Challenging terrain, great skiing vibe, terriffic snow conditions
May scare of less-experienced skiers
Alta: my favorite place in the world. Although on the grand scale of things, I’m little more than the equivalent of a newbie in the face of the amazing terrain and even more amazing locals that frequent the place, I can’t help but to love everything about Alta. I’m constantly intimidated by Alta, but I know that in my heart of hearts it’s the same intimidation that pushes my boundaries. It’s at Alta that I’ve done many of my firsts—my first traverse, my first hike, and my first “steep” run. For this reason, and an insurmountable number of others, that Alta will always remain my number one destination ski spot.
Whether it’s a powder day or a groomer day—the latter we were treated to on the 13th of April—Alta is still a terrific place. That Sunday was the first of two closing days for Alta—this one was the closing of the resort’s 7-days-a-week operation. The next closing day, a week later on the 20th, is the final hurrah as they open exclusively for that weekend to let everyone give one last good-bye to the resort for the 2007-2008 season. We saw a foreshadowing of the next weekend’s events—masses of people enjoying the corn snow, people in costumes (and some in even less than that), and lots of celebratory beer drinking. This made me instantly remember one of the reasons why I overcame the intimidation of Alta—the atmosphere. Alta vibes like few other resorts can: it’s a skier’s resort. It’s a resort that doesn’t bother itself with posh lodging or massage clinics or schwanky gift parlors—it’s only there for the skiing. The facilities and staff are the biggest reflection of this motto, where a simple building without the grandeur of nearby Snowbird will do. The staff listens to music blaring out of their lift shack and crack jokes with the locals. It’s not about making money or catering to someone—it’s all about the skiing. This environment I love, and miss the most every time I leave the place.
The front side Collins chair was hopping, so after we made it up we dipped back into the parallel valley to see what terrain and conditions were like. We found soft snow with the consistency of mashed potatoes on the groomed runs, so we made a few tears down the groomers to warm up—and feel how out of shape my legs were from the previous day at Snowbird. After a few warm up laps around Sugarloaf chair, we took the lower traverse into Devil’s Castle—a favorite area of mine, that in the previous spring, had offered some of the most memorable turns ever for me. Devil’s Castle has a plethora of terrain for advanced skiers to pick from: steeps, cliffs (probably only on deeper days, however), or wide open bowls with a mild slope to them. However, after a few turns through the heavy, wet snow—with my legs screaming at me with every turn—I knew that Devil’s Castle was just going to have to wait until next trip. Sad, but not defeated, we returned to laps on the soft, smooth groomers around Sugarloaf. The Cecret and Supreme chairs weren’t running, so we continued our laps here. After a while, we skated down the to the rope tow by Sunnyside and made our way back to the patio at Goldminer’s Daughter for lunch.
Goldminer’s Daughter is a landmark at Alta. The minimal building has a café and small bar that serves beers and coffees alike. Today, however, the staff and food were minimal as Alta wound down operations for the year. We picked up lunch (beer-less, I might add) and sat on the patio watching people cruise down High Rustler in the beautiful sunshine. After a much-needed rest for my legs—-which had only seen 20 days on the snow prior today and were plenty out of shape—-we stood in line for the Collins chair. The chair had recently stopped a few times, and the line began piling up. After we loaded, we decided to head back to the groomers around Sugarloaf and finish up the day there.
Although Alta wasn’t as busy as I had originally expected, lines at the Collins chair was less than desirable. While I’m sure this backup can also be attributed to only the three chairs running (Collins, Sunnyside, and Sugarloaf), it also made me take note of Alta’s new pass system. While an awesome addition to the resort, I think it was implemented a tad incorrectly. The pass system itself is superior to the similar system that is in use at neighboring Solitude for years now, simply because of the fact that it can be read much more effectively than Solitude's. It's even more friendly than Big Sky, Montana’s system. It’s so effective, in fact, that it could be read by the gates through my friend’s wallet that was in his pocket. But the placement of the gates seemed incorrect. The gates reside close to the loading area for the chair, so as people pass through the gate and into the loading area, they muscle and shift around trying to quad up with their friends. At times, this clogs the gate and loading zone, slowing down loading the loading process. Of course, some individuals (myself included, at times), don’t care about who they ride up with as long as they get to the top, so it’s not always a problem. The problem generally arises with families or people who are simply unaware. Conversely, Big Sky, Montana’s placement of the same gates used to read a person’s pass is farther back from the loading zone, offering a buffer area of sorts for people to jostle around and get together for a ride up. A movement of the gates further back seems as if it would behoove Alta’s loading process and help the lifties out a bit as well. To the credit of Alta though, the lifties are some of the most proficient at what they do, even when dressed as cowgirls (it was the last day, you know). Their professional management of the lift line was a nice turn of events compared to other resorts that ineffectively allow doubles or even singles on a quad chair. If there was a degree in lift line management, Alta lifties would have it. Next time I’m there, I’ll leave you a lifty treat…thanks for your hard work.
After a day of non-stop groomer action at Alta, we retired to the vehicle to have a celebratory beer. The crowd was even livelier that that of Snowbird on the tram deck the day before. People were having blast—-tailgating, socializing, drinking. Although it was closing day, it might as well of been a Monday a month ago. No matter when it is, Alta always has the relaxed, fun atmosphere that was occurring everywhere around me. Be it the first closing day or a greybird Monday, Alta will still have people on GMD’s deck exchanging stories over cold beers, or sitting on the tailgate taking in the rest of the day. We opted for relaxing on the tailgate, listening to music, and enjoying a cold beer while marveling at the majesty of Mount Superior and the surrounding peaks. I envied those who had the energy and ability to make it up to the peaks across the road from Alta and ski untouched snow down to bottom. I smiled every time someone would walk by and say “hey man,” or ask how it was going. The sheer friendliness from the clientèle at Alta removes almost all the intimidation from the resort. Even though most of these people are incredible skiers who fear no terrain here, we all still share the common bond: the love of skiing. It’s exemplified in the lifites, the patrons at Goldminer’s Daughter, and with the quick exchanges in the parking lot. It’s shone in the no-frills base lodge and equipment that states “you are here to ski, not to be inundated.” The vibe of Alta is unique and, if you’re like me, it will keep you coming back time and time again.
So it was a groomer day for me at Alta. Not a loss by any stretch, as far as I’m concerned. Alta’s groomers are “pretty sick,” as one unnamed local had jokingly put it on a powder day before. Even though it should have been the terrain that I came here for—-I have yet to take in Greely or East Castle, among other areas—-I’m happy to just live and experience the environment that is Alta. For me, sitting on the patio at Goldminer’s Daughter or on the tailgate in the parking lot after skiing, taking in the beautiful landscapes and enjoying other skier’s company (even though no words may be exchanged) is worth the cost of admission alone. Watching a dad and his little kid—both costumed up to celebrate the end of the season at Alta—share the love that is skiing simply adds to the stoke level and makes Alta a truly unique place where skiing isn’t a business but a way of life.