There are two things I have been reading a lot about in the snowsports press: the high cost of skiing/boarding to those new to the sport, and massive overcrowding at certain resorts due to the sale of mega passes. These two combined are said to be killing snowsports culture. Thus, I made it my mission this year to disprove both theories. To do this, I snowboarded Alta!
Okay, before anyone tells on me to the grumpy old men who manage those hollowed grounds in the Cottonwood Canyon of Utah called Alta, which is one of the few remaining ski resorts to ban snowboarding, I snowboarded “Alta” but not that “Alta”.
The place I snowboarded is in the Sequoia National Forest just north of Bakersfield, CA and eight twisty miles up the road into the Greenhorn Mountains from Lake Isabella. The Alta Sierra ski resort is everything the other “Alta” is not.
It is small, claiming only 600 vertical feet and 8 trails across 80 skiable acres. It is uncrowded. I arrived five minutes before the lifts opened and parked in the fourth spot in the lot. It is cheap. Lift tickets for adults are $75, or $60 for half a day; $20 for children. A snowboard rents for $65, while skis are a bit less. Sure, these are not 1990s prices but still very reasonable in today’s marketplace. And it is snowy. At an elevation of 7,100 feet, the area receives well over 100 inches of snow a year. This “alternative” Alta is all the things that everyone claims is missing in the ski/snowboard world today: a small, comfortable, friendly beginner’s mountain with a cheap ticket price.
Folks have been playing in the snow at Alta Sierra for almost eighty years. A ski hut was built by the Forest Service at what was then called Shirley Meadows in the 1940’s. In 1982, Lew Forbes of Bakersfield began operating the Shirley Meadows Ski Area as a Forest Service concessionaire. The main lifts were built in 1994. They are old school center pole doubles (what I call the naked doubles). A couple of poor snow years in the late 90’s had the area teetering on the edge of becoming a lost area, but in 2003, a group of Bakersfield businessmen purchased the concession and committed to keeping snow sports alive. They changed the name to Alta Sierra Ski Resort and Terrain Park.
The area welcomes all comers, operating a small tubing hill and a snow play area. There is an old school cement floor “warming hut” with a small kitchen and bar area. Like the other “Alta,” the hardest thing about this area can be getting there, as the road is subject to snow closures and California’s goofy snow chain laws. The town of Lake Isabella located below the ski area is a summer resort area offering plenty of off snow amenities.
In August of 2021 the area was threatened by a major forest fire that came close to destroying the support buildings and lifts. Luckly the area was able to turn on its snow guns and hold back the fire, saving the ski area. In December of that year it opened no worse for wear.
The day I boarded the area had seen over seven inches of snow fall the night before, setting me up with some nice powder runs. The area is only open Friday, Saturday and Sunday which with the limited crowds leaves some great snow! Powder stashes remained until late into the day. Also, as the area is in Sequoia National Forest, it has some great tree skiing among some really big trees!
It is hard not to like this other “Alta.” Small hills like this should be the foundation on which the U.S. ski industry is built. It should be where that proverbial family of four learns to ski before venturing off to mega pass land. It is where the snowsports culture lives. Seek it out.
Robbie Allen is an avid small hill skier. He has written several articles on the many small hills he has sought out.
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