A Utah Mountain Town Brings Back an Old Idea: The One-Room Schoolhouse


A Utah Mountain Town Brings Back an Old Idea: The One-Room Schoolhouse

As a throwback ski destination, Alta, thinks small, with a one-room public school to match.

Most skiers visiting Alta would have no idea the school exists, though they might wonder at the pint-size skiers expertly bouncing along the mountain — that’s P.E. class.


We’re exploring how America defines itself one place at a time. In Utah, a one-room schoolhouse has helped preserve the family atmosphere of a cult-favorite ski town.

By Kate Zernike

Photographs by Ruth Fremson

Reporting from Alta, Utah

April 21, 2024

As long as it has had a ski resort, Alta, Utah, has been a place where young people come to work for a season before starting life in the real world, then end up staying for two or 10 or 20 years — even a lifetime.

They come for the powder snow, which regularly tops lists of the deepest and lightest in the country. They discover the simplicity and warmth of life in a town at the dead end of a box canyon with a year-round population of roughly 300.

But a little more than 20 years ago, town officials realized that as much as Alta prided itself on being a place where generations of families return to vacation every year, it was losing families among the employees who make it run. Young people who had children left because there was no school, and the closest school district would not send a bus up the narrow canyon road.

Alta has a one-room public school in a former storage room in a lodge at the base of the mountain.
Young students getting a lesson on outdoor skills at the Alta School.
The Alta School not only educates the children of the ticket sellers, avalanche forecasters, hotel reservationists and chai latte makers, but it is also a source of town pride.
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