The first time we took our boys to ski Alta, Utah, they were still in elementary school.
My husband and I planned our trip as a Spring Break escape.
Upon hearing the plan, our sons were dismayed.
“Ski Utah?” they questioned. “Why would we do that? We’re from Colorado.”
After one day at Alta, they thanked us for bringing them to Utah.
Nine years later, they’re still thanking us.
Alta is Special
While there are plenty of amazing family ski resorts in North America, there is something special about Alta.
Yes, Alta is blessed with some of the consistently best snow in world, an average of 514 inches each year.
Yes, Alta has some of the most beautiful, unique and diverse ski terrain in the world, a wonderland of gentle meadows for learning at the end of a canyon bound by rugged alpine peaks perfectly designed for advanced and expert exploration.
In between these extremes, Alta has challenges and excitement for intermediate skiers ready to try a first traverse or tree run, as well as plenty of groomed cruisers.
And yes, Alta is a wholly unique, western ski town. With about 400 year-round residents, it’s a welcoming community of five classic ski lodges, some private homes and condos, one restaurant, several ski shops, a church and a community center for special events.
Ultimately though, Alta is all about the skiing.
And if your family is all about skiing, Alta is the place for you.
Our Alta Tradition
It’s been nine winters since our first family trip to Alta.
On our first visit, our boys were little rippers jumping off Razor Back and racing one another through the Ballroom.
Today, they’re strong young men able to ski nonstop laps on High Rustler in deep powder, patiently waiting for us at the bottom.
Through the years, we’ve mastered the art of the traverse (a must for Utah skiing) and skied endless chutes, bowls and glade runs together.
Alta has become a family touchstone, a place where we build and expand on past remembrances, while creating new memories for the future.
We Are Not Alone
We’re not the only family who returns year after year.
On our most recent trip, in March 2016, we were once again at Alta during spring break.
The lodges were full, mostly with families. In the always short lift lines, you’d see grandparents with grandkids, parents with adult children, parents with toddlers, packs of cousins and every other familial permutation imaginable.
As a writer, I ask questions when I meet people on chairlifts (or in hot tubs). On this visit almost everyone I met had a family story to share.
First, there was Jorge.
A retired geologist from Mexico City, Jorge and his three-generation family come to Alta for Easter every year. They rent a nearby private home that holds all 20 of them. They ski together, cook together and play together for the week.
Then I met Lisa and Scott, a couple from Salt Lake City who came to Alta’s Rustler Lodge for the week with their two young children.
They ski Alta all season long, but this was their first time staying up the canyon and they were loving it.
“We signed our kids up for the Children’s Table,” Lisa explained. “Last night we thoroughly enjoyed a peaceful dinner for just the two of us.”
Next I met Susanna a busy New York City mom, relishing some quality girl time with her sociable pre-teen daughter.
“We call this week together our Mommy Daughter Ski Like A Girl Adventure,” Susanna shared. “This is our second year. Next year we’re coming back and I think we’ll invite friends.”
Finally, on a chairlift at neighboring Snowbird, I met two University of Chicago freshman enjoying spring break, not with other college students, but with family.
This family has come to Alta since their daughter was a young child. They always try to rent the same condo between Alta and Snowbird and ski both resorts.
“It’s the best thing we do,” the young woman shared, as her boyfriend nodded vigorously, clearly happy to be included.
Her story resonated with me.
Last year was our oldest son’s freshman year at the University of Colorado. As Spring Break drew closer, he mentioned that some friends would be going on a university-sponsored trip to Park City.
I mentioned that we would be going to Alta. Did he want to join us? Or would he rather hang out with his college buddies?
Without pause, he responded.
“I’m coming to Alta,” he affirmed. “I want to ski with my brother.”
A Goal, Realized
Four years ago, we were driving home on an early December night after a long weekend at the Alta Lodge.
The boys were asleep in the back of the car. My husband, exhilarated by three terrific days of family skiing and feeling sentimental, looked at me and made a pronouncement.
