When to Go
Alta’s season usually begins in early December, but for best snow coverage – especially in advanced and expert terrain – consider going between early January and mid-March. This also keeps you clear of the Christmas vacation rush, when the mountain is crowded and rooms tend to be more expensive. Later in the season, there’s usually a powder storm or two in April and it’s easy to follow the sun to find the best conditions at different times of day. By the end of the season, it’s common for temperatures to get over 40 °F, which isn’t all that great for the snow, but does make for some pleasant outdoor eating and après!
Exploring the Mountain
Alta has 3 detachable quads, 1 detachable triple, and 2 doubles. This includes the new and improved Supreme chair, a 5,000 foot long detachable quad replacing the older Supreme and Cecret. It’s scheduled to open in fall 2017. The lifts open at 9:15am and most lifts close at 4:00pm except for Sunnyside and Collins, which stay open till 4:30pm. You may encounter lift lines on weekends or holidays between 11am to 2:30pm, but they rarely form over on Wildcat... unless of course it’s a powder day; in that case, people get in line for Collins and Wildcat by 8am!
Sugarloaf is the most exposed lift, so when it’s windy, that’s the lift most likely to be put on hold. Wind varies across the mountain, so you’ll probably see different wind conditions on Supreme than you will on Collins or Sugarloaf. That means if it’s blowing hard enough to be uncomfortable where you are, it’s probably better on another lift. Wildcat and its runs are the most sheltered, so on high wind days that’s a good place to go if you’re comfortable with steeps in the trees. The tree runs off Wildcat also tend to retain freshies a day or two after a storm.
Crossing between Areas
To get between Alta’s two base areas, you can ride a chairlift up (Collins from Wildcat Base, Sunnyside to Sugarloaf from Albion Base) and ski down – which is the fun way. There’s also a long rope tow running between the two. To get between Alta and Snowbird, most people will cross over the saddle off the top of the Sugarloaf lift but advanced and expert skiers have some other options along the skier’s left boundary of Alta off the Wildcat lift – but we recommend asking around about the coverage in these chutes before hopping in. None of the routes over to Snowbird are particularly beginner-friendly.
Where to Ski - Best for Beginners
Alta’s ski map labels the runs with numbers, which correspond to names in a key on the left margin. Here, we’ll refer to runs by name (because that’s what everyone calls them and what the signs say), but will include numbers in parentheses so you can easily find them on the map.
Even with its reputation for world class powder and extreme terrain, Alta is a great place for beginners. A quarter of its trails are “green,” and beginners who’ve gotten their ski legs underneath them can find plenty of easier intermediate runs where they can also have a good time.
Beginners will want to start at the Albion base area and the Sunnyside lift, even if it means taking the rope tow – there’s no beginner-friendly terrain to be had on the Collins/Wildcat side. In addition to the gentle terrain, there’s a magic carpet and a handle tow for true beginners who are still working up to getting on and off chairlifts – but they shouldn’t be worried, the friendly lifties at Sunnyside are more than ready to help out! And speaking of tows, if you’re staying at Alta Lodge or Goldminer’s Daughter and have youngsters who still have energy after their lessons, laps on the Alta Lodge Tow is a safe way for them to burn some of it off!
The Sunnyside chair offers a couple good choices for beginners who are ready for a little more. Crooked Mile (1) and Patsy Marley (2) are wide and forgiving with nice, broad curves. Taking Dipsy Doodle (3) to Home Run (6) is the other beginner-friendly way down; Home Run (6) runs out from more advanced terrain above, but experienced skiers going fast have plenty of room to pass. Adventurous beginners shouldn’t be afraid to venture into the trees between Crooked Mile and Patsy Marley. How many other ski areas have a place where beginners can venture into the trees?
Although Sugarloaf is a gateway to loads of advanced terrain, there’s still some terrain for novice skiers. Little Dipper (35), a hard right off the top of the lift (and marked as the ‘easier way down’), leads into Devil’s Elbow (40). Both are easier “blue” runs that confident, progressing beginners should be able to handle, though these runs can get crowded in the middle of the day. Big Dipper (12 and 16) off Supreme is also an easy intermediate run beginners can try.
