This is only the second time we’ve driven the eight hours from Colorado to ski in Utah. The first, 3 years ago, was to the ‘bigger’ resorts that were part of the Epic Pass we had that year (we also managed to score free tickets to Deer Valley by enduring a time-share presentation, but that’s another story!). The reaction of people when we told them we’d driven all the way to Utah and not skied Alta or Snowbird was disbelief.
This time our trip was focussed on the Cottonwood Canyons, and Alta the first resort.
Having had 30″ the two days before our arrival (they average over 500″ a season), it could be said that we arrived at Alta two days too late. But the conditions that greeted us were awesome. The spectacular drive up Little Cottonwood Canyon, surrounded by towering mountains and huge rock faces with boulders the size of houses that looked like they could break away at any second.
We parked at the Albion base, for free, and just 50m from the first chair ride. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, a breath of wind, and the temperatures were perfect, in the low 20s.
The conditions below us in the beginner area, Alta has just six green runs, were perfectly groomed corduroy. From the chair we could see the more gnarly terrain that Alta is famous for, much of it skied off, but some of it yet to open, awaiting avalanche mitigation.
We did a few laps off the Sugarloaf Lift, first sticking to a nice, steep, black groomer. There were no crowds, so we were able to cruise down pretty good. Second run up we went skiers left in to Sugar bowl, down through Keyhole Gulch. The snow in the bowl was great, still remnants of the weekends storm and plenty of powdery turns to be had. The snow was a little heavy, but easy enough to turn in. Keyhole Gulch was sweet, steepish and narrow. Up again and we traversed the catwalk to High Traverse and dropped in to High Greeley. There was more untracked snow here, some great turns.
Before stopping for lunch we made a couple of runs off the Supreme Lift, Upper Sleepy Hollow, and then a short hike skiers right up to Catherine’s Area. We traversed a little once we put our skis back on, and dropped in to some steeper, and narrower, tree runs. The snow in here was deeper still, and the skiing was awesome.
All morning we heard constant booms from patrol control avalanches, often seeing little slides and the black scorch marks on the snowpack where they’d been throwing their explosives. They were working hard to open up as much terrain as possible following the weekend’s storm, and we witnessed a couple of rope drops. Unfortunately we were nowhere near at the time, and they were skied off within minutes.
After lunch we skied a few runs off the Collins Lift, there seemed to be more snow over this side, or it was less tracked out, but it was pretty sweet. We traversed to The Ballroom, had fun in their making some epic turns, and then Sunspot, a little steeper but with just as much snow, was awesome. We managed one ride up the Wildcat Lift, coming down Punch Bowl in to Rock Gully. This area had the most snow of the day, by far. Knee high in places, maybe a little heavy, but so much fun. I wish we’d headed to this area earlier in the day.
All day there were helicopters coming and going, taking skiers to areas not accessible by lift, and although heli-skiing is something on my bucket list, some of the lines we were getting inbounds were just as epic I’m sure.
As first time visitors to the resort, which is celebrating its 80th birthday this year, we found it super easy to get around and impossible to get lost. There were only five lifts running, but they served so much awesome, advanced terrain, that another day will be needed. Hopefully next time we can land right in the midle of a storm and experience the famous Utah blower pow on the day.
Alta is proud of their terrain, ‘skiing as it should be’ they proclaim. And I wouldn’t disagree. The skiing was top notch, as close to pure inbounds skiing as you can get. Steep chutes, wide bowls, deep powder, sweet trees and crisp corduroy. No crowds, and no snowboarders (not that I’m anti snowboarders).
Alta, and Snowbird (the powder capitals of the world), are on the new Ikon Pass next year, which should hopefully encourage way more people to experience the advanced terrain they have to offer.
But not too many, we don’t want to spoil it.