Bigger isn’t always better for family ski trips
…families pining for a lower-key ski vacation have options too, among the smaller, easy-going mountains that are thriving despite the broader industry trend…one such gem—Alta Ski Area, in the Wasatch range of Utah…
The mountain averages 500-plus inches of snow a year, far more than most other North American resorts. In most years, this means a snowpack ideal for winter and spring skiing alike.
The lodge was built in 1940—the first ski lodge in this canyon—and retains a quaint charm: classic ski photos adorn the walls, books and board games line the shelves (there are only two TVs on the property), and staff and guests banter like extended family—due in large part to the 70- to 80-percent repeat visitor rate.
That loyalty is borne of a relaxed, fun-for-all-ages vibe and in the free-flowing conversations in the Sitzmark bar, a cozy lair where the bartender is moonlighting from his ski patroller job and the guest in the crisp jeans and flannel shirt is the dressiest guy around.
National Geographic.com, March 2020
5 Great Luxury Hidden Gem Ski Hotels You Should Know About
Until now, Alta has remained steadfastly old fashioned – it is one of just three remaining top large resorts in the country that still bans snowboarders (skiing only) and has kept to its European roots with a handful of small family owned inns, and most notably, the very charming Alta Lodge, which has a lot going for it but is markedly different than the modern upscale hotel experience. I wrote extensively about the Alta Lodge three years ago for its 75th birthday, and you can learn a lot more here, as it remains an icon in the world of ski travel and is a perfect choice for the right audience. Forbes, December 2018
How to Get the Most Out of a Women’s Ski Camp
The Bentley of the many clinics, lessons and camps offered throughout North America is the women’s program run by the Alta Lodge, in Utah…
Camps forge a unique camaraderie which is especially valuable since a common complaint among female skiers is the difficulty of finding peers with whom to hit the slopes. A unique feature of the Alta Lodge experience is that students and instructors share meals and a roof, providing plenty of opportunities to talk shop, exchange tips and stories, and make plans for yet more trips. Many women sign up for next year as soon as the camp is over…
“…I’m addicted to the friends I made there,” said Sally Shwartz, 59, from Providence, R.I. “I’m looking forward to catching up with them next year. It’s more than just instruction at this point for me.” New York Times, November 2018
Alta Lodge: The Ultimate Ski Lodge
The coolest ski lodge in the US is a 78 year old building in Utah that resembles a 1940s prep-school dorm with a few added Bauhaus touches. Imagine cement-block walls, mid-century industrial Bertoia chairs, and floor-to-ceiling windows with eye-popping views of the slopes. Then imagine that it’s booked solid for much of the ski season with Park Avenue families and well-heeled West Coasters who’ve been coming for generations.
“For many of our guests, this is their spiritual home,” says general manager Marcus Dippo, who’s married to Cassie Levitt, daughter of longtime owner Bill Levitt. He utters these words in dead earnest, and he’s on the mark. Eighty percent of the guests return each year, and friendships form and last over decades.
Levitt [added] onto the 1940 structure three times, in 1963 and 1964, and most dramatically in 1968, with the addition of the so-called East Wing. Designed by architect John Sugden, who had studied under famed Bauhaus architect Mies van der Rohe, it brought mid-century modernism to Alta. To this day, the simple, dramatic walls of glass in these rooms allow a guest to feel as if they are literally standing on the mountain.
The Alta Lodge has grown from 12 guest rooms to 57, some with private balconies and even fireplaces. The luxury touches are humidifiers and boot dryers in the rooms—and high-speed wifi in a nod to the 21st century. The best feature of the original lodge is the Sitzmark Bar, a locals’ favorite for après ski, with a stone fireplace and mountain views. Ski package rates include breakfast and dinner. Forbes, September 2017
The Sweet Spot
What is it about Alta Lodge? How does a small and unassuming hotel at the end of Little Cottonwood Canyon Road attract the rich, the famous, and the interesting, year after year after decade?
The food’s very good, but there’s no famous chef…. What’s the draw…? “It’s like going home. The lobby is the living room. Always, there’s the Alta Lodge dog. Family-style eating. People sharing what their day was like. The best snow in the country. And the wonderful, accessible people who return year after year after year, coming home to that Alta community.”
