The Alta Ski Area near Salt Lake City is known for its authentic ski experiences with world-famous ski slopes, an old school ski town, and spectacular alpine scenery high in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah. From a bygone era of silver mines, saloons and ski pioneers to a bucket-list destination for year-round outdoor recreation, here’s 10 things you likely didn’t know about Alta, Utah – and endless reasons to add Alta to your vacation bucket-list.

1. Alta is a Historic Mining Town

Alta is a historic mining town with a storied (and notorious) past! Founded in 1865 to house miners from the Cottonwood Canyon’s silver mines, Alta boomed in the early 1870s until a devastating fire and avalanche destroyed most of the original town in the 1880s. By the 1930s, the town of Alta had one resident, the self-proclaimed mayor George Watson. Today, the town of Alta is still small with a local population of under 400 residents – and hundreds of thousands of visitors throughout the year.

2. Alta is One of the Oldest Ski Resorts in the US

The Alta Ski Area is the second oldest lift-served ski area in the west (second to Sun Valley, Idaho) and one of America’s most historic ski resorts. The famous Norwegian ski pioneer, Alf Engen, discovered the town of Alta in 1935, the Alta Ski Area was founded in 1938, and on January 15th, 1939, three-hundred skiers paid a mere 25 cents to ride the Collins chairlift for the very first time. Discover Alta’s story from silver mining town to world-famous ski resort in our guide to the history of Alta.

3. Alta has the Greatest Snow on Earth

children playing on amazing snow

The phrase “The Greatest Snow on Earth” is considered one of the most successful marketing slogans in the outdoor recreation industry, but it’s not just a marketing ploy or catch phrase. The Cottonwood Canyons in Utah actually receive the greatest snow on earth! The Great Salt Lake pulls moisture from the air creating a drier atmosphere and resulting in a light, fluffy powdery snowfall (and lots of it!). The Cottonwood Canyons receive an average of over 500 inches a year (that’s over 40 feet of snow!), with a record high of nearly 900 inches of snow in the 1982-1983 Alta ski season.

4. Alta is a Skiers Only Mountain

The slogan “Alta is for Skiers” has been in place since snowboarding was invented and, despite legal challenges from local snowboarders, Alta remains true to its skier-only status. In March 2020, the Alta Ski Area closed early for the season during Covid and boarders keen to explore the challenging terrain of Alta hiked the mountain, rode the ski slopes Alta for the first time, and documented in a short film, Silver Linings. Boarders can experience the thrill of cruising Alta’s fresh powder visually, or head over to Snowbird Resort where snowboarders are more than welcome!

5. Alta has Ski Patrol Dogs

dog on snow

Due to the nature of the terrain and snow conditions in the Cottonwood Canyons, the Alta Ski Area has played an important role in avalanche research over the years. Alta Ski Patrol was founded in 1941 and, in 1980, Alta ski patroller Dan O’Connor and his pup Je Yu began the avalanche dog program in Alta, one of the first avalanche dog programs in the US. Today, the Alta Ski Area hosts the Wasatch Backcountry Rescue’s International Dog School, training up pups from around the world to save lives.

6. Alta is NOT only for Expert Skiers!

The Alta Ski Area is famous for its advanced and extreme terrain, black diamonds, and some of the steepest inbound runs in the US, but Alta is not only for expert skiers. Alta’s diverse terrain is 55% expert, 30% intermediate, and 15% beginner – a family-friendly ski resort for all levels of skiers including beginners! The Sunnyside lift is the perfect starting point for beginners, the Alf Engen Ski School is amazing with lessons for kids as young as two, and the Sunnyside at 3 Ski Program allows skiers to ride the Sunnyside and Albion chairlifts and the transfer tow from 3pm to closing for as little as $59 for a four-pack. The cheapest way for beginners to learn to ski!

7. Interlodge in Alta

The Alta Ski Area is known for the heavy storms that roll through the Cottonwood Canyons bringing fresh, perfect powder! These storms unfortunately bring with them dangerous road conditions and avalanche threats resulting in Interlodge – the closing of road access on Highway 210 and orders for residents, employees and guests to remain indoors (with all the comforts of an Alta Chalet!). Once the area is deemed safe, the adrenaline begins with over 5,000 acres of fresh pow for ultimate winter play at Alta-Snowbird. Interlodge typically lasts a few hours, however February 2021 broke a record with 100” of fresh snow and 60 hours of Interlodge.

8. You Can Get a Drink in Alta, Utah!

People having fun drinking beer at utah

Utah has some odd liquor laws but contrary to popular perception, you can get a drink in Alta, Utah! Up until June 2009, private club membership was required to enter bars in Utah making it difficult for tourists to enjoy a drink. Today, liquor may be served in restaurants, breweries and bars any day of the week, beer up to 5% in alcohol is available at local grocery stores and gas stations, but you’ll need to head to a state licensed liquor store for spirits and wines. General Gritts in the Snowbird Center are fully licensed to stock up on your alcoholic drinks during your stay in Alta and there’s a lot of fun places to relax, listen to live music and sip on your favorite craft beer or cocktail!

9. Why Pets Are Not Allowed in Alta

Utah’s Cottonwood Canyons are critical protected Wasatch Front watershed areas that supply high quality drinking water to the entire Salt Lake Valley. Sadly, our four legged friends have the potential to contaminate the water source putting the drinking water and human health at risk. Aside from the Alta Paw Patrol pups, service dogs and limited licenses for locals, pets are prohibited from Utah’s Cottonwood Canyons.

10. Summer in Alta

The biggest secret is out! Alta is not just a ski lovers paradise in the winter – the summers in Alta are amazing with sunny skies, vibey patios, live music, and fun! As the snow melts, the canyons and peaks of the Wasatch Mountains come alive with wildflowers, wildlife, and endless outdoor adventures with easy seclusion in nature. Summer days are spent hiking, biking and birdwatching on the Alta trails, fishing in secluded alpine lakes, rock-climbing the granite cliffs, and simply soaking up the alpine splendor of Alta in summer. The Wasatch Wildflower Festival in July is an Alta event worthy of every bucket-list and lodging in Alta sells out fast.

Whether you’re chasing wildflowers or the perfect powder day, Alta Chalets have the ultimate retreat to enhance your unique experience in Alta. Our portfolio of handpicked luxury Alta vacation rentals are situated between the Alta Ski Area and Snowbird Ski Resort with easy access to the best things to do in Alta, year-round! 

Our vacation chalets and luxury condos are designed to accommodate a romantic getaway for two, or a large group gathering of up to 23 guests. Our Alta rentals boast luxury indoor and outdoor amenities, breathtaking alpine views, and personalized guest services from our team of locals at Alta Chalets.