How Alta Avoided Glitz & Glam and Stayed True To Its Roots

Emily Crofton | | Featured ArticleFeatured Article
Alta Ski Area via Alta Ski Area/Rocko Menzyk.

Nestled atop Little Cottonwood Canyon, in Utah’s Wasatch Mountain Range, lies the holy grail for powder hounds, young and old. A sacred relic for where it all began, this slice of heaven proudly boasts the true roots of the pure sport of alpine skiing. A beacon of hope for generations of loyal followers, this cherished ski area embodies the core of skiing heritage while preserving the culture, ambiance, and future of the sport. Between the breathtaking mountain scenery, deep powder, and community of diehard skiers, it’s no wonder Alta Ski Area stands tried and true among the rest. 

The legendary Utah ski area commonly referred to as the “skier’s mountain”, is one of the oldest ski areas in the United States. Once a thriving mining town, Alta Ski Area came to be what it is today after capturing the attention of the United States Forest Service who had enlisted the help of famed Norwegian ski jumper Alf Engen to discover an ideal ski area location in the Wasatch Mountains. The Forest Service saw the deep snow and inviting slopes as a way to create jobs while revegetating the barren Wasatch Mountains, left barren after decades of mining and environmental neglect. Since 1938, Alta Ski Area has grown organically as a result of a united love for alpine skiing. The world-class ski destination has made a name for itself by going against the grain. Eight decades later, generations of skiers continue coming back year after year. 

A deep day at Alta via Alta Ski Area/Lee Cohen.

Now you may be wondering what it is that makes Alta so wonderfully unique. It could be the annual average snowfall of 547 inches, five rustic and independently-owned slopeside ski lodges, or the unique distinction of a skiers-only mountain. But if you are lucky enough to find yourself at Alta Ski Area on a powder day, it will be hard not to notice the passion of an eclectic bunch of impassioned locals, one-time locals, and lifelong visitors. Many of those characters may look as though they have been skiing at Alta their whole lives, and well, that’s because most of them have. These loyal Alta skiers are the backbone of this family-owned mountain, and they are what make this place unlike any other. For these skiers, they are only here for one reason: deep powder snow.

A symbol of a time when skiing was a way of life rather than a business, Alta honors its community of faithful skiers who seek tradition and value originality. In the midst of a booming ski industry, with the majority of resorts focusing primarily on growth, expansion, and profit, Alta continued to stand the test of time resisting development for the sake of preservation. While Alta was quick to adopt progressive upgrades—including high-speed chairlifts, digital lift passes, and other tools to enhance the skiing experience—the industry trend towards golf courses, alpine coasters, and other on- and off-snow luxury resort amenities were beginning to overshadow the simple joy of skiing. As the sport grew in popularity, other resorts focused on catering to larger crowds and higher demands, Alta remained mostly unchanged, committed to providing an authentic mountain experience in a natural mountain environment.

High fives for another epic day at Alta via Alta Ski Area/Rocko Menzyk.

Rooted in authenticity, there are few places left in the world like Alta. Encapsulated in time, there is a certain kind of magic—Alta Magic—that emanates from the people and culture that epitomize this world-renowned mountain. To the people at Alta, the sole purpose of skiing is simply the experience. What distinguishes Alta from the rest is their fierce independence and commitment to cherishing the rustic, modest mountain community that acts as a magnetic force, cultivating a feeling of nostalgia. It attracts those who are not looking for excessive comforts, but for simplicity. With blower powder and legendary fall-lines across 2,614 acres of skiable terrain accessed by just five main ski lifts, why would you go anywhere else?

How, you might ask, did Alta avoid “selling out”? With imminent development looming on the horizon, what was their secret tactic? The simple answer is this: they listened to their core skiers—whose loyalty and passion for the sport diverged from industry trends. Stripping the sport down to the basics, the dedicated skiers that flock to Alta are looking, not for glitz and glam, but for the feeling of a home in the mountains. As the mountain motto goes, “Come for the skiing. Stay for the skiing”.

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8 thoughts on “How Alta Avoided Glitz & Glam and Stayed True To Its Roots

  1. It’s $1500 a night with a four night minimum, at the latest edition to Alta.. Not sure that meshes with the article..

  2. The article works for me, the larger point is “Alta changed less and that makes it better.”
    Speaking to the comments. Of course, it’s not a local’s only mountain – that idea doesn’t work financially. And yes, Ikon comes with gains and tradeoffs.

  3. What a trash article. Alta sold out with Ikon pass. It’s all Ikon pass visitors now instead of locals. Lift lines are outrageous.

  4. As a lifelong skier at Alta I take exception to almost everything about this article. Alta used to be about great skiers, great snow and great terrain. The recent advent of alternate passes has brought a large influx of lousy skiers who only seem to want to be there to take selfies and GoPro clips. The crowds have grown to the point where I choose to avoid weekends and snow days because it’s just to painful to tolerate what you have to go through to get on the lifts. Plus, the mountain just doesn’t have the facilities (bathrooms, lifts, public lodges) to accommodate the number of people that ski there on any given day. Long time local skiers have made their opinions known and they are being ignored.

  5. If Alta were actually true to this ethos they would have said no to Ikon. Make LCC Ikon free.

  6. “A symbol of a time when skiing was a way of life and not just a business?” What a bunch of baloney. Alta has changed, and you really do a disservice to the people of the Wasatch by posting this propaganda. Expansion into Grizzly Gulch, strong-arm tactics to get more parking, efforts to support interconnect and ski link, tram up Mount Baldy – the old Alta is gone.
    Upper LCC is a special place, please do a little research and don’t provide a PR smokescreen for Alta’s new greedy tactics.

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