise on all aspects of skiing and ski wear. Cannot be recommended highly enough!
A must do if you're in the area is skimobiling with Thousand Peaks. Forget the dinky rides they offer elsewhere, here you have your own machine on a huge ranch (60,000 acres worth). After you've practiced a bit in the meadows below you quickly advance to the mountain backcountry on fast groomed trails through the trees, then float on through fresh powder in huge bowls, and on up to 11,000ft. JFDI!