The Snowpine Lodge is Alta’s New Luxury Lair
By Brian E. Clark
When Brent Pratt attended Brigham Young University in the early 1970s, he often ventured up Little Cottonwood Canyon to Alta. He fell in love with the resort, which gets an average of 546 inches of snow each year and is aptly described as a skiers’ Nirvana – especially for experts.
Pratt’s career took him to Potomac, Maryland, where he found great success as a real estate developer at Foulger-Pratt. A good Mormon, he went forth and multiplied, producing – to date – eight children and nearly three dozen grandchildren.
But Pratt never lost his affection for Utah, often returning in the winter with his brood to ski at Alta, which has 2,614 acres of terrain, six lifts, and 116 runs. In 2012, he and his wife, Meg, bought the quaint, 21-room (some of which had shared bathrooms) Snowpine Lodge at the east end of the resort.
The family converged on the hotel each winter, taking it over and shutting it down to the public for a week, said Dave Eichel, general manager of the hotel since 2013.
Pratt soon began looking at expanding the hotel but ran it as it was for five years as various redevelopment plans came and went. He then closed it for a year while construction took place, reopening last February.
The results of the $50 million makeover are impressive, though some locals opposed to any change to Alta grumbled about the Snowpine’s transition into a posh hotel.
Eichel said the lodge went from 11,000 to 90,000 square feet – with 58 rooms. In the process, Pratt added four stories for a total now of six, an expansive spa with six treatment rooms, a heated outdoor swimming pool, yoga center, outdoor fire pits, a cushy locker room, ballroom, and other luxury amenities. Pratt also built a short ski lift – splitting the cost with the ski resort – giving easy access to the slopes.
And no longer do guests have to walk down 40 steps to gain entry to the lodge to reach the check-in lobby.
But not everything is different. The hotel still has 11 dorm rooms, catering to hardcore skiers of modest means who can rent a bunk for $99 to $159 a night. The bigger, nicer rooms with their own bathrooms Others start at around $360.
“We kept the dorm lodging as a nod to tradition and because it fills a niche. We still have folks staying here who are on a budget” said Eichel, who first skied Alta in 1993 during spring break from his senior year in college. Like many before him, he was enamored by the resort and moved to Utah that fall.
Designers also kept open spaces on each floor, where skiers are encouraged to hang out around fireplaces rather than linger in their rooms. They can also gather at the Gulch Pub or dine at Swen’s Restaurant, named after Pratt’s great grandfather, who worked as a miner at the nearby Emma Mine.
“I really like the way that owner and his daughter – who did the design – succeeded in bringing the old Snowpine Lodge into the new version of the hotel,” Eichel said. “Most old-time guests say ‘wow’ when they see how it’s been upgraded, yet stayed true to its heritage.”
The Snowpine has a storied history in Alta, which guests can see in some of the original granite walls in the lower level. Initially built as part of the Bay City silver mine in the 1870s, it was later converted to a general store and post office. In 1878, it was purchased by Emma mine manger J.G. Stillwell, after whom the spa is named. His son ran the store until 1929 when the stock market crashed and it closed.
In the mid-1930s, the legendary Al Engen, a world-champion skier born in Norway, was hired by the U.S. Forest Service to determine if Alta had potential as a winter sports site. He liked what he saw and Alta’s original ski lift began rolling in 1938.
That same year, the general store was converted into the Rock Shelter by federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers, making it the first public winter shelter for skiers by the federal Works Progress Administration. In 1941, it was renamed the Snowpine Lodge and used at times by members of the 10th Mountain Division, who trained nearby.
Seven years later, Forest Service employee Paul Partenheimer took over the shelter and turned it into an overnight dorm-style hotel. He also expanded the building, adding a ski shop – now know as the Snowpine Powder House.
When I skied at Alta and stayed at the Snowpine, I grabbed my rental gear from the locker room – directly across from the Powder House – walked about 20 steps and was on the snow. Hard to beat that.
I skied with an instructor who warmed me up on some blue runs and then took me some of his favorite powder stashes off the two-person Wildcat lift. Back at the Snowpine, I soaked in the spa’s indoor Grotto hot tub and sweated in the sauna. The next day, I indulged in a treatment from one of the Stillwell’s massage therapist.
At Swen’s Restaurant for breakfast, I had yummy croissants, berries, and coffee before hitting the slopes. And for dinner one night, mouth-watering Sockeye salmon.
I’ll be back.
For more information and bookings at the Snowpine Lodge, see snow pine.com or call (801) 742-2000. Other lodges at Alta include the Goldminer’s Daughter (goldminersdaughterlodge.com), Alta Lodge (altalodge.com), Alta Peruvian Lodge (altaperuvian.com) and the Rustler Lodge (rustlerlodge.com).
For details on Alta, see alta.com. Though known as a challenging resort with lots of oft-piste terrain, 45 percent the slopes are for novice and intermediate skiers.
Brian E. Clark is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer and photographer who contributes to the Chicago Tribune and LA Times on a regular basis. He also writes a weekly travel column for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. A native of Iowa, Clark is a University of Colorado, Boulder, graduate who focuses on adventure travel. He’s a veteran whitewater kayaker and skier who has lived in Norway, Sweden, Brazil and Bolivia. He worked for newspapers in Washington State and California for 25 years, including the San Diego Union-Tribune, before returning to the Midwest. He manages to head back West several times a year when he’s not off in other corners of the globe. Or poking around Wisconsin.