Extreme skiing: No safety bars on the chairlifts and no windows in the dorm – but Alta does have the 'Greatest Snow on Earth'

If God had been a skier, then on the eighth day he might have created the Wasatch Range. Both He and it loom large in Salt Lake City, home to the Mormon Church and what Utah's state slogan calls the "Greatest Snow on Earth". Pacific storms that suck moisture from the lake, having whipped east across bone-dry Nevada, have only one option when they swirl to a halt over this natural snow machine – to dump epic quantities of the kind of feather-light powder off-piste skiers dream about.

And if there's a place that can claim the greatest snow in Utah, it is the tiny town at the head of Little Cottonwood Canyon, where those storms disgorge the last of their frozen loads. Alta, which lies 25 miles outside Salt Lake, received 700 inches of snow last winter – enough, if it fell all at once, to bury a stack of four double-decker buses. Resorts in the Alps would be happy with half that amount.

In its first incarnation, Alta was a magnet for 19th-century miners seeking silver and respite from Mormon austerity. Reached, as it still is, via the cliffs they call Hellgate, the town was a den of booze, brothels and Wild West shoot-outs. By the 1930s, prospectors and pick-axemen had given way to skiers in pursuit of more bewitching gems – stashes of powder so deep that locals speak of needing snorkels to ski.

Seven of us make the journey to this oasis of steeps and deeps. I join my brother, Patrick, and a crew of American college buddies headed by Abe, a former Alta resident as adept with his supply of rolling papers as his fat powder skis.

The draw of the snow and some of the most challenging terrain in the US ought to have made Alta one of the world's best-known resorts, but locals' resistance to developers means time ticks more slowly here. A mile from the mega-hotels of neighbouring Snowbird, Alta, which forbids snowboarding, attracts pilgrims happy to eschew the fripperies of modern skiing, boasting little more than a few chairlifts (no safety bars), a car park and a handful of lodges. None channels the retro ethos better than the Snowpine, which steps down into the valley from its shed-like entrance in an avalanche of stone, timber and moth-eaten fixtures. Service comes with a smile – and homefries, the potato accompaniment to every breakfast. My advice: bring slippers and something for heartburn.

With as many as 12 men airing their socks and breakfasts in our windowless dorm, things get pretty fragrant. But, cheap beer notwithstanding, Alta is deathly quiet at night. Après ski starts in the Snowpine's outdoor hot-tub. Dinner (set menu, shared tables) comes with the 6.30pm bell. Nobody is awake after 10pm; guests come to ski and to ski hard.

Sod's law means that when we make the journey to Alta, London receives more snow than the Wasatch. We get the odd half-foot dump – fun, but not enough for the waist-deep, face-shot skiing the place is renowned for. But after a few days exploring the area around the resort, we rent touring skis and skins, allowing us to hike through deep snow and up steep inclines. Liberated from the lift system, Abe leads us up the valley behind the Snowpine to Emma Ridge. "Dude," he offers as we scan the steep, north-facing pitch on the other side. "That is sick". Abe is right – one by one we drop, whooping as our wide skis scythe through the pristine powder. It's worth the climb and we skin up and ski down, skipping lunch until our legs beg for mercy. Over beers and fist-bumps in the hot-tub, we celebrate a great day in Utah (or "YOU-taw!", as it demands to be pronounced). To get those fabled Alta face-shots, I guess we'll just have to come back. Darn.

For more information: alta.com. Beds at the Snowpine (thesnowpine.com) start at £50 per person per night, including breakfast and dinner. The author used skis supplied by Storm (stormskis.com)

Suggested Topics
Sport
Australia vs New Zealand live
cricket Follow over-by-over coverage as rivals New Zealand and Australia face off
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
Life and Style
Researchers found that just 10 one-minute swill-and-spit sessions are enough to soften tooth enamel and make teeth vulnerable to erosion
health
News
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Regent Street Cinema’s projection room in the 1920s
film
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing