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Change comes slowly at Alta, where snowboarding is still verboten and the chairlifts are slow (locals here actually like that the old-school doubles and quads preserve the 545 inches of fluffy-light powder that Alta receives in a typical winter). So last month’s opening of the new Snowpine Lodge ranks as a very big deal, particularly since it offers something that Alta hasn’t ever aspired to deliver: Luxury comforts.
The $50 million hotel replaces the old Snowpine Lodge that was constructed around Alta’s oldest mining shack. The new building incorporates a few of those historic stone walls, but also includes a spa, a fine-dining restaurant, an outdoor pool and hot tub, a kids’ center and movie theater, even an indoor ballroom (the only such event facility in Alta).
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It’s the first truly upscale option at a ski area that’s famous for its no-frills, camp-style lodges. The Snowpine’s four neighbors offer dorm bunks as well as private rooms, and guests mingle over games of Scrabble in shared lounges.
But despite its upscale amenities, the Snowpine’s owner, Brent Pratt, wanted to make sure his new lodge felt like Alta, not Park City. His great-grandfather was one of Alta’s early prospectors, who now appears in a wall-sized painting that Pratt asked Utah artist Julie Rogers to create for Swen’s Restaurant, the lodge’s main eatery. In keeping with Alta’s tradition of communal lodging, the new Snowpine actually offers dorm rooms (winter rates start at $99). And each floor of the hotel includes a central lounge where guests can mingle and socialize.
When I visited in early February, those lounges were lively, convivial spots. Kids watched movies on the big-screen TVs that are hung above some of the fireplaces, while adults sipped cocktails and played cards (board games and jigsaw puzzles are provided throughout the property). The stone-and-timber Gulch Pub was bursting during après, when guests also crowded into the outdoor pool and hot tub. The vibe felt like Aspen’s Limelight Hotel, with shared spaces that encourage people into impromptu mixers rather than watching TV alone in their rooms.
Dinner at Swen’s was fantastic, thanks to adept execution of creative food pairings. Calabrian chili and broccoli rabe complemented the pork schnitzel; classic rigatoni Bolognese received special touches from creamy burrata cheese and crisped parmesan.
My favorite amenity, however, was the Snowpine’s ski lockers. Our hotel key opened a private closet where we stashed our boards, helmets, even our ski boots (on dryers). From that staging area, it’s an easy downhill ski to Alta’s base area rope tow, which connects the Albion and Wildcat base areas. At day’s end, the new Snowpine lift (constructed for winter 2018–19) brings skiers back to the lodge, and is free to the public: Locals can bring their kids and never-evers here to hone their skills on a perfect, crowd-free bunny slope.
Some elements of the hotel (such as the kids’ zone and ballroom) are still under construction, but the Snowpine’s appeal is already obvious. I met a 10-year devotee of a neighboring lodge who was touring the Snowpine—because, as she explained, “It would be nice to have the spa for those days when you don’t feel like skiing.”
But so far, the Snowpine hasn’t managed to gentrify Alta. The runs are still rugged, and the sparse trail signage means that skiers here need to be independent-minded adventurers (this resort doesn’t mark cliffs with big caution signs). The new lodge just broadens Alta’s appeal, rather than effacing it.