This year will mark my 14th season skiing the slopes of Alta. An immediate distinction you must understand about Alta, is that it is not a ski resort, but a ski area. While it graces the pages of, You-Name-It –Magazine, multiple times a year, unlike most grandiose ski resorts on the other pages, it is not recognized for flaunting a zillon high-speed chairs, gondolas or trams that allow you to access the most radical terrain as soon as you click into your skis. In fact, some of the most fun and challenging terrain at Alta isn’t off the high-speed quad, it’s off a double and triple chair, Wildcat and Supreme respectively. On top of that, Alta makes you work for it.
If you haven't traversed to reach any runs, you haven't skied Alta. If you haven't side-stepped, you haven't skied Alta. If you haven't hiked, you haven't skied the infamous Baldy Chutes or Perlas.
What many other ski resorts may criticize about Alta, is what I believe make it a great ski area. The hikes, traverses, stashes and side-steps is all what has kept me coming back for almost a decade and a half. On Feb. 13-16 I’m excited to team up with Kim Reichhelm’s Steep Skiing Camp at Alta and hit up all my favorite spots. To get you warmed up, I put together a brief overview of the variety of skiing that Alta provides and some unique skills it has afforded me. All of the following photos were captured on the most typical day: sunny, no powder, no ice, just enjoyable skiing.
From the Top - Main Chute - Dec. 29th, 2016
One of the prized lines, along with little and dog leg, to ski off the top is Main Chute. Standing there poised to drop in will always put a huge smile on my face. The run is the longest at Alta and requires a spectacular hike that takes me about 20-30 minutes. After a quick respite to take in the 360 panorama, you slide over the wind buff and look in to see what kind of reward awaits. The entrance is the steepest part, consistently sub 40 degrees for it's sub 1,000 ft duration. One of the reasons I'm always smiling at the top, is the chute only opens a handful of times throughout the year when the stability is bomber and visibility 100%. If you are lucky enough to be one of the first, it's easy breezy glory skiing. If you get to main chute hours after it opens or even the day after (pictured above), it's wonderfully challenging with decent sized moguls, chalk, crud and ice. Navigating these variables is part of the fun. If you don't get sucked into the bump field and look around, there are always a few soft spots.
Once you've descended near the exit where rock walls jut up to the sky, a sense of accomplishment, and sometimes relief washes over you. I usually come to a stop for a moment to assess my new environment as onlookers traversing to the side of ballroom remark, "I've always wanted to do that", or something to that effect. From there I either traverse over towards Bad News and Baldy shoulder or just drop into one of the gullies and pin it another 1,500ft to the bottom.
Last Turns before the exit...
Before I show you a few more of my favorite spots I have to forewarn you that lots of traversing is needed to get to these spots. Many of you think, oh man... another traverse... where you think, time to get defensive and survive, I think, time to get proactive, pump some trannies and pass some tourists. Not only that, but I've come to embrace traverses and it's taught me a lot about gaining speed/scrubbing speed using a variety of techniques, quick decision making and turning perceived obstacles into transitions, wall-rides and surfy fun.
Once you manage the high T and sidestep up a couple, you reach 3rd's. Riding down the ridge, you can always find a fun wind-lip to play on before dropping into a few wide open turns and then squeezing through a couple of pinches of your choosing that again open up into some high speed, powder/chunk or manageable bumps. Here's a shot going through one of the pinches...
Pictured below are some of the small powder bumps that form underneath the pinch and are perfect for mini airplane or big GS turns.
From the bottom of 3rds it's wise to head left into Bombay or Garbage Chutes. These two places can be sendy, technical or fairly cruzy depending on your adventure level and what the conditions are like. You can choose between tight trees, substantial cliff drops or some short steeps that open up into wider pine glades. I opted for a wall slash...
And some fun powdery bumps that most people overlook...
The next victim of my steep ski camp tease is High Russ. Again, surf the High-T traverse over into Alf's High Rustler. Getting there requires navigating a highly traveled and bumped up section of terrain after the High-T that has been heavily traversed, slid down and gnarled from defensive and survival skiers trying to, once again, survive. Applying some bump skiing techniques while using some of those defensive snow piles can get you through that area quickly while avoiding those who are a little slower.
Then you get to descend one of Alta's most classic runs, top-to-bottom.
Or you can branch off from the main drag and find some really tight, fun and challenging tree sections.
Now that I've gotten this far, explaining only three runs, you can probably guess why I love Alta. These three runs I've explained are accessed from Sugarloaf and Collins which I just now realize aren't even my favorite chairs. I also realize that if I were to continue sharing my favorite places, locals may get their panties in a bunch about what I reveal. Also, given the quantity and quality of runs and spots, I should be writing a book rather than a blog. If you are interested in, not only discovering some of these spots, but enhancing your ability to navigate and descend these types of runs, come to my Steep ski camp with Kim Reichelm, Feb. 13-16th. You will learn techniques you've never imagined, gain confidence you've never had and experience Alta like a local. If this sounds appealing to you, click here. I can assure you, regardless of the conditions, you will have fun and you will learn something new every day.
To wrap this up, the day we shot these photos, I skied a line I'd never ridden. Yep, in the 14 years I've been here, it's gone unridden. That means there is still more for me to discover at Alta and I'm looking forward to many more years.
Thanks to Sam Watson for the imagery: Check out his website! Sam will be joining us for a day during the camp to capture the action. Prints will be available for purchase.