Work A Ski Season at Alta
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Alta is one of the last three resorts in the world to be skiers only (the others being Deer Valley, Utah and Mad River Glen, Vermont).
While this is bad news for the snowboarding half of you, for seasonal workers who ski, Alta is a cool, if slightly exclusionary, resort. This region of the world receives close to the monstrous Japanese levels of snow, except that here you also get steeps and chutes in-bound to enjoy the powder, something that Japan does not have. Alta is connected to Snowbird Ski Resort via the Sugarloaf chair or a free bus, meaning the easily accessibly terrain available on your days off work effectively doubles.
Location and Getting There
Alta is found in the Wasatch Mountains, Utah, at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon. Alta is situated right next to Snowbird, which lies just over the Baldy Ridge. As the crow flies, Brighton Ski Resort and Solitude Ski Resort are just a mile over the ridge, though there is no road to connect them (as you take up different roads through the canyons from Salt Lake City).
Alta is a 40-minute drive from downtown Salt Lake City taking State Route 210 out of Salt Lake City. The start of the road up the canyon literally joins onto a suburb of Salt Lake City, so it’s incredibly closer. However, the traffic is getting worse and worse to get up the canyon. It’s not unusual to have traffic backed all the way down the canyon on a powder day, or a good weekend day.
To get to work, many staff car-pool and ride-share if they don’t have their own cars.
Seasonal workers at Alta get a free Utah Transit Authority (UTA) ski bus pass as part of the employment package. This bus provides a service to and from Salta Lake City and the resorts of Alta, Brighton, Snowbird, and Solitude.
The UTA bus starts running in early December and ends in early April each year. A one way fare is $4.50 if you don’t have a complimentary ticket. This handy bus also allows you to get to Solitude and Brighton during the season for variety on a day off. See www.visitsaltlake.com/skicity/getting-around/ski-bus
Being skiers only, Alta is almost unique in stubbornly clutching to the past. Being skiers only, the crowd is also noticeably older and greyer, although Alta’s cool terrain also helps to bring in a lot of younger skiers too.
Unfortunately, the skier-only vibe gives the resort a slightly exclusionary and elitist feel. There is frankly no discernible benefit in excluding snowboarders, as the snow quality is retained equally as well as at Snowbird (next door), where snowboarders are allowed. Locals will argue vehemently that snowboarders wreck the snow and the trails, but this is not really borne out by the evidence (as you will no doubt find out once you ski both Alta and Snowbird over the season).
The nightlife is extremely tame. There are just a few restaurants to choose from at night, mostly in the lodges, while the après-ski is non-existent save for a quiet drink in one of the lodge bars. People at Alta are here to ski, not party. If you want nightlife, you will need to go back to Salt Lake City (where most employees live in any case). Salt Lake City is a town of around 2 million, meaning you will find all the usual amenities of a capital city during the season.
Similarly, the shopping options are very limited with just a handful of retail places and a small grocery outlet. Alta feels underdeveloped compared to Snowbird next door, which appears to have invested more in retail, bars and hotels than Alta. Nonetheless, both are fairly quiet resorts compared to the trendier Park City.
There are two base areas – the Albion area which is where the beginner area and kid’s ski school is, and the Wildcat area which is the main part of town. These are linked by a rope tow that is quite slow!
How is the Terrain at Alta?
With the combination of deep powder and challenging terrain, Alta is one of the best places to ski in Utah. The dry powder can get ridiculously deep in certain parts and you can expect faceshots throughout the season.
Alta is not nearly as open as Snowbird. If you like bowl skiing, then Snowbird is generally a better bet. There are chutes and rocky lines in addition to cliffs and off-piste skiing at Alta, but the steeper runs are generally shorter than at Snowbird. This is also true for the hike-to terrain.
The top of the resort has open alpine areas, and a few hike-to spots. However, Alta is best for tree-skiing on the lower part of the mountain. There are some very nice steep trees to tackle as well as some tricky and technical rocky sections.
Alta has a few more cat trails than Snowbird, which requires a bit of traversing. Snowboarders, if they were allowed at Alta, might not even like the place for this reason!
The beginner area is at Albion. Some beginner skiers like the fact there are no snowboarders coming up fast behind them. There is no dedicated intermediate area, with the blue runs interspersed among the expert runs. But there are plenty of nice groomers and bumps areas, which can be especially fun on a powder day. Alta is great news for those learning to ski powder with some gentle areas for learning powder technique.
There is differentiation between the single and double blacks at Alta, which means you need to use your judgement a bit. If it’s steep, narrow and rocky, it’s probably a double! There are some very nice in-bound steeps and trees, particularly in Catherine’s area at the Supreme lift, as well as the Greeley area.
There is a bit of in-bound hiking too, for those who want to chase freshies. East Castle from the Supreme lift has rewards for those who want to hike, while the Baldy chutes near the Ballroom area can be accessed from both Alta and Snowbird. These are often closed, however, due to avalanche threat.
There is no park at Alta, it’s not the vibe. Snowbird has a small park, but the biggest in the region by far is at Park City.
Snow and Crowds
Snow at Alta is what it’s all about, in a good snow year.
Utah claims to have the best snow in the world, in part due to the lake effect from the Great Salt Lake which supposedly dries the snow to make it even lighter. Because much of the resort faces north, the snow quality is well retained at Alta.
