My Alta guide, Tyler Jackson, who was still able to locate powder stashes at the end of March, explained that the mountain's reputation -- or notoriety -- for difficult terrain has been hard to shake. The same is true for Snowbird. But fully one-quarter of Alta's terrain is for beginners. I can attest to the quality of the grooming, since I ski those slopes with my wife (and likely will continue to into the foreseeable future). Alta's ski school often ranks among the top programs in the country. Alta operates three mountain day lodges. The newest, Watson Shelter, also has a sit-down restaurant. The five overnight lodges have restaurants, where guests eat their European-style meal plans of breakfast and dinner ($100 to $370 a night; none are operated by the resort). Nearby condominiums are also available to rent. In part because of the lodges' meal plans, the town of Alta has just one stand-alone restaurant, the outstanding Shallow Shaft .
The Lure of Snowbird
A mile down the hill from Alta is Snowbird and its 2,500 acres of terrain in three areas: Peruvian Gulch, Gad Valley and Mineral Basin. Snowbird is famed for its 125-passenger aerial tram, which whisks snowboarders, skiers and sightseers up 2,900 vertical feet to the mountaintop in less than eight minutes. Beneath the tram's 11,000-foot summit is North America's first ski tunnel, a 600-foot-long "magic carpet" ride for skiers and boarders from the new Peruvian Quad lift to the 500 acres of Mineral Basin's open-bowl terrain. The tunnel and high-speed lift have alleviated crowding in Gad Valley by increasing the use of Mineral Basin, says Snowbird spokeswoman Laura Schaffer.