Skier's Delight, $$
A love for skiing runs steep and deep in Alta. Formerly a hotbed for silver mining, Alta's famed slopes were hand-selected by Norwegian ski legend Alf Engen, who the National Forest Service hired to determine the mountain's potential as the interest in skiing began to grow in the U.S. in the early 1900s. Averaging over 500 inches of annual snowfall, Alta receives some of the highest totals on the planet, filling the Wasatch Mountain range and steep chutes with heavy powder on long, exhilarating drops of vertical feet. The resort, along with America's second chairlift, opened to skiers in 1938, and remains to this day of one the three remaining ski resorts in the U.S. that bans snowboarders. (A culture clash that constantly makes it way from the slopes to the court.)
It's safe to say Alta doesn't like change. The Little Cottonwood Canyon, fifteen miles from Salt Lake City, is frozen in a safe snow globe, its locals insisting on keeping traditions not to jinx the powder blessings each winter. So when a $50-million dollar overhaul in 2019 transformed the Snowpine Lodge — a building deeply rooted in Alta's mining history — into the town's first luxury hotel, the developers had to keep the peace with Alta's locale. Amid avalanches and fires, WWII and the Great Depression, and the evolution from mining to skiing, the sturdy granite building served as the town's public shelter for centuries, responsible for getting everyone back on their feet, and onto their skis.
The revamped Snowpine Lodge takes the same approach to hospitality, offering lower-priced, dormitory-style bunkbed rooms for skiers on a budget, with equal access to the modern amenities that appeal to today's travelers and ski enthusiasts. The unrivaled ski-in, ski-out location has been enhanced with a new private chairlift that ensures guests first access to the powdery runs, while the hotel spa, complete with an outdoor lap pool, steam room, sauna, and oxygen bar, ensures muscle recovery in no time. Further enhancing the property are two new restaurants: Gulch Pub, with live music at après, and Swen's Restaurant, an elevated alpine fine dining experience named for the hotel owner's ancestor who worked Alta's mines in the 1870s. Embodying Alta's longtime motto, "Come for the Skiing, Stay for the Skiing," the lodge honors the notion that there's no bad day spent living life with friends on the mountain.
At a Glance
The Vibe: Chalet chic.
Standout Detail: What's better than ski-in, ski-out access? The lodge offers its own private ski lift to access the mountain for first tracks on the powdery runs.
This Place Is Perfect For: Couples, friends, families, and powder hounds wanting easy slope access with a lively home base to return for après and live entertainment.
Rooms: 54 guest rooms suit all types of travelers. Families spread out among the suites with separate living rooms and kitchenettes. Couples cozy up with private mountain views from the premium room balcony. Friends or anyone on a tighter budget bunk down in the five dormitory rooms that fit two to four guests in bunkbeds with shared bathrooms.
On Site: Sore muscles find nirvana at Stillwell Spa with an oxygen bar, sauna and steam room, grotto, and indoor hot tub beneath the building's original granite stone. A mountain-facing outdoor pool has lounge chairs and a warming fire pit. The Nest, a game room with ping-pong, a pool table, and arcade room, gets going during après ski, as does the Little Nest, which has a ball pen for kids. Common areas on each floor encourage guests to mingle and share tales from the trails. The hotel's in-house Powder Ski Shop takes care of gear rentals and provides ski lockers to keep boots toasty overnight.
Food + Drink: Pints of local brews and craft cocktails are served daily at The Gulch Pub with classic après ski snacks of platters of nachos, German pretzels, and chicken wings. Breakfast and dinner are served at Swen's Restaurant with a modern, open-kitchen floor plan with floor-to-ceiling mountain views and communal tables for hearty meals of surf and turf and a seasonal menu of the locally-grown vegetable harvest.
What to Do Nearby
Unlike other resort towns, you won't find the streets filled with designer stores and fur-clad snow bunnies cruising the town for a Champagne buzz. Alta's après-ski scene is mostly focused on a casual beers with friends and warming your ski boots by the base's fire pits. At nighttime, local restaurants and cafes serve locally-sourced hearty meals with a rustic and cowboy grit that Utah is known for. Days off piste are spent cross-country skiing or snowshoeing on the wide variety of trails near the resort.
In the summertime, wildflowers take over the Albion Basin, home to Cecret Lake, with flowing streams and healthy families of roaming moose and deer. The gondola runs during the summer months, with several breathtaking trails and sprawling views of the valley. Ask any local their favorite season, however, and your answer is met with the snowflake twinkle in their eye.