BIG COTTONWOOD CANYON — A steady stream of cars topped with skis and snowboards traveled up Big Cottonwood Canyon as locals raced to take advantage of a free, two-hour window of skiing at Brighton Ski Resort Thursday.
Both Brighton and Solitude Mountain Resort previously announced they would open Friday. However, Brighton opened up a day early to become the first resort to open in Utah.
“When I woke up this morning, all I could think about was how happy I am it’s about to start ski season. This is why I live here," said Chris Bonin of Park City. "Summer’s drab and dry around here, and so to finally get some snow around here, I’m like a different person.”
Bonin, 29, has been skiing since before he can remember, and he moved from Massachusetts to Park City seven years ago for the snow.
“Utah is like the mecca of the sport, almost. It’s ridiculous how awesome this place is compared to the rest of the country,” he said. “Easy accessibility, most snow, driest and fluffiest powder the ski-bum culture is definitely alive and well here.”
Brighton and Solitude have a couple of things up their sleeves this season, including an improved bridge called the Solbright trail between the resorts for Big Cottonwood Pass holders.
“We’ve been able to widen what used to be a foot trail into a trail that we can groom every day, so that an intermediate skier can easily transit between the two resorts. It’s pretty cool,” said Dave Deseelhorst, general manager of Solitude.
Brighton also has a new ticketing system that allows skiers to reload their lift tickets online instead of having to go to the ticket window, according to marketing director Jared Winkler.
Brighton and other resorts like Solitude and Alta can usually open earlier because of elevation, he said. However, they still need to work a little magic and are opening with mostly man-made snow.
“We have big machines that blow cold air and cold water into the air, and, as it gets into the air, it freezes and then turns into snow,” Winkler said. “We make a little bit to cover the high-traffic areas but then we turn off the snow machines pretty quick and go straight through the season with natural snow.”
Solitude will also open with man-made snow, because even an average amount of natural snow so far this year isn’t enough.
“If you get enough cold nights to be able to make enough snow to open up your runs top to bottom, then that’s when we open,” Deseelhorst said about Solitude.
Deseelhorst said it’s like opening a new business every year. They hire 300 employees and train them and open the restaurants and chairlifts. Then there’s slope preparation.
“We have to make the snow, then you have to push out the snow plows, then you have to groom it, then you have to put all of your mountain signage markers up and get the lift mazes ready,” Deseelhorst said.
Skiers, snowboarders, business owners and seasonal workers have been eagerly awaiting the season and are hoping for a good year of snow after a couple of lackluster seasons.
“It looks good. It feels more like winter now than it did at this time last year," said Mandy McQuivey, manager of the Lift House at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon. "Those couple of storms helped and it’s been cold enough to make snow so it’s looking promising.”
She said the weather affects business more than anything, but she is optimistic about the snow, her business and the new season.
“Last season was a little bit of a downer as far as snowpack, but so far it’s promising this year,” said John Williams, 23, of Midvale.
Williams and Bonin were setting off to hike up a Brighton run to ski and snowboard like they’ve already done a couple times this season.
“It’s fun and it’s an adrenaline rush,” Williams said. “You never know what’s going to happen. Sometimes you might turn and there’s a tree, and then there’s another tree. So you have to stay on your toes. It keeps you alive.”
Resort opening dates
Brighton Ski Resort: Nov. 7
Solitude Mountain Resort: Nov. 8
Brian Head Resort: Nov. 15
Snowbird: Nov. 20
Alta Ski Area: Nov. 22
Park City Mountain Resort: Nov. 23
Powder Mountain: Nov. 27
Snowbasin: Nov. 28
Canyons Resort: Nov. 29
Wolf Mountain: Dec. 5
Sundance Resort: Dec. 5
Deer Valley Resort: Dec. 7
Beaver Mountain: TBA (mid-December)
Eagle Point: Dec. 19
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