If you’re planning a ski trip, choosing between Alta and Snowbird can be a tough decision!
The two ski resorts are located directly next door to each other, just 45 minutes outside of Salt Lake City. In fact, they’re so close to each other that you can literally ski between them!
But despite their close proximity, the two mountains are miles apart in their differences.
- Alta vs. Snowbird, By the Numbers
- The First, Most Obvious Difference: Skiers vs. Snowboarders
- Atmosphere and Vibe
- Snow Differences
- Alta Terrain vs. Snowbird Terrain
- Location / Ease of Access
- Final Thoughts: Is Alta or Snowbird Better for You?
Alta vs. Snowbird, By the Numbers
|1||Acres||2,614 acres||2,500 acres|
|2||Vertical||2,538 ft.||3,240 ft.|
|3||Snowfall||545 inches||500 inches|
|4||Summit||11,068 ft.||11,000 ft.|
|5||Base||8,530 ft.||7,760 ft.|
Of course, any seasoned skier knows that numbers only tell half the story (at best!). Which is why you’ll be getting a real insider’s comparison for the rest of the article, beyond the numbers.
The First, Most Obvious Difference: Skiers vs. Snowboarders
Before you get too far into your trip planning, it’s worth double checking what sort of equipment you’ve got strapped to your feet.
Because I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if you’ve got a snowboard, it’s not allowed at Alta. As their tagline proudly claims, Alta is for skiers. And they mean that literally…
So if you’re planning on snowboarding, or even just have a ‘boarder in your group, well then, they’ve made the decision for you!
If not, read on!
Atmosphere and Vibe
Here’s the next most obvious difference, although it won’t show up on any of the official stats.
Alta is one of the oldest ski areas in the United States, and its rustic history oozes out of every nook and cranny. Their hotels have that old-school ski lodge feel, they proudly hang on to some slower lifts, and in general, the whole mountain feels a bit like it’s stopped in time.
Snowbird, by contrast, feels like your prototypical ski resort, on max. It proudly boasts a massive feat of modern engineering, known as the Aerial Tram, which quickly shuttles hundreds of skiers to the peak as fast as possible. That peak includes a multi-million dollar restaurant development on top. And in total, the mountain has over twice as many lifts as Alta, almost all of them high speed upgrades. (Including North America’s only ski tunnel.)
The difference is immediate and palpable. Neither is better or worse, per say, but definitely a situation of different strokes for different folks!
Alta and Snowbird are two of the snowiest places on planet earth, so if you’re planning a trip here, chances are the potential for powder is a big reason.
In that case, Alta actually has a slight edge.
It seems odd for two mountains that are literally just feet apart from each other, but Alta actually gets a little more snow than Snowbird. How much more? Anywhere from 5-10% extra, on average.
And if you ask the Alta diehards, they’ll claim Alta holds its snow better, too. For two reasons:
- They say the lack of snowboarders creates less scraping away of powder.
- Alta strategically places their lifts so you have to traverse, hike, and search for the mountain’s best powder stashes.
Do these claims hold up? Anecdotally, yes they do. In my experience, Snowbird tends to get skied out much quicker than Alta does, and I’ve had several days where crossing the boarder between the two resorts immediately results in vastly different feelings in snow quality.
Alta Terrain vs. Snowbird Terrain
Snowbird claims 2,500 acres of skiing with 3,240 feet of vertical, while Alta claims a slightly larger footprint (2,614 acres) with notably less vertical (2,536).
In practice, I find that Snowbird’s terrain feels a lot bigger than Alta’s.
The main reason for this, in my opinion, is the vertical. Snowbird’s Peruvian Express chairlift alone covers over 2,400 vertical feet, making it one of the tallest (and fastest) chairlifts in North America. Snowbird’s tram is even bigger, topping out at nearly 2,900 vertical feet. And those big numbers can be skied entirely in one run, which makes for some serious top to bottom shredding!
By contrast, Alta’s biggest lift is Collins, which totals “just” 1,800 feet. While this is still a huge lift, it’s roughly 1,000 feet smaller than Snowbird’s tram. And Alta’s second biggest lift totals 1,300 vertical feet, which would only be the fourth or fifth biggest at Snowbird.
Of course, lifts aren’t everything at Alta. Remember, Alta technically sports more acreage than Snowbird, and by design most of this is reached by long hikes and traverses.
