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Lovin' high-altitude skiing (not boarding) at Alta, Utah

Posted Friday, March 7, 2008
— Western skiing, Alpine / downhill skiing, Utah skiing

Fresh snow and sunny skiing at Alta, Utah

Wow! This place has got to be one of the most scenic places to ski anywhere. Alta ski area in Utah is perched high in the Wasatch Range and it seemed that in every direction you get a view of a high peak. No wonder my seventh-grade teacher Mr. Tewksbury raved about this place.

Thursday was our first bluebird day during our Utah ski trip and we spent it on Alta's slopes. The Skimeister and I enjoyed left-over powder plus about five inches of new snow. Not too shabby, eh?

Here's the catch: The Skimeister typically snowboards at ski resorts and Alta makes it clear that snowboarders are not allowed on its gorgeous slopes. So what's a snowboarder to do? Rent telemark gear, of course.

"This is a skier's mountain" is the sign that greets you as you buy your lift ticket. Alta and Mad River Glen, Vt., are the final hold-outs in the banning of snowboarders. Taos, N.M., used to be on that short list, but just this month they opened their lifts to boarders. The Skimeister noted that it was surreal not to see snowboarders all day. I also noticed that there weren't many telemark skiers either. The Skimeister tore it up! (See, he really is a skimeister.)

Alta has a lot of exciting terrain and some of the best runs are accessed by lengthy traverses—and these are not easy for boarders. Our first run was on the Baldy Shoulder traverse, offering powdery turns. We also enjoyed runs off of Collins, Supreme, Sugarloaf and Albion lifts. The Supreme triple is the highest lift, topping out at 10,500 feet.

We sought out lines that were not completely tracked up, as well as fun tree areas where the shade kept the snow  fresh and light. The Skimeister enjoyed traversing out into Devils' Castle for some powder turns. He noted that he wouldn't have made it out there on his board.

One problem for those of us with problems with heights: Alta does not have safety bars on any of its chairlifts. And some of these lifts are high. An Alta instructor tried to tell us that they are expensive and tend to create more injuries than if there were no safety bars. I don't know if I believe that. Anyways, be warned that you will not be able to secure your kids on the lift or rest your feet in between runs.

Speaking of relaxing, in the afternoon I soaked up some sun and the scenery in the lawn chairs by the side of the trail at Alta Java. Nice spot. With a latte in hand, you could keep an eye on the helicopters ferrying skiers to nearby peaks, as well as backcountry skiers scaling the steep mountain across the valley from the ski area. They were surely getting fresh tracks, too.

Alta is now high on my list of places to ski. It's beautiful.

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