Sunrise on Mt. Mansfield from Sterling Pond. (Sunrise Mountain Guides)
Backcountry and sidecountry ski touring are all the rage now, but heading out of bounds without some experience can be at best a frustrating undertaking and at worst a dangerous one. SnoCountry.com has found the prefect combo of ski hotels that not only offer the comforts of a destination resort, but guide service to bring your adventure goals to reality.
Nighttime in Alta, with Salt Lake City down the canyon. (Alta/Facebook)
Just by its name -- Alta Ski Area – you can tell that you’re skiing “old school.” The famed powder mountain is one of the oldest in the country, opening in 1939, and much is the same today. Don’t bring your snowboard: Alta’s one of three resorts that prohibit knuckle-draggers. But do bring goggles, powder suits and perhaps a snorkel for, typically, the Alta gets 500-plus inches.
Terrain. Alta is two cirques side by side. The front under 11,000-foot Mt. Baldy rolls gently down the middle. But get up on the sides, and that’s where Alta really speaks to you. Be ready for lots of traversing to get to iconic Sunspot or High Rustler skier’s right or Ballroom to the left off Collins high-speed. Take Wildcat chair for a trip up into Alta’s original trail – and peek over into Snowbird. Or traverse over to the backside for an array of wide-open slopes in Greeley Bowl, the gnarly drops off Supreme lift, or the only greens on the hill -- gentle long cruisers all the way to the base.
Tickets. Used to be cheapest day ticket around, but now at full retail of $96. Online, reloads and multi-days cut prices. Alta is in the Mountain Collective, also has combo with Snowbird. Beginners get late-afternoon deal for novice-only tickets for Albion lift.
Ski School. Alf Engen Ski School among nation’s best, especially for powder skiing. Alta Lodge hosts renowned multi-day “performance ski camps.”
Eat. Basic skier’s fare on the hill at Watson’s Shelter on the front, and Alf’s Lodge on the back. Down below, the same during the day, but the fondu flames fire up every evening at lodges.
Lodging. Three classics await -- Alta Lodge, Peruvian Lodge, Rustler Lodge – with European cuisine, cozy rooms and steins of beer. Goldminer’s and Snowpine a bit newer but also compact. A limited number of condos and townhouses up near the mountain. Down below, town of Sandy is full of VRBO’s and motels.
Transportation. The airport-to-lift trip is the quickest in country. Utah encourages taking a bus up Little Cottonwood rather than fight the traffic, which can be monumental if it’s snowing. Shuttles run regularly back down to town and nonstop to the airport. Parking’s cheek-to-jowl around the base (no lot shuttles).
Insider Tips: You want challenge? Head skier’s left off Wildcat and stick near the boundary rope. All it does is get steeper, cliff-ier and longer the farther you go. Want to miss crowds? Stay overnight and hope the access road is closed by avalanche.
The pre-World War II years were halcyon days for the ski industry in the American West, with more than two dozen iconic ski areas firing up their lifts for the first time – including Alta Ski Area in 1938.