Story and photos by ISA ALCARAZ
The snow falls lightly on the massive mountains that hug the Salt Lake Valley. It’s November, but the snow already finds a place on the hills, its home for the next five months. The arrival of snow this early often creates pandemonium among many locals. They scramble to crank their thermostats and shelter in, wrap themselves in blankets and simply watch from their windows.
But for some, winter’s arrival is a “call of the wild,” and the snow is a sign of the most wonderful time the year: ski season.
Skiing, snowboarding, and other snow activities act as a fundamental pillar for the tourism industry in Utah. Utah is home of the “Greatest Snow on Earth” after all. But what does it actually take to be a ski resort in Utah, a place with a prominent ski culture for locals and tourists?
The Brighton Ski Resort knows exactly how to get the job done.
The Brighton Resort, just 20 minutes up Big Cottonwood Canyon, features over 1,050 acres of skiable land and gets 500 inches of snowfall annually. That being said, there’s a lot of groundwork that goes into being one of the biggest ski resorts in Utah.
The Technical Side
“There are so many departments, you have your tickets department, your maintenance department, you have your lifts departments, your ski schools, and food and beverage,” said Jared Winkler, Brighton’s director of marketing, about what the pre-season looks like for the resort.
“Everyone kind of has their own set list of things to do to prepare for another season or the following season,” he said. And some departments, like ticketing and marketing, are already planning for next season. “We’re working on 2020-21 already, if you can believe that,” Winkler said.
However, some departments need less time to get ready. For example, the food and beverage and ski school departments begin only a month before it starts getting cold. Other aspects of the resort, like the ski lifts and equipment, require year-round maintenance, and are inspected all summer long.
Winkler said the biggest task for the Brighton Resort is hiring a new seasonal staff each year.
Luckily, Brighton keeps a staff of about 30 people who hold down the fort all year long. They take care of all the busy work so when that first snow hits, they’re ready to open.
“We can usually open off of a forecast,” Winkler said. “We usually will open just with a week or two’s notice, even to all of our staff.”
Due to the system and flexibility it’s developed, Brighton is traditionally the first Utah ski resort to open each year.
Utah has created a prominent “ski culture,” especially for locals. They grow up skiing, and many choose to help instill the love of it in younger generations by becoming instructors.
Jayde Shepherd, a junior at the University of Utah, was a ski instructor at Snowbird for three years after finding a passion for it.
“Teaching kids how to ski was so much fun because I learned more with every class that I taught,” she said. “But also because the kids were so sweet, and I got to know most of them so personally. They trusted me and looked up to me.”
Shepherd was just 3 years old when she was first put on the slopes. After learning how to ski, she stopped going because she didn’t have anyone to go with. But many years later, she found herself up there again after being re-taught by her boyfriend at the time.
“Once we got up there it was like I had found my people and one of my passions again,” she said. The mountains became a second home to Shepherd.
“I love everything about skiing. Once I started again, I knew that I would never be able to live somewhere without mountains,” she said. “Once I became a part of the ski culture, I found a source for my identity.”
The Brighton Resort is the place where a love for skiing originated for many locals. And it takes pride in its uniqueness compared to the 10+ other resorts in Utah.
“Brighton is historically known to be a place where people learn to ski and snowboard,” said Winkler, director of marketing.
Brighton is home to all degrees of skiers. From beginners who are learning for the first time on a bunny hill, like Explorer, to elite experts who shred down giant trails, like Great Western, all levels have a place on the mountain.
Brighton also takes pride in the many “genres” of snow activities that are welcomed at the resort. Not just skiers and snowboarders, but snow-bikers and snow-skaters are also included.
Gavin Skirucha, a local skier and freelance ski instructor, favors the Brighton Ski Resort over other resorts in Utah for one main reason — its terrain parks, where skiers can practice and perform tricks.
“Brighton’s cool in a way that it embraces a culture of riding that other resorts are starting to reject,” Skirucha said. “Brighton’s terrain parks embrace and promote advancement in your skills as a skier, they even offer junior slope style courses for the very early skiers.”
Like Skirucha, many other skiers in Utah are looking for that extra value for the money they pay to spend the whole winter riding.
“The lift tickets are some of the cheapest in the state,” Winkler said. Brighton Resort lift tickets range from $28 to $65, while Solitude Mountain Resort charges from $72 to $105. Also, parking at Brighton is free.
These are important aspects to keeping local skiers skiing, and keeping the diversity of the riders alive at Brighton.
The Brighton Resort’s contribution to Utah’s ski culture is immense, and allows people to find the adventure and community they seek when it’s cold out.
“It’s hard to fit in in a place so dominated by religion,” said U student Shepherd. “But on the mountain, everyone is placed in a position of excitement, adrenaline, and even fear. I feel like that unifies us and makes everyone so kind to each other. It’s like we all found a common ground just for a moment.”
As the Brighton Resort indulges in the excitement for the big opening, it also keeps in mind the importance of helping those less fortunate during this time of the year.
On the first three Wednesdays in December, Brighton puts on charitable donation drives: a toy drive, a clothing drive, and a food drive. In exchange for donations, they offer $25 lift tickets.
The first donation drive will take place on Dec. 4, 2019.
For updates on Brighton’s charitable donation drives, and for more information about the resort, visit the website, Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook @brightonresort.
The Brighton Resort’s Majestic and Explorer lifts are now open, and staff have been greeted with many early-bird skiers, clocking in as many hours on the mountain as possible. As the deep cold creeps in and the snow begins to stick, consider taking part in the adventure. The ski season is just beginning, and plans to stay around for the upcoming five months. Six, if we’re lucky.