Sounds like Utah’s ultimate sweet spot. SNOW Magazine, High Season 2017
America’s Most Iconic Ski Lodge Turns 75
Alta Lodge was the first hotel at Alta and is one of the few slopeside inns in North America still operating in the classic ski lodge tradition of Europe – and has been since 1940. A stay here is more than a room, it means terrific included food, friendly staff, and a feel good, communal, family-style atmosphere, with ski-in/ski-out access to some of the world’s best terrain. It’s a true home away from home ambiance…. They have continued to upgrade without losing any of the charm, and tradition has been maintained, thanks in large part to a large number of loyal returning guests…. Simply put, it is one of the last ski vacation experiences of its kind in the United States. Forbes, November 2015
Hotel bars usually lack much identity, as to appeal to a wide range of travelers and serve a simple purpose, and therefore are uninteresting and uninspired. At the Alta Lodge, however, everyone is here to ski the classic slopes of Alta from the front door of its most classic ski lodge. Down, then up several flights of stairs you’ll find the Sitz, and identity is what they do best. Even with a remodel, it has maintained tradition like only the AL can. Not only will you rub elbows with hotel guests, but local pro skiers; some of whom may be serving up your drinks. Order the “Party Marg” and grab a comfy seat. You never know when the road may close “forcing” you to spend the night. 24SaltLake
Up a winding road to 8,600 feet, nestled among mountains in the Wasatch National Forest, sits Alta Lodge. You enter to stunning panoramic views, where après-skiers cozy up with a book by the common room fireplace, or sip house margaritas in the Sitzmark Club upstairs. Saveur
Alta Lodge is the real deal for skiers. In the winter the place lives, eats and breathes skiing. I’ve got friends that visit consistently on a close to annual basis. And 70% of the hotel guests are repeats. Many people book the same time year after year after year. HikeBikeTravel, February 2014
Alta Lodge: No Pretense, Just Powder
A little bit of luxury hides in Alta’s powder at the unassuming but revered Alta Lodge in Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon…. The only fluff at Alta ski area is the snow. Perched at the top of Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon, Alta is a two-planked paradise, utterly void of pretense, snowboards, and glam.
But even here, where “no frills” is the height of anti-fashion, there is a high-end clientele. For them, there is the Alta Lodge. Of the digs in Little Cottonwood Canyon — and there are only a few — the lodge has staked a reputation for casual sophistication, gourmet food, and an interesting clientele. Its modernist design beckons the outdoors inside with floor-to-ceiling plate-glass windows offering 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains. And it’s home to the Sitzmark, one of skidom’s most revered watering holes — which I planned to revere personally and frequently.
So ideal was my routine — breakfast and dinner with fellow skiers, beers at the Sitzmark, and unbelievably epic skiing — I nearly forgot the stairs. But on the last day, as I heel-toed my way up all 64 of them, the weight of my bags was nothing compared to the weight of reality, with its planes to catch, work to be done, and deadlines to meet. At the top of the stairs, I again reached for the bell phone. This time, someone picked up, and, like many before me, I booked my room for next year. Suddenly, my burdens were lighter.
SNOW Magazine, December 2014
STAY: It doesn’t get more refreshingly simple than bedding down at Alta Lodge. The relaxed atmosphere feels as if you’re staying with an old friend, from the cozy upstairs bar to the casual open spaces cluttered with like-minded skiers still buzzing from their day on the mountain. Ski right in from Collins Lift, stash your skis in the downstairs locker and you’re home. The simple rooms boast boot dryers, free wireless and — refreshingly — no TV to cloud the memories of your day. USA Today January 2014
Cool places to stay in the high country
Overview: It sits just opposite and uphill from High Rustler—one of the most recognizable lines in North American skiing. Of all the character-rich lodges buried in the Alta snowpack, the A-Lodge is the most like home. Opened in 1939, it’s more like high-end bed and breakfast than ski dorm—though they have dorm rooms, too. There’s space to move around in your room, for one thing. And if you’re going to have a beer at the Sitzmark Club anyway, why not stay here?
Notable: Full breakfast and a massive multicourse dinner comes with the room. Think broiled rack of lambies and panko crusted mahi mahi. Our Take: There are only 57 rooms so book early and get this one off your life list. I skied by the A-Lodge for 25 years before I finally stayed there.
Stay Here If: Powder skiing is a big part of your life. Mountain Magazine, Winter 2013
America’s most venerable ski-hotel bar has lured the powder-sated to its unpretentious slopeside environs since 1939. While Alta Lodge has modernized around it, the Sitzmark’s wood-burning fireplace, slopeview windows and “pit” bar… nestle untouched by time. Fair Isle sweathers, ski boots, Sitz Party Margs and beer? SKI Magazine, 2012
Family friendly? You bet.