Best for Intermediates
One of the many great things about Alta is that intermediate skiers can find groomed “blue” terrain off any of the lifts!
Sugarloaf is a good one to start with, which you get to by taking the Sunnyside chair up from the Albion base. From the top of Sugarloaf, head down via the Little Dipper (35) and Devils Elbow (40) to Alf’s Restaurant (named after Alta’s founder). Even cautious intermediates can make this lap in about 15 minutes. If you’re feeling more ambitious, hop into Sugar Bowl (44) directly under the lift. Yes, it’s black, but it’s relatively gentle and a great way to ease your way into skiing more challenging terrain and impressing your friends!
Another way to get to Sugarloaf is by riding Collins up from the Wildcat base area and skiing down Devil’s Way (55) – just be sure to keep enough speed to get through the flats without poling (take a minute to see how the skiers ahead of you get through).
There’s only one intermediate trail off of Wildcat, Aggies’ Alley (96) – but it’s worth heading over there for the view of the High Traverse across the gulley and the chutes below it (and all the shredders getting after it!) You might just be inspired to try some spicier terrain yourself.
The intermediate trails off Supreme are some of our favorites. Rock n’ Roll (15) is a wonderful, curving cruiser – though be prepared for a short steep section just before the merge at the end.
The Self-Guided Tour for Intermediates and Above
Here’s a self-guided tour full of groomers for intermediates and above which will give you a solid introduction to the mountain. It starts at the Collins lift and takes you across the entire ski area so you can get a feel for the variety of terrain. From the Wildcat base, ride up on the Collins detachable quad. After it makes its slight turn at the mid-station (no unloading allowed!), you’ll be carried over the trees of Spruce (68) and Fred's Slot (65). Look left to get a sense of the High Traverse and watch other skiers tackle the challenge. At the top, turn right soon after unloading onto Mambo (56), which becomes a wide lane often used by instructors above Watson's Shelter. Stay left and keep up speed to reach the top of Meadow (98) which connects to Corkscrew (102).
Alta recently invested in widening the top of Corkscrew, so this series of runs should let you go from top to bottom without stopping or bottlenecking. As you near the bottom of Corkscrew, bear left and head for the Wildcat double near Guest Services, your next ride up. This will take you right up to the boundary between Alta and Snowbird.
From the top of Wildcat, you can go straight and ski Aggie’s Alley (96), or bear slightly left onto the more challenging Stimulation (103). The two rejoin just before the mid-station of Collins. You can load here (after 11:00am), or you can go back down to the bottom – either way, take one more ride up Collins, then ski over to Sugarloaf via Devil’s Way (55) and Devil’s Elbow (40). Devil’s Elbow is one of the longest intermediate runs at Alta; it starts out steep but eases out, and goes through a few more cycles of steep/less steep. Off to the edges of the run, you can often find powder right after a storm. Take Sugarloaf up, and hang a right off the lift. From here, you can look out beyond Alta into Snowbird's Mineral Basin. Head back to Devil’s Elbow by taking Little Dipper (35). Just as Devil’s Elbow is making its last left turn to get to the bottom of Sugarloaf, bear right onto Cecret Cutoff (42) and take that to Alf’s. Get on the brand new improved Supreme quad (and be happy they’ve replaced two slower fixed lifts!). At the top, turn right and take your pick of groomed blue or black runs. A good safe option is Upper Big Dipper and Big Dipper (12 and 16). After Upper Big Dipper you could also hop onto Rock and Roll (15) which is often not groomed the day after a room (though it may be closed due to avalanche danger). These runs end near the base of the old Supreme lift and funnel you onto Rabbit (10) to take you back to Alf’s and a well-deserved break to plot your next adventures.