Snowfall in the past 10 years has been from 320 inches (8 meters) all the way up to 700 inches (17 meters). The sheer amount of snow means you can find freshies even days after a dump if you know the right spots or are willing to hike. And the snow on-piste is usually excellent.
The crowds are very small at Alta, in part because of the denial of snowboarders, in part due to the older crowd, and in part because Snowbird attracts a bigger crowd.
Max crowds on the weekend mean a 30-minute wait at the base lifts. Throughout the week, when you get your ride breaks, Alta is usually pretty empty.
How to Get a Job
The season opens mid-November and closes mid-April each season. Alta runs the lift company, four restaurants, three ski shops and two demo centers. You can apply for jobs for these positions as they become available at www.alta.com/employment
Jobs open up in September and the jobs start to fill up then, so best to apply in September if you can. Alta is a pretty small operation on the whole and there are not tons of jobs compared to bigger resorts. There are jobs available in:
- Albion Grill
- Alf’s Restaurant
- Alta Children’s Center
- Alta Environmental Center
- Building Maintenance
- Cat Crew Shoveler
- Collins Grill
- Employee Kitchen
- Lift Operators
- Parking Attendant
- PSIA Certified Ski Instructor
- Race Crew
- Season Pass Office
- Ski School Apprentice
- Ski Adventure Center Coordinator
- Ski School Sales
- Ski Shop Employees
- Skier Services
- Snow Cat Operators
- Snow Removal
- Ticket Sales
- Vehicle Mechanic
- Watson Shelter
See Jobs Available at Ski Resort for a description of ski resort jobs. Minimum wage in Utah is $7.25 an hour and most customer-facing roles will earn around this.
No tour companies operate in Alta.
Jobs in the Village
There are a number of other private businesses which run the lodges and dining in Alta. You can apply for jobs with these companies directly. Lodges include:
- Alta Lodge
- Alta Chalets
- Mountainside Spa at Alta’s Rustler Lodge, the Goldminer’s Daughter Lodge and the Snowpine Lodge [email protected]
Retail shops include:
Alta does not partner with any job programs and does not accept international applicants.
Instructor Candidates must have prior professional ski teaching experience and PSIA Level 1, 2 or 3 Certification is preferred. If you are not certified, PSIA Cert 1 must be completed in mid-December. You are required to commit from December 1 to mid-April.
Perks of Working at Alta
- Free ski pass to Alta and family skiing rights
- Free pass for the UTA ski buses
- Health insurance for eligible employees
- Free ski school lessons where space available
- Discounts in the ski shop and restaurants
Jobs in Salt Lake City
Of course, you could always find a job in Salt Lake City for the season and then just ride on your days off, given the proximity of the city to the incredible Utah resorts. Resources for jobs in Salt Lake City include:
Finding Accommodation for the Season
Alta has staff accommodation for a number of employees and have various accommodations available, most of which include three meals/day. First year employees typically share a dorm-style room located at the main base area.
Employee housing starts at $600 a month and includes breakfast, lunch and dinner. While the accommodation is relatively basic, the rate including food is a very good rate compared to living in Salt Lake City over the season.
If you decide to look in Salt Lake City, the best thing to do is find a group and get a shared apartment in Fort Union Boulevard or close to the ski-bus routes. If you do not have your own car, look for housing close to the Utah Transit Authority (UTA bus service) stops to make it easier to get to and from work. The best area to rent for the season is anywhere in Cottonwood Heights.
The bonds are quite large usually for seasonal workers, probably due to damage in the past, but most people end up getting these back. Apartment complexes can be found for six months, otherwise some people opt for a private house renting the basement or something similar.
Resources to use include
Rent is not too bad in Salt Lake City outside the city center. If you are living close to Big Cottonwood Canyon, you might expect to pay around $400 per room per month in a share house.
Apartments in complexes are often unfurnished. Wal-Mart is a good option for furniture which is cheap, and Ikea is in Draper. There is a very tiny grocery store at Alta. Snowbird has a bigger grocery store, but you will generally do all your shopping in Salt Lake City.
Salt Lake City is one of the big advantages of working at Alta. As a major city, you will find all your groceries and other amenities are cheaper than at a resort town. While SLC is not the liveliest city, and nor is après really a thing in SLC, there is still plenty to do with your co-workers outside work hours.
There is no proper après-ski to speak of at Alta. Here, most guests are in bed at a very civilized hour, ready for the next day of skiing. Staff housing is quite social, but still relatively quiet. At Alta, après is mostly limited to a few quiet drinks in the lodges before dinner. Nearby Snowbird is similarly quiet, although there is a good vibe and often a DJ in the common area after the day at Snowbird.
Goldminer’s Daughter lodge has a cosy atmosphere for a drink or two, plus some food after work. The Alta Peruvian Lodge is another one you will likely check out during the season. It has drinks and bar food. Eagle’s Nest Lounge at the Alta Rustler Lodge is a place for a very quiet drink (spirits and wine are the ordre du jour) and chat to unwind.
Nearby Snowbird is similarly quiet for après-ski. As a seasonal worker, you will find your workmates are always more keen on heading back into Salt Lake City for proper nights out. Salt Lake City has a dour reputation as the Mormon capital. This is unjustified. There are a number of great spots to eat and downtown Salt Lake City has a few very fun bars for when you have the day off work the following day, including some great cocktail bars, piano clubs and jazz bars.