Sounds like fun. Good time of year. The Rustler is a favorite of my out of town friends. It's still got that rustic Alta feel but has a new wing and a nice pool and spa with decent, but expensive, masseuses. The views are killer from the rooms and dining room and it has it's own lift down to the main lifts- the foods good and it's a fun place to have lunch even if you're just skiing for the day. The Alta Lodge is very cozy and old fashioned, with a bar right out of the 40's and a dedicated clientele that return year after year. The Snowpine is similar- check out http:/www.altavisitors.com
. Goldminers daughter is under new management- not much help there. I stayed in the Peruvian one night when all hell broke loose avalanche -wise and nobody could leave the canyon.The north wing actually got hit. Unfortunately we also were stuck inside all the next day with four feet of fresh outside. Everyone watched the Packer game in our longjohns. The food was good and again it's an old fashioned lodge, old with real timbers, not the decorative kind, and checkers in the lobby. Best apres- bar in Little Cottonwood. The lodges have a wonderful history about them that goes to the core of the sport. And forty feet of snow outside.
Deep Powder House has a great high end rental line and shops in the Alta Lodge and the Rustler. Alta Sports is good too but they handle the lower end day rentals in the beginner area so it's a zoo. Peruvian has a good shop too.
I've stayed at the Cliff Lodge in Snowbird quite a bit. They have good deals but it's a different feel entirely. It's big. Located a mile downcanyon, the Cliff and every other building at Snowbird is made from poured concrete- looks like Hitler's Atlantic wall or some Bond movie villian's base. As well it should, as it's more or less in Superior slide path- the giant half-pipe running from the peak to the base of Mt.Superior. I've always liked the Cliff- ten stories of concrete and glass because it actually sits really well in a landscape of granite and pines almost as tall as the building itself. It's very comfortable with valet parking and three or four restaurants with food ranging from inedible to really good depending on how much you want to spend. The Spa's nice with a rooftop pool but the massages are spotty and can be the "limp handshake" variety. The best ones are Andre the Russian and his wife if they're there this season- I expect they are. Take the bus to Alta or drive the mile. Snowbird's nice too, maybe buy the combined ticket one day. It'll be interesting to hear what other's think.
As far as the mountain goes, my best advice is to check out ski school first thing, either a group or a two person private. Group would be fine. Men often exagerate their skiing by at least one level and women tend to underestimate their's by one. The lesson becomes a guided tour of the mountain, especially at level seven and above.
Ballroom, a blue bowl, is where everyone skis powder the first time-West Rustler, the first steep stuff. I first did Gunsight, Eddie's High Notch, High Greely, Eagle's Nest and Regal Chute with an instructor as an eager intermediate. Alta ski school will challenge you and take you places beyond where you could go on your own. This is good- a lot of the approaches are tricky and dangerous and you want an experienced guide the first time. There's always a few clueless tourists frozen on the high traverses to hoot at. Many of the powder stashes and my favorite Alta shots I learned from ski school. By the way- Alta stands for A Lot of Traversing Around- you get a huge amount of terrain acessed from the lifts by following traverses cut laterally into the mountainside. The best advice I ever got about negotiating these was " keep your knees bent and be cheerful". And always step off the traverse when you stop, preferably uphill. Beware younger (and less young) locals bombing them at high speed.
Alta's balanced with good cruisers too- I find that there are very few truely great cruising runs anywhere- consistant pitch, evenly lit by the sun so there are no frozen patches, and long- so it's quality, not quantity and Mambo and Mainstreet both are great. And Alta has the best beginer terrain I've seen in Utah- the entire Albion area is gentle runs running through pine forest- unlike the crowded bunny hills of Park City, Snowbird or Deer Valley- important if you have little kids.
The new Collins high speed quad should be a big improvement. It'll change a few things, put us local rats out of our maze a bit, but I think it's a good thing, especially for tourism. As much as I enjoy lonely mid-week powder days, it's important that Alta thrive- it's a special place. The lift tickets are $47 this year but locals can buy a silver card for $99 that knocks $20 off that.
That's about all from me- when I was a visitor I'd usually rent a car 'cause it's not that expensive and it's fun to see the Park City area and Solitude and Brighton. Flying into SLC is a snap from anywhere. Enjoy.