Best for Advanced/Experts
No matter how long you ski or how good you get, we don’t think you’ll ever get bored with Alta, especially if you’re willing to take traverses and even some small hikes. Despite its relatively modest size, Alta’s got it all if you know where to go (don’t worry if you don’t, we’ll tell you!). You can shred wide-open bowls, weave in between trees in the steeps, and bomb chutes large and small. You don’t always need to get first chair in the morning, either – after big snowstorms, it can take a day or two for ski patrol to open hike-to terrain like Devil’s Castle (43) or Mt. Baldy; locals and return visitors know to check Alta’s website for planned opening times.
One interesting quirk about Alta is that it doesn’t label anything double black – everything advanced and expert is single black diamond. Fortunately, much of the terrain is visible from the lifts so as you head up, so you can scout out the runs beforehand. Ballroom and High T (69) lines are easy to see from Collins and you can get a feel for the steepness of the Supreme Bowl on the way up the Supreme Left.
That said, the advanced runs off Collins are relatively tame, as are most of the black diamond runs off Wildcat and Sugarloaf. The ones closest to Supreme, on the other hand, ski like they’d be double black anywhere else, with cliffs and narrow chutes. The wider you turn off Supreme, the more moderate the black diamond terrain becomes.
There are a wealth of tasty lines off the High Traverse (69) (such as Eagle’s Nest (87), Greeley Bowl (90) to just name two), so it’s worth a few trips to try several of them. At least once, though, as you head down ‘High T’, you should resist temptation to drop in on your left until you get to Alf’s High Rustler (83).
For advanced skiers new to Alta, here’s an introductory tour to give you a taste of what Alta has to offer for serious skiers. Starting out from the Wildcat side, ride up the Collins lift and turn sharp right to take the first couple of turns of Mambo (56). Look for the entrances to the High T. Cross over to Main Street (57) before it bends to the right below Ballroom. After the left bend, take the traverse across lower Ballroom (start after the rope line dividing blue / black on Ballroom) to reach the woods just to the right of Aggie’s Alley (96) and take your pick between Taint (97) or the more challenging Blitz (104).
These will take you to Meadow (98) and the bottom of the lifts. Head up Wildcat, and take in the view of the High Traverse and the terrain below it to your left.
At the top of Wildcat, you can turn left onto Stimulation (103), or turn right onto the ungroomed Johnson’s Warm Up. Head towards Watson's Shelter and look for the path between the trees on the left of the building, to reach Racecourse Saddle (59). Stop and marvel at how far up the High T looks from here. Ski left into the end of the gulley, which is the run out for many West Rustler trails. If you are ready for bumps, turn right to the Rustler Cat Track (99). Look for a gate to a wide traverse - don't be fooled by its name! It's a holdover from the time that the summer road was groomed. If the bumps look too challenging, you can bail to the left into Corkscrew.
To get over to the Sugarloaf side, ride up Collins again. Go straight past the Ski Patrol hut and turn left onto Devil's Way (55) and work your way to the bottom of Sugarloaf, which is near Alf's. Ride Sugarloaf up and soak up the view of Snowbird's Mineral Basin before heading to Razor Back (38) by going back to the trail above Sugar Bowl (44) that's right under the Sugarloaf lift or by taking the Little Dipper (35). Be sure to keep up your speed to make it up onto Razor Back.
Stop to check out the stunning view of the Devil's Castle (43). Head down for another ride up Sugarloaf then take your pick between Extrovert (49) to show off your bump skiing under the lift or take the gate to Glory Gulch (50), which skirts the East Greeley area.
Take Sugarloaf up again, and get on the Cecret Cutoff (42) by getting on Devil’s Elbow and bearing right. Head down to Alf’s for a quick break, then head up the new Supreme lift and enjoy the view of Supreme Bowl, Devil’s Castle, and East Castle. Turn right from the top of the lift onto Upper Big Dipper (12) then onto Rock n Roll (15) to skier’s left. If the gate just before Rock n Roll merges with the Big Dipper (16) is open, head through the trees to Cabin Hill and back down to the bottom of Supreme. This time, from the top of Supreme, you’ll turn sharply right and come down Challenger, which closely parallels the lift – you’ll have an audience, so make sure you look good!
