Getting to Alta, Utah
Written by Meimei Ma • Last updated Sep 14, 2017
Alta is very accessible, situated 30 to 45 minutes away from Salt Lake City and its international airport. The airport is a major hub for Delta but we generally fly with Southwest Airlines because it offers two checked bags free (a nice perk these days!) and no fees if you want to change a flight. This means if you’ve got a really flexible schedule, you can potentially shift flight dates to catch a powder storm! Sometimes the routings aren’t very direct, so you’ll have to decide if it’s worth the extra conveniences and (usually) lower fares. Salt Lake International almost never sees weather delays in winter (we’re talking less than 1% of flights) so it’s a destination you can feel confident planning a wintertime trip. Alta’s close proximity to the airport means you can plan an arrival before mid-morning and be on the slopes just after lunch! Now it’s just a matter of deciding on your mode of transport.
A shuttle bus is your simplest and most reliable option if you’re staying in Alta’s village or at Snowbird. Someone else does the driving and you don’t have to worry about overnight parking! Often, lodges can arrange for shuttle transportation as part of your room deal, or you can book it yourself. We’ve used Alta Shuttle for the past 9 seasons and they’ve been great! It will set you back $38 one way or $74 round trip, with a $10 discount for children under 12 and no surcharges for early (before 7am) or late (after 10pm) rides. They offer flexible departure times (with advanced reservations), large vans, door-to-door service and you can sit in the front if motion sickness is an issue.
Another bus option is the Utah Transit Authority’s Ski Bus. It has ski racks, but it’s an otherwise normal public transit bus so it may not be convenient if you have a lot of other baggage. However, if you’re staying in Salt Lake City or one of the suburbs closer to the canyon (such as Midvale or Sandy), it can be an economical option for getting back and forth. If you just need it to get you between Alta and Snowbird, the ride is free!
The light rail trains don’t reach all the way to Alta, but you can ride the Green Line into downtown Salt Lake City. If you’re not staying there, you can transfer to the Ski Bus, or transfer to a Blue Line train out to Midvale and Sandy where there are more hotel options (plus Park & Ride lots where you can catch the ski bus).
Uber is available in Salt Lake City, though rates can be as high as $146-$191 one way for UberSUV. It can also be difficult to get UberSUV or UberSki during peak season.
If you have more than four people in your group or family, then renting a car may be a cost effective way to go. It’s also helpful if you want to visit anywhere other than Alta or Snowbird. We recommend booking your rental in advance to take advantage of potential discounts and to make sure the type of vehicle you want is available, especially if you’re travelling near Christmas and New Year’s. Rates depend on the size and type of vehicle – you can expect to pay $25-$74 a day for two-wheel drive and anywhere from $50-$200 for all wheel drive. Weekly rates are usually cheaper. You’ll pick up your car right at the airport, usually in less than 20 minutes.
Follow the I-80 to I-215, then exit onto Wasatch Boulevard and follow the signs. Google Maps and Waze work fine. The road up Little Cottonwood Canyon is a narrow two-lane highway, which is steep and twisty in places. The road closes for avalanche control, and updates are broadcast on the radio (530 AM). In certain conditions, cars that aren’t “snow worthy” may be turned back so we think it’s best to rent a 4WD/AWD. If you’ve settled for a 2WD, then you definitely need snow chains.
If you have beginners in your crew, press past the Wildcat base area and park near Albion. Parking is usually sufficient during the week unless it’s a powder day (which is anything more than 6 inches of new snow). In that case, it pays to arrive early because the lots will get packed and lift lines will already be forming by 8am.