“No matter what it costs, no matter where the boys live and no matter how large their families, when we have grandkids, I’m bringing everyone to Alta.”
He’s repeated this goal again and again, with one major difference. He’s not waiting for grandkids.
We’re already bringing the family back to Alta, every year.
When You Go…
We’ve “done” Alta a lot of different ways.
We’ve stayed in the Salt Lake City valley and commuted 30-40 minutes each day to ski. If you’re looking for value and don’t mind driving, this is a fantastic way to save money.
Still, our preferred location is in Alta (check for lodging options and deals here).
While we’ve not yet rented a home or condo, this is a good way to go if you want more privacy and don’t mind cooking.
Each lodge serves delicious meals, most of which are included in the price. They’ve all got game rooms and comfy lounges where families can hang out together. The guest rooms are inviting and comfortable and each lodge has a good après scene.
Without a doubt, we’ve enjoyed them all.
Since we were most recently at Alta’s Rustler Lodge, here’s a quick rundown of what makes it especially nice for families.
Possibly the swankiest of the lodges, it’s also one of the largest and it has a really nice outdoor pool, hot tub, sauna and, my favorite, a Eucalyptus steam room. There’s a fully loaded workout room and stretching classes are offered each morning.
Additionally, the Rustler Lodge has spa services provided by Mountainside Spa (as do the Goldminer’s Daughter and Snowpine Lodge) and you don’t have to be a lodge guest to book a treatment.
Two meals each day are included, along with abundant afternoon snacks and complimentary cocktails. Programs for kids, like the Children’s Table with activities and dinner, are offered during holiday periods, when the Lodge bursts with families.
Finally, you don’t have to be an expert skier to love Alta (but you do have to be a skier as snowboards are not allowed on the lifts).
The Alf Engen Ski School has programming for all ages and abilities. From first-time lessons for kids and adults to Off Trail Workshops for advanced and expert skiers, it’s worth taking the time to improve your skills with a pro.
While my kids purport to “hate” lessons, they love skiing Alta with a ski school guide. Last time around they spent an afternoon launching off cliffs and ripping pow in an Advanced Mountain Explorers clinic.
At the same time, my husband and I were chasing Connie, an Off Trail Workshop instructor, through chutes, glades and bowls, getting tips for improvement and an introduction to the terrain best suited for that day’s conditions.
At $85 per person for 2.5 hours, the Off Trail Workshop might be the best investment you can make in your skiing. Sign up for your first afternoon at Alta and start your week, or weekend, off right.
Alta’s opening day for 2016 is November 18th.
Thanksgiving is a great time to visit Alta, where the holiday is celebrated in style at the Lodges. It’s also an economical time to visit Alta. At the Alta Lodge, up to kids under 12 can stay in their parents’ room for free from opening day until December 16. This same deal repeats in April and you’ll find similar family discounts during these times at The Goldminer’s Daughter Lodge. Rates are lower in early season for all guests at the Alta Peruvian, Alta’s Rustler’s Lodge and the Snowpine Lodge (which also offers a Thanksgiving special).
For more details, visit DiscoverAlta.com.
Why We ❤️ Alta
- Find Your Ski “Family” at Alta’s Goldminer’s Daughter, January 19, 2015.
- Alta 24/7: Ski, Eat, Laugh, Repeat. February 6, 2012.
- The Five Alta Lodges: History, Charm and Family Fun, February 7, 2012.
- Making Memories at Alta Lodge, December 5, 2012.
- Alta: Wild, Welcoming and Wonderful (Unless You’re a Snowboarder), November 17, 2010.
- The Pineapple Express Diary, Part Three: Skiing Alta, December 29, 2010.
- Ski Trip Report: Alta Moguls, Ski School and More, December 20, 2011.
- Alta, Utah: The Ski Gang’s All Here, December 4, 2012.
- From Snowboard to Skis for One Day at Alta, January 2, 2013.
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