If your family doesn’t have any true beginners, then head up Supreme, where you’ll plenty of variety for both intermediate and advanced skiers. The way the runs are laid out, it’s easy for people to head off on separate runs and then meet up again easily on the bottom. Advanced skiers can enjoy bumps on runs like No.9 Express (18) or Vicky’s (21), while intermediates cruise Big Dipper (12 & 16).
Off-piste and Backcountry
There is a wealth of off-piste terrain to be found at Alta, and you don’t even need to consider yourself “advanced” to check it out. The skier’s right section of the Ballroom Area (61) (closest to the Collins lift) is considered intermediate - though it can be more challenging depending on conditions.
In deep powder, Taint (97) might be a better choice. Off Supreme, Challenger (20) on skier’s left just under the lift is another good option unless it’s bumped up (when it is, it earns its black diamond). If you’re with an advanced skier you can follow, or are just feeling adventurous, the Saddle Traverse (66) to the lower half of Sunspot (73) is worth the effort – another option is to take Race Course Saddle (59) after Saddle Traverse. You’ll get a chance to learn how to negotiate traverses and gullies, and you’ll finish heading down Corkscrew (102) to the base of Collins and Wildcat.
For advanced skiers, Alta is an endless off-piste playground – it can take a lifetime to learn all the different stashes. If you’re lucky and find yourself in Alta on a powder day, you’ll wind up having a few days to find freshies since it takes the ski patrol time to make sure some of the areas are safe to open (and even if it’s not a powder day, Alta is still worth the trip!)
All of the bowls are excellent with fresh powder, although Ballroom (60, 61) and Devil’s Castle get skied out quickly since they’re so easy to get to (the short hike to Devil’s Castle isn’t much of a deterrent when the snow is this good!). You might try the backside, or the opposite side of the ridge from High Traverse (69). The area between Greeley Bowl and Yellow Trail Area are slightly less popular, and you can get to them either by going over the top of the ridge, or working over to Yellow Trail Area from the top of Collins or dropping down from Sugarloaf.
The terrain off the High Traverse such as Race Course (72) and Sunspot (73) are favorites, as are Christmas Tree (80), Stone Crusher (81), and Lone Pine (82).
The 10 minute hike to Catherine’s Area is well worth it, but only if the visibility is good – and not just for the views; if you can’t see where you’re going, you could find yourself perched on top of a cliff! If you’re still feeling your way around advanced terrain, have no fear – the farther out you go in Catherine’s Area (to skier’s right), the tamer the pitch. That said, it’s big-mountain ski-flick terrain, so even if the visibility is good, it’s not a bad idea to go with someone or at least follow other skiers until you’re familiar with this part of the ski area.
There are plenty of chutes to check out off Supreme, but be sure to scope them out on your way up. Pay attention from the lift to the skiers making their way down to figure out if the snow is as good as it looks.
If the visibility is sketchy, ski patrol closes off areas such as Catherine’s or Devil’s Castle so you can’t get in too much trouble. The High Traverse will probably stay open, but unless you’ve had a chance to get familiar with the area, it’s best to stay away from it when you can’t see well. Wildcat is a reliable favorite if it’s foggy or the clouds are low.
As you might guess from the averages, low-snow seasons are rare at Alta. When they happen, ski patrol marks the biggest obstacles, but aside from that they seem to figure that if you’re good enough to venture off groomed runs, you’re good enough to avoid rocks and roots.
Terrain Parks and Night Skiing
There’s no terrain park at Alta, but no one who comes here seems to think it needs one. There’s plenty of rocks to jump off of, cliffs to huck, and bumps to fly off. If you really need a park, you can hop over to Snowbird or visit nearby Brighton or Park City. There’s also no night skiing at Alta, but after a day of everything this place has to offer, who still has any gas left to keep skiing? Besides, with the food the lodges serve, you really don’t want to miss out on dinner.