ALTA, Utah (Money Magazine) -
Nestled in the upper reaches of Little Cottonwood Canyon, 30 miles southeast of downtown Salt Lake City, Alta ski resort is sacred ground among those who worship the fluffy stuff. The snow is not only plentiful -- 500 inches of it a year -- it's so soft and light that carving turns takes little effort and falling is almost a pleasure.
In many ways, Alta is a throwback to the way skiing used to be, before slope-side sushi bars and day spas became de rigueur. Several families own Alta and are bent on preserving a kind of ski culture that is now hard to find at resorts of this size. For example, they've resisted adding high-speed, high-capacity lifts in order to prevent crowding on the slopes. They also leave most of the 2,220 acres of terrain in the hands of Mother Nature, grooming only minimally.
If you don't feel like you've traveled back in time when skiing Alta, your wallet certainly will. At $40 a day, even on holidays, lift tickets are cheap by today's standards. Vail, Colo. and Killington, Vt., by comparison, charge more than $60 a day. And unlike most resorts, which only offer half-day rates in the afternoon -- after the best snow has been carved up -- Alta sells a morning pass. For $32 you can ski from first chair at 9:15 a.m. until 1:00 p.m.
Although runs like High Rustler and Eddie's High have earned Alta cult status among experts, the resort has plenty of slopes to suit all abilities. What Alta doesn't have are half pipes and terrain parks -- unlike nearly every other resort in North America, it prohibits snowboarding.
If you plan to vacation with snowboarders, you can drop them at Snowbird, which is just one mile down the canyon. Or for $64 a day, ski both Alta and Snowbird, using a link that was completed last December.
Stay at one of Alta's five lodges or rent a condo and you'll have the luxury of walking to and from the slopes or skiing right out your door--for a price. Rooms at the area's oldest lodge, Alta Lodge (800-707-2582) start at about $300 a night for two people, but the price includes breakfast and dinner. For more options in Alta, call 888-782-9258 or go towww.alta.com.
As an inexpensive alternative, you can stay in downtown Salt Lake City and drive or take a bus the 30 miles to Alta. Rooms at the Hotel Monaco (800-805-1801) start at around $120. This well-appointed boutique hotel welcomes skiers with free ski storage and rental arrangements as well as a warm fire every evening. For other Salt Lake City hotels check out www.skiutah.com or call 800-754-8824.