A little-known backcountry gem, snow for days after a storm
Too many snowboarders and park rats
Brighton has been a staple for our ski trips to Utah since we started going (OK, so only a year ago), but it's such a great place, that we go there at least twice a trip. This year, we kicked off our Utah ski trip with Brighton, and we were rewarded with 6" of fresh while we were there. On top of that, it had just dumped on the Wasatch range the day before, so we were killing fresh most of the day.
Brighton's a "small" resort compared to everything else in the Wasatch range: Alta and Snowbird have larger and more epic terrain, and Park City and the Canyons are spread out more. But Brighton--the little resort that could--has a secret. Terrific snow conditions, breathtaking views, fantastic backcountry, and epic tree skiing.
To go to Brighton is to find exactly what you are looking for: want tree skiing? Brighton has the best in the Cottonwood canyons. You can take any lift and drop in between two blue runs for moderate-sloped trees, or cat over to a double-black for steep, tight tree runs. My favorite area is skier's right off of the Snake Creek Express chair, between the steady-rolling blue runs. I also enjoy heading down skier's left of the cat track from Great Western and dropping just below the cat, running directly under the Great Western chair. This is some of the best tree skiing I have ever done. Even on windy days (such as our first day at Brighton, when 70+ MPH winds closed Great Western), we were able to take shelter in the trees and find pow that hadn't been swept away. Even when we returned days later, we found tracks through most of our previous tree runs, but with a little effort were able to find freshies again.
I haven't taken part in much of Brighton's backcountry (the gate off of the Great Western lift, I was told by a local, has some pretty burly terrain, and I doubted that I could keep up with my friends), so we opted instead to ski some of the "inbounds backcountry" off the Millicent lift. The Millicent lift is far skier's left (or directly to the right of the resort when looking up from the parking lot) and is a scary fixed double that takes you high up off the ground--not for the faint-hearted. When we arrived at the top, we found the two gates closed for the backcountry due to avalanche danger. Most of the front side off of the Millicent lift was gnared up with rocks and logs due to low snow conditions, but we were able to ski some small chutes and drop a few small cliffs, landing usually shin- or knee-deep in fresh snow. Another favorite spot for me is about 1/3 of the way down the cat track off of the Great Western lift. Drop into the double-black there with a seemingly gnarly line with tons of rocks, stumps, and brush. Clear the top half of the glade and be treated to a wide, steep, expanse with fresh snow for the taking.
We barely spent any time in the middle of the resort, where fun groomers await those not ready for tree or backcountry skiing. The groomers are wide, soft, and very easy to handle for beginner to intermediate skiers. I was amazed at the amount of newbies taking skiing lessons at Brighton. It seems as if the front side slopes here are conducive to learning, so that may explain the huge throngs of people with ski instructors. The real gem, for sure, in the middle of the resort (by "middle," I mean the two base chairs,) is the park at Brighton. During our second visit this trip (on a Tuesday), we saw some amazing snowboarders and skiers pulling tricks in the park. I saw a snowboarder so flawlessly stomp a rightside 9 that I thought he was pro. And then I watched 4 double-plankers pull truck drivers in machine-gun succession in the half pipe, followed by a girl on twin tips who popped 360s out of the pipe like I pop aspirin after a day of skiing. Before I knew it, the chair was at the top, and I left wanting to take the same chair again to watch the local park scene go off some more.
Moving off the slopes, Brighton is a completely unobtrusive resort. There’s not too much merchandising going on (ala Snowbird), prices for food and drinks are moderate, and there’s no mid-mountain restaurants waiting to fleece you for your cash. Everything is nestled into a small base village that you’d almost would think consisted of only the ticket office. Unfortunately, this small sized base village is also Brighton’s downfall: on a busy weekend, good luck trying to find a place to sit inside to warm up while you eat lunch. And the food service line—with only three checkouts—moves slower than the beginner hill quad. We spent 15 minutes inside just trying to find someone who was within 10 minutes of getting ready to leave, so we could poach their table. Otherwise, we were forced to sit outside the bathroom door to relax and warm up. Brighton’s teeny tiny base village came back to haunt the customers on this busy weekend. Although Brighton can turn the tables on this and say, “we’re focused on skiing and snowboarding,” people still need a place to relax, drink a Redbull, and recharge their batteries for more epic skiing.
In another resort review of Brighton, someone mentioned that the lifties don’t do a very good job managing lift lines. This may be true for the bottom half of the mountain, but once you get to the topside, liftlines (what few I participated in) moved quick and efficiently. Although, to the reviewer’s credit below, I rarely saw lifties as they were mostly hiding in their warming house. This may either mean that the customer’s who used the upper moutain’s lifts were just smart enough to pair up, or the upper half of the mountain just wasn’t used enough due to the whipping winds and cold. Either way, the liftlines on the busy Saturday we spent at Brighton moved quickly and efficiently, and I have no complaints there. Most of my complaints are reserved for the smallish base village—which is a surprise, considering that Brighton is managed by the same company that runs Big Sky MT.
While Brighton doesn’t have the expansiveness as Park City or the epic terrain of Snowbird or Alta, it does have it’s perks. It’s the perfect resort for high-intermediate to advanced skiers and snowboards to go and level up their abilities. The trees and backcountry are shorter, less burly technical runs that have a built-in comfort factor due to their size. That doesn’t mean that hairball terrain exists (it does), it’s just that most of the time at Brighton, you will find yourself in a scary situation that you can always get out of. While the groomers were alive and kicking with ski schools (and the quality of the groomers rates high,) I think Brighton is probably the least family-friendly of resorts. Stick with your Park City or Deer Valley for that. To me, it just seems like the terrain you get at those resorts is greater for moms and dads and kids to utilize. Brighton may just be too small for a “family” resort. And if you get a chance, shoot through the park and check out some of the hits and rails they have—some of the coolest (although few in number) that I’ve seen in Utah.
Brighton ranks #3 in my list of Utah ski resorts (right behind Alta and Snowbird), because I enjoy the variety of terrain and the fact that there’s always snow to be had. I also enjoy that the terrain is always a bit more friendly to my limited ability skiing, and anything that ends up being too burly for me to handle is always forgiving at the end.