We went skiing in Utah last week. The snow wasn’t great. But we had the most amazing family trip we’ve ever had, all because of where we stayed: the Peruvian Lodge at Alta.
If you’ve been there, you know: It’s been around since 1950, and it’s not the swankiest place in the world. A lot of the rooms have just a sink, no bathroom. There’s even a dorm which is basically a big room with 12 bunks in it. (I used to stay there when I was a single guy.) The rooms are small, old-fashioned, and there’s no TV, and the staff are mostly a bunch of kids who are there primarily for the free season pass. It’s a weird, funky, cozy place, where people leave their ski boots in the hallway outside their rooms and wear pajamas to breakfast and you’re basically all kind of piled in together, on top of one another. Gemutlichkeit is the word a German-speaking friend of mine once used to describe the vibe there.
Best of all, the place sits at the foot of Alta, which is a pretty tough location to beat. There is nothing to do at Alta except ski. There’s no shopping. No twee little faux Alpine “base village,” and no restaurants apart from the ones in the handful of ski lodges. At the Peruvian there’s a big living room with couches and chairs and a fireplace and a machine that makes coffee and hot chocolate. There’s a bar on the second floor, a favorite among the locals. There’s an awesome little ski shop where you can rent high-end skis, a bunch of wooden lockers where you store those skis, and a tiny gift shop that sells basics (toothpaste, socks) as well as jackets, gloves and loads of Alta swag. It occurred to me once that you could fly into Salt Lake City with nothing at all, catch a van up to the Peruvian, and buy or rent everything you needed for a ski trip right at the lodge. That’s still the case.
There’s an outdoor pool and two hot tubs, and every afternoon they put out free snacks and people roam around in bathing suits and white robes and flip-flops. There’s a big screen TV in a room downstairs, where last week people were watching March Madness games. The only entertainment nearby, advertised in a flyer on a bulletin board, was a production of “Romeo and Juliet” by some local schoolkids, put on at “Our Lady of the Snows,” a little concrete chapel on the canyon road.
The meals are good, but the best thing is that you get seated with a bunch of other people. I used to stay there a lot when I was a single guy, and had some fun visits, including a memorable New Year’s Eve in the Peruvian bar. It was the kind of place where you met people at dinner or breakfast and went skiing together and maybe you stayed in touch with them after the season ended.
My wife and I went out a few times, too, before the kids came along and we stopped traveling out West for skiing. But our kids are now 6 and so last week we made the trek out to the Peruvian, with our fingers crossed, not sure how things would go.
We need not have worried. The kids had the best time ever. And for us, in fact, with kids along, the Peruvian was a perfect choice. Our twins had the run of the place, playing ping pong and foosball in the game room down by the ski lockers, swimming in the pool with other kids who were staying at the lodge.
The skiing was not so great — it was late in the season, and too warm, so everything melted in the afternoon and then froze overnight. But still, it was good enough, and frankly it was better than what we got in New England this year. And how can you complain about sunny spring skiing?
The good part, however, was the people. In that regard, the Peruvian hasn’t changed. We met a family from Pennsylvania whose kids became pals with ours. We met a track coach from Georgetown, a paparazzo from Maui, a pediatrician from Philadelphia, a lawyer from LA, a professor from Indiana. Just now I got an email from the manager of the lodge telling me that one of the people we met had asked him to pass along her email address to my wife, so that they could stay in touch. This woman and her husband have been visiting Alta, and staying at the Peruvian, every year for 39 years. We spent a lot of time with them on this trip, and I hope we will see them again.
This is why I fell in love with the Peruvian, all those years ago. And it’s why we’ll go back again. It seems to me that there aren’t so many places like this around anymore, places where you can unplug from the world and meet new people and make new friends, and where you feel like you’ve stepped back in time a bit to a world where things were a little bit simpler and maybe a little bit better, too. The fact that the Peruvian is still there, and still the same, is a very good thing. Highly recommended.