Alta is old school, Snowbird is new school, but they share two things - the same ski area and the greatest snow on earth. Shovel and snorkel in hand, Kevin Wolff hits the powder paradise of Utah.
Alta and Snowbird may share same ski area, the same storms that deliver over 500 inches of premium powder snow, but their characters are like chalk and cheese. Alta is a throw back to yesteryear.A town that was born from mining, ski life here began in the late 1930s with a chair lift built from parts of an aerial tram that took mining ore down the valley. Lift tickets were just $1.50 a day.
In fact the only sign that anything has changed in the last thirty years are the cars in the parking lot and the new Collins lift that was put in last year. For Alta is no slave to a corporation that only worships the bottom line. Alta is for skiers, limited lift tickets, no expansion and no snowboarders.
The man behind Alta’s strategy to stay small is Bill Levitt, Alta’s only mayor for the last 30 years. He shunned the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and has discouraged countless property developers over the years in his quest to keep Alta a place of peace and tranquillity. Bill even goes out on the road when skier numbers top 10,000 on any given day to tell would-be visitors that Alta is full. Amazingly they understand and turn away. All for a mayor’s salary of $1 a year.
Fortunately, Bill owns the quintessential Alta accommodation,the Alta Lodge.A homely place where there are no TVs in the rooms, the furniture and fittings are probably original from the opening day and the reservations system consists of a chalkboard and a card system.What you get for your money is a tranquil location backed up by the discrete hospitality that is instantly visible when needed. Snowbird, while not quite being the antithesis of Alta, is a purpose-built resort a mile down the canyon road from Alta, which values function over form. The Cliff Lodge, at first sight, is reminiscent of the archetypal ‘Rabbit Hutch’ French self-catering apartments. Fortunately, you can rest assured that beauty is truly skin deep in this case. Once inside, the spacious rooms and large atriums imbue a feeling of luxury. Skiing aside you can truly pamper yourself to oblivion with the endless spa treatments and restaurants that the Cliff lodge serves up. And if that’s not enough then there’s always the skiing. The Alta-Snowbird ski area could have coined the cliché ‘Steep ‘n Deep’. First of all the topography of the terrain is almost perfect for steep skiing without being life-threatening. Secondly there’s the snow. Pacific storms are baked dry of moisture on their journey across the Nevada deserts after which they hit the Wasatch Mountains, carpet bombing this stretch of the Rockies with over 500 inches of high-quality snow each winter season.
Drop off Snowbird’s cirque or plunge down Alf’s High Rustler during a full-on powder day and you’ll understand why the local number plates boast ‘The Greatest Snow on Earth’ – snow so deep at times it requires plenty of assistance from gravity to keep you sliding. Couple this with a generous dollop of speed and then even that magical bouncing sensation transcends to a pure feeling of weightlessness.