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Edge on the competition: Brighton and Solitude get jump on other Utah ski resorts

Brian Head and Alta have also opened; Park City aims to open Canyons area by Sunday

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lined up for first chair, Alec Eyckeler, Alex Gilbreath, Charley Bradley and Henry Poppe, from left, are handed the opening banner at Solitude Mountain Resort as their winter season finally gets underway on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021.

Alerts sounded. Emails were forwarded. Text chains formed. Employees suddenly fell ill.

And that’s how hundreds of skiers and snowboarders ended up in line for Brighton Resort’s Majestic lift at 2 p.m. on a Monday — just four hours after the resort announced Utah’s ski season would begin promptly at noon.

Brighton has a history of being the first ski area in the state to open, sometimes staking its claim to the title by mere hours. That was the case again Monday. It narrowly edged out its Big Cottonwood Canyon neighbor, Solitude Resort, which began operations as announced at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

“I think there’s a little bit of bragging rights,” said Brighton spokesperson Jared Winkler. Plus, he added, resort management didn’t see any reason to wait once it realized the runs were ready.

“It was like, ‘Why sit on it when you could slide on it?’”

And after unusually warm temperatures had already pushed back the start of Utah’s season, which was originally set to begin Nov. 19, skiers and riders came out of the woodwork to get their first turns a couple of hours earlier than expected.

“I was eager to come out for sure,” said Bryce Atagi, a 30-year-old snowboarder from Salt Lake City.

Atagi found out about Brighton’s early opening when he called the resort to check whether he could pick up his pass, and the employee on the other end surprised him by saying he could take a few laps as well. So what was Atagi to do? He owns his own business, so he gave himself permission to take the afternoon off. He said he planned to return to Brighton for a full day Tuesday.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Stefanie Schulz hands out the first complimentary doughnut of the day to Alex Gilbreath, center, and Charley Bradley as they line up for first chair at Solitude Mountain Resort for opening day on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021.

Similarly, Daniel Compain of Riverton and his 7-year-old son, Mateo, planned to squeeze as much snow time as possible out of the weekend.

This will be the Compains’ first season skiing in Utah. Mateo started learning at Flagstaff, where they moved from a year ago, when he was 18 months. Still, they aren’t opening-day newbies. They arrived at Solitude at 6 a.m. Tuesday and enjoyed a breakfast tailgate before the Moonbeam Express and Link chairlifts started turning. Then they wrapped up their day around 12:30 p.m. so they could conserve their energy and do the same thing Wednesday for Alta Ski Area’s anticipated opening.

“The ski culture is pretty much the same no matter where you go, so there is a lot of similarities that way,” Daniel Compain said. “Even on opening day, even if it is manmade snow, it’s skiing. You know, it’s like, ‘Let’s go. It’s go time.’”

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And people went by the hundreds. With both Bright and Solitude offering only limited runs and with many people having time off for the holidays, including most of the state’s university students, lift-line waits varied between 10-25 minutes. Solitude said it has a base of two feet and Brighton’s Winklers said the base is between 5 inches and 2 feet at that resort, depending on where the snowguns were pointed. Despite the shallow snow depth, not many rocks and twigs had begun poking through at either resort as of Tuesday afternoon.

Brian Head Resort near Cedar City joined Alta in opening Wednesday, allowing