Of the five lodges, the Alta Lodge caters most specifically to families with young children, with their kids’ program and “kids stay free” promotion. A shuttle takes little skiers to and from ski school each day. An apres ski program, including games, arts, crafts and sledding begins at 4:30 p.m. each day, with a kids’ dinner at 5:30. Snocountry February 2012
Best Camp for Intermediates: Alta Lodge Women’s Ski Camp
Alta is the ideal mountain for intermediates, with tons of perfect snow, lots of blue runs and no snowboarders. “Alta has a long history of skiing, and between the Lodge and the ski area, it’s evident that everyone here is invested in skiing,” says instructor Jen Scott. The intimate, old-fashioned lodge sets the tone for a camp that feels more like an extended pajama party than ski school. You share meals with the instructors in a charming dining room, après-ski in the lodge’s woodsy bar, hit the lodge’s hot tub together, gather in the lounge to watch ski videos, pad back to your room in your sweats and gather before breakfast for yoga. Travelgirl Magazine, March 2011
The Joy of Skiing – 10 Reasons Why Families Love Alta
Each of Alta’s five base lodges offers ski-in/ski-out access to the lifts, with the inviting Alta Lodge being the most popular choice for families. Classic lodge ambience, great food, and personal service are a few reasons why 70% of guests return each year, forging friendships and building family traditions. Other perks include in-room boot heaters, wireless Internet access, a meal plan with full breakfast and four-course dinners, and a complimentary kids’ program that includes a free ski shuttle, après-ski activities, and children’s dinners. WeJustGotBack.com, January 2011
Getaway: Altitude without attitude in Utah. Since 1939, Alta Lodge has offered a “traditional” ski experience with personal service. With 57 European-style rooms ranging from slope-facing corner rooms to small dormitory rooms, the atmosphere is friendly, the beds extremely comfortable and the food fabulous…. Many of the guests at Alta Lodge return year after year because of the relaxed atmosphere and personal service, but maybe it is the amazing four-course dinners they serve. MetroWest Daily News, February 2010
If you’re a skier in Utah, no doubt you’ve hit Alta’s slopes, or at least heard of its legendary sugar-like powder. But Alta has much to offer beyond the winter months. Thanks to Alta Lodge’s recent high-style remodel, a hearty Sunday brunch with unbeatable views and a basin brimming with some of the canyon’s best hikes, Alta beckons visitors all summer, too. Utah Style & Design, Summer 2010
WHERE TO STAY Alta’s five small base-area lodges have their own distinct personalities and fiercely loyal clientele. Each of the lodges also offers lower-priced dorms and rooms with shared baths. Ski-in, ski-out dorms are rare at other resorts . Even rarer, the lodges are very social — most have communal dining tables — so that solo skiers won’t feel out of place. If that weren’t enough, lavish breakfasts and dinners are included in the basic rate.
Among the friendliest is the 57-room Alta Lodge. Built in 1939, it has a split personality: rustic, knotty-pine rooms in the original section; spare, midcentury-modern décor in the newer wing. Four gender-specific dorms, which sleep up to four, start at $133 a person and include breakfast, afternoon tea and a four-course dinner. The popular Sitzmark bar, his and her saunas, and two large hot tubs ensure a communal vibe. The New York Times, December 2009
Steps Above: a little bit of luxury hides in Alta’s powder. But even here, where “no frills” is the height of anti-fashion, there is a high-end clientele. For them, there is the Alta Lodge. Of the digs in Little Cottonwood Canyon — and there are only a few — the lodge has staked a reputation for casual sophistication, gourmet food, and an interesting clientele. SNOW Magazine, Mid-winter 2009.
Alta Lodge best bang for your buck. Coziest après-ski bar the Sitzmark Club. Sunset Magazine, December 2008
The List All who stay for good at Alta grow to protect their way of life. Alta Lodge encourages this sense of ownership, whether it’s by keeping a list of future employees or by keeping the place the same for generations. As for that little boy who begged forgiveness and another chance to get on that list, [Bill] Levitt says he probably came back as an adult. “They always do.” The Ski Journal, Winter 2008
Ah, spring. For many people, it’s a time for daffodils, the Easter Bunny, and migrating birds. But skiers know that April is all about Alta – skiing, that is. CEO Traveler, Spring 2007
Deep Devotion Abundant snow and legendary terrain have earned Alta, Utah, more than a cult following. Alta-worship is its own religion, whose pilgrims return year after year to hole up between ski days in one of the resort’s five distinct and delightfully quirky lodges — sometimes for months at a stretch.
Here’s what you need to understand about Alta Lodge: In each guestroom are two cards. The first reminds guests to rebook early, because the lodge has a return rate of 80 percent. The second is a comment card, perhaps the only one of its kind in the nation. It asks guests to tell management what they don’t want to see changed at Alta Lodge.
The list is long.
Every lodge has its vibe, and Alta Lodge’s is decidedly East Coast enclave, subtly patrician, Old Money. It feels like the clubhouse of a country club whose members are so comfortable with who they are that they no longer have anything to prove. “The lodge here reminds me of a Vermont lodge, or old Adirondack lodges, where families would come back year after year. And they weren’t fancy, but they had this camaraderie and social interaction, and people could enjoy their outdoor experience,” says David Davenport, who has a unique perspective from behind his counter at the Alta Store, a cubbyhole of a general store in the basement of the Alta Lodge.
Alta Lodge feels smart, Ivy League. One afternoon there’s a guy in the lobby reading a doorstop called Factional Conflict and Foreign Policy…. folks like this could go anywhere, stay anywhere, a longtime Alta Lodge observer told me. But they like the place because it’s easy. They make decisions every day. Here they just wake up, pad down the hall, eat. Step outside and ski. The constancy is cherished. Change is threatening. Tradition is good. “They notice when the seatcovers change in this place,” says Dan Withey, the longtime bartender at the upstairs Sitzmark Club.
One evening – continuing the embraced Alta Lodge tradition of dining with strangers and making new friends – I sit with a group that includes Tom Ruppert, 68, a retired structural engineer from Chicago with a gold pinkie ring and gold bracelet who’s been coming to Alta Lodge since 1972. The group is an Alta phenomenon: “Alta friends,” who’ve met here and now plan to see each other every winter. The subject turns to change, including the booths in the dining room that interfere with those cherished group meals. Ruppert’s face turns roughly the shade of turnip. He will never sit in a booth, he swears. “It’s not proper to eat at Alta Lodge in a booth!” he nearly yells, putting a fist to the table.The booths were installed six years ago. God knows what Ruppert will do when he sees last summer’s revamp of the lobby. Ski Magazine, November 2007
Of five base lodges, the family-owned ski-in/ski-out Alta Lodge has been open the longest. The funky, low-key inn was opened by the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad in 1939 and is practically a museum of ski memorabilia. Dining is communal but top-notch, and the camaraderie of the patrons, infectious. The hotel’s private Sitzmark Club is a classic ski bar that’s a throwback to its founding days. 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, Patricia Schultz 2007
“It’s safe to say that there is not another ski hotel like the Alta Lodge…Think “pleasingly austere,” with window walls of glass..those walls of glass look out upon Alta, arguably the most beloved ski mountain in the United States….The Lodge is run in the European manner, with breakfast and dinner included in the price of your room. And there are people you will meet in that dining room who have been coming for the better part of 40 years…” Everett Potter’s Travel Journal, October 2006
“… the venerable Alta Lodge is a throwback to the 1930s. The Alta-oids are fanatics about the lodge; many have been coming here for generations. They pad to the bar in their slippers and bitch if the management dares throw out an old sofa in the lobby … It reminds me of skiing 30 years ago, before skiing became a resort experience.”
Michael Kiefer, Ski Press USA, The Travel Issue, Winter 2005
“We opted to go for the classic Alta experience by staying slope side at its oldest lodge, the Alta Lodge, same 1939 vintage as the ski area. This funky ski hotel is a veritable ski museum, from the communal style dining to the décor, which oozes decades of downhill history….The Lodge is infectious like the powder skiing off Alta’s Sugarloaf lift. While the accommodations are modest, even retro (no in room TV), the food and camaraderie are exceptional.” Heather Burke, The Boston Globe, December 2004
“Decidedly conservative, Alta loyalists love its simplicity and low-key lifestyle, spiced with après-ski conviviality and pleasant conversations over communal dinners … ‘People want Alta a bit wild,’ Bill Levitt [Mayor of Alta and Alta Lodge owner] says…’Alta skiers want to preserve it as it is,” he says. “It’s an understated, old-fashioned place, a romantic refuge.'” Roger Toll, Delta Sky Magazine, December 2004
“Alta’s long-time guests include Nobel-prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, who has skied there on 20 or so annual pilgrimages with his pals William F. Buckley and [A. Lawrence] Chickering. ‘Everybody knows everybody.’ The hotel doesn’t have TVs in the rooms, which encourages guests to wander around meeting each other. ‘I just love the Alta Lodge,’ says Mr. Friedman.” The Wall Street Journal, March 2004