Last week, we shared the science behind Alta snow. It was thoroughly researched and provided an in-depth look at why Alta, Utah has the greatest snow on Earth. Today, we are going to spend a little time talking about skiing that snow with another guest post from Veronica.
I’m not going to tell you how to ski powder- that’s on you to figure out. I’ll be honest- I’m also not going to tell you my powder day routes. I’ve spent years finding these hidden gems and they’re mine! Instead, I present to you The Classics, one for each lift.
Off of the Wildcat double lies a playground. My favorite zone on Alta mountain, Wildcat is a happy kingdom full of powder, trees, gullies, and things to jump off of. If you go far out, you have to take a bus or walk back to the base of the ski area. If you go half way out, you have to hike and traverse back to the ski area. If you ski pretty much anything else, you have to traverse back to the ski area. This can feel like a waste of time on a powder day, but it’s about quality, not quantity. Remember?
My favorite run in Wildcat is Westward Ho. Westward Ho is technically a whole area, not just a run, and it is incredibly fun. Ski down the ridgeline between Punchbowl and Wildcat Chutes and cut skiers-left through the Wildcat Bowl traverse. Follow that traverse to any number of fall-line runs, the longest of which is on the far rope line where Alta borders Snowbird and requires a shuttle back to the base. Any line you pick is full of hidden powder stashes, fun little things to jump off of, challenging turns and beautifully spaced trees. You can either follow a traverse back to the base, or ski down to the Westward Ho cat track and skate back. It’s well worth it.
In any vintage Alta postcard, book, or picture, you see Alf’s High Rustler. The run is the longest we have at Alta, with a perfect fall line and steep, wide turns. From the maze at the bottom of Collins Lift, look up to your right and viola, the longest, most picturesque run at Alta. This year, the Lift Company decided to stop grooming the cat track and the bottom quarter, making the run 350ft longer and allowing you to ski it top-to-bottom. It’s amazing, fun, and easily one of my favorite runs on the mountain. But, that’s not the run I think you should ski- instead I think you should find an area called West Rustler.
Commonly known as West Buffler, due to the way that the wind often buffs out the entire area, West Rus hosts about eight unique, long chutes. Follow the High Traverse out past Sunspot and drop off into any of the chutes and you’re guaranteed to have a great run. Jitterbug and Stonecrusher are the standouts of the chutes, both boasting almost straight fall lines and some of the longest vertical offerings on the mountain. It can be tricky to get into these, so it’s worth getting to know the area in an attempt to find them. Get to know the southern runs first and familiarize yourself with the area just west of Piss Pass. In there, you’ll find the goods.
Moving over to the Sugarloaf chairlift, there are a number of amazing powder runs, none more so than the famed and often elusive Devil’s Castle. When the ropes drop on the Castle, be sure to be there ready for a hike- the sidestep is long and often full of sugary snow, making it challenging at times. But, the side step allows access to long runs with a sustained fall line, deep powder, and is completely worth it. I like to hike the side step to the top, but instead of continuing around the treed corner, drop down Sugar Mountain and ski it all the way to the bottom. But, one of the benefits of hiking the Castle is that there are endless options- go as far out as you’d like and ski the fall-line from there. Never set a traverse lower than the side step; simply push off and ski down.
The Supreme Lift accesses some great terrain that is often overlooked on a powder day. For the powder skier just getting their bearings or for the person seeking fresh turns well after a storm, Catherine’s Area is the place for you. Unload the lift, head skiers left and skate-ski out there. I am a firm believer in keeping your skis on- use the herringbone to skate up the hill. If you insist on boot-packing, please stay on the side in the established bootpack. Once you get up the hill, follow the trail and pick what looks fun to you. I like going pretty far out, but be careful. Never duck ropes at Alta, especially out here. The whole of Catherine’s is big and super fun; there is a lot of terrain out there to explore!
Alta has some of the best powder skiing in the world. We are endlessly lucky to ski here, and regularly get to make some of the best turns possible. This mountain is big, mean, and gnarly. But if you take your time to get to know it and show it some respect, Alta will give you the most fun skiing you could hope for. I hope you love this mountain as much as we do.
Veronica Asmus is a surfer-turned-skier born and raised in Santa Cruz, CA. She is celebrating her sixth season living and working up Little Cottonwood Canyon. You may find her tending bar in the Goldminer’s Saloon when she’s off the slopes.