But the fact remains – unless you’re really willing to work with the best of them to cover the entire mountain, you will probably ski less of Alta than you could in a comparable day at Snowbird.
Beginner Terrain at Alta and Snowbird
Neither Alta or Snowbird are known as beginners mountains, but I’d argue Alta’s beginner area is actually much better than it’s reputation would lead on.
Alta’s has two chairlifts that service a mostly beginner section of the mountain – Albion and Sunnyside. This gives beginners a nice area for learning, and even better, it’s pretty scenic, too.
Snowbird, on the other hand, practically prides itself on the lack of beginner terrain. After all, this is the mountain that once ran advertising campaigns highlighting negative reviewers complaining the mountain was too steep! And it’s true, the only beginner runs at Snowbird are mostly cattracks at the very bottom of the mountain.
Intermediate Terrain at Alta vs. Snowbird
I’ll give Alta the advantage for intermediate terrain as well. The blue groomers of Collins are some of the best anywhere, and both the Sugarloaf and Supreme chairlifts have several other solid intermediate options. Even Alta’s Ballroom Bowl is one of the most intermediate-friendly introductions to powder skiing available.
While Snowbird definitely has some solid blues, they’re a little harder to find, and the mountain overall has a much higher concentration of black runs.
Advanced and Expert Terrain at Alta vs. Snowbird
Both of these mountains really come alive for the advanced and above skier.
Skiers of this ability will have an absolute blast at either mountain, but Snowbird probably has the advantage here. Nearly every lift at Snowbird has countless options for legitimate black and double black terrain, making it an absolute paradise for those who like things a little steeper or enjoy venturing off piste a bit. And when it comes to the true gnar, Snowbird’s cliffs and chutes seem more prevalent, or at least they’re easier for the average visitor to uncover.
Alta is certainly no slouch in this area, either. Some of Alta’s hike-to areas offer some of the steepest terrain you’ll ever ski, but as is the theme at Alta, you’ll have to work to find it.
Location / Ease of Access
A total tie here. Alta and Snowbird are directly next door… literally just minutes from each other.
For either mountain, you’ll be flying into SLC and can find yourself at the base of these world class resorts in less than 45 minutes. It’s one of the most convenient set ups in the world of skiing.
The crowd scene between Alta and Snowbird are a little bit of a “pick your poison” situation.
These are world class mountains within a short drive of a major metro area. Those two factors combine to make for some extremely popular skiing, particularly on powder days.
At Snowbird, the massive lift capacity does a better job at shuttling skiers up the mountain. The tradeoff is slightly more crowded runs and powder that gets skied out noticeably faster. And even still, Mineral Basin and the Tram can get pretty long lines.
Alta, with its fewer lifts, doesn’t handle the loads quite as well, which makes it more susceptible to lift lines, the trade off is that the runs themselves tend to be less crowded, and the snow doesn’t get skied up as quickly.
Of course, Alta’s “skiers only” policy also means that a big demographic can’t ride there even if they wanted to, which helps keep crowds down compared to Snowbird.
Overall, Alta definitely seems like the less crowded mountain between the two.
If you’re staying at the base of either mountain, you’re in for one of the most unique experiences in skiing.
The canyon that both Alta and Snowbird call home is a thin, slot like valley. It feels like the lodges themselves barely fit, especially as they stare back up at the towering, snowy mountains above them.
If your ideal ski vacation involves shredding all day and then relaxing in the mountains until you do it all again tomorrow, then you’ll love the vibe when staying at either Alta or Snowbird.
In general, Alta’s ski lodges have a little more historic, rustic charm and character, while Snowbird’s lodges are a little newer and slightly more luxurious.
Final Thoughts: Is Alta or Snowbird Better for You?
If you’re a snowboarder, then the answer is simple – you’re only allowed at Snowbird.
If you’re a skier, then choosing between Alta and Snowbird will mostly come down to what you’re looking for.
For those looking for one of the best big mountain resort experiences in the country, Snowbird will fit the bill better than just about anywhere.
For those wanting to experience the hard to define magic of a historic, one-of-a-kind treasure, they should definitely give Alta an exploration.
In either case, get ready to enjoy some of the most amazing mountains in the world!
PS – If you truly can’t decide, you can always upgrade your ticket and ski both places in the same day! Personally, I don’t usually recommend this, since either area has more than enough terrain to keep you entertained for a lifetime.