Powder-Heaven Alta Celebrates Its 75th Anniversary

Posted by Andy Dennison
Andy Dennison
Andy started skiing at about three years old. His father Jim held him between hi
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on Tuesday, 13 November 2012 in News
Alta ready to open

No other American ski area can stake a better claim to the term “old school” than the Alta Ski Area. The venerable Utah ski mountain will be 75 years old this year and, as the thousands of Alta loyalists know and love, some things just never change at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon.


Oh sure, you now have chairlifts in Albion Basin where, once, the only way in was a hike through the Gun Sight that was rewarded with first tracks down either the Green or Blue trail. And, yes, management finally caved in at the outset of the 21stcentury and put in its first detachable high-speed quad.


As a nod to the modern world, the resort did add pull-down safety bars to its chairs within the last three years. And, now it’s just a short skate to get to neighbor Snowbird (the areas even share a ticket!) which once required a guide and a hitchhike back up the canyon.


But there’s still plenty at Alta that has been around since things began in 1939. Like the crowd of first-chair powderhounds, antsy to get into some untouched stuff in the famed powder chutes of Stone Crusher, Long Pine and Alf’s High Rustler, or the glades of Wildcat Face and Collins Face. Like some of the best instruction in the nation that comes from the long tradition at the Alf Engen Ski School – one of the most well-known wintertime institutions in the United States that was actually first organized by American ski racer Dick Durrance.


Down below, the base lodge hasn’t changed much over the years, and the quartet of the original ski lodges remain: Snowpine Lodge, Alta Lodge, Rustler Lodge and Alta Peruvian. Old-timers may recall the treacherous series of rope tows that brought skiers back from Albion Basin to the main area. There’s still plenty of terrain that requires a bit of hike to get in to: Baldy Chutes, East Greeley Bowl, Devil’s Castle. Watson Shelter still defrosts frozen toes and serves up steaming soup at mid-mountain, although it did get a facelift recently.


There’s still a level tow that runs from to Albion Basin to Collins Lift – only now it’s a luxurious chairlift. Historically low ticket prices have risen lately, but they still remain well below what is charged at comparable Rocky Mountain resorts. Snowboards remain verboten at Atla – one of three holdouts in the nation.


But, of course, the one thing that will never change at Alta is the powder snow. Ask anyone who has skied Alta, and they will have a story that sounds like this: “Stayed for a week and it snowed the whole time. Never saw the mountain, but the powder was the lightest ever – and I never found the bottom of it!”


Old school, indeed.


Photo: Alta is open. (Alta, Utah) 

Tags: Alta, Utah
Andy started skiing at about three years old. His father Jim held him between his legs and off they went down New England trails. Soon, Andy joined the Fourth Estate and moved to Colorado, thereupon finding work as a staff writer or editor for newspapers – including a stint as Ski Editor for the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph. In between, he designed and wrote public school curriculum, edited Concrete Pumping & Placing Magazine, and got a master’s degree in English. All the while, he skied. So, the marriage of snowsports and journalism has only been waiting for Andy to catch on. He’s glad he finally did.


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