The best cup of coffee at Alta Ski Area is made by someone who grew up by the beach. Susie Howard, owner of Alta Java—a ski-up coffee shop at Alta Ski Area’s Albion Base—moved from Huntington Beach, California, to Utah and Little Cottonwood Canyon in January 1978, right out of high school. She didn’t know how to ski, but she learned her first winter here. Now, she and her family have become staples in the Alta community. Her husband, Sam Howard, is a longtime patroller and their two sons, Neil and Grant, both competed in the freeskiing circuit. Four years ago, Howard took over Alta Java, a ski-in coffee stand on snow. She fuels ski days one shot of espresso at a time, and has become famous for her “Susie’s Special,” a chai latte with two shots of espresso. A lot of skiers are coffee addicts, so it’s natural that Alta Java would also become a gathering hub for the community. Point being, if you’re ever in Alta, and you’re jonesing for caffeine and needing some beta, swing by Alta Java.
SUSIE HOWARD: Lew Moore started Alta Java 22 years ago. I began working for him a couple days a week. I just loved being here. I always said to Lew: ‘I wish I could work up here full time,’ and when the opportunity came up to take over, I was overjoyed.
I feel so fortunate to have this business and be at Alta. My office window is the mountain and I get to see everyone come by. A lot of people walk down here looking for help, so we can also be a hub of information, and try make a point to know what’s going on to help new people orient to Alta.
Alta Java is a gathering place for people. It’s a nice casual place. We have families having lunch on the steps, ski school and clients sit in the chairs in the sun, and locals come by for snacks. It’s so great to have this little spot where everyone can come and take a break. All the coffee drinks are named after runs at Alta—except our most popular drink: Susie’s Special.
Susie’s Special turned out to be a great mistake. When I started working at Alta Java, I had never been a barista before and Lew was teaching me to make the drinks. He told me every latte gets a double shot, and happened to be gone when someone ordered a chai latte. I just assumed that it had a double and the person wasn’t really a fan… Then I tasted it and said this was pretty good—and Lew put it on the menu. It’s our bestseller.
Alta still feels like a homey resort, yet we are world class. Every day I think I’m so lucky to come up here for work. I love the Alta family community, there is just a really nice community we have here—everyone is there for you. It just feels like an extended family.
Photo courtesy of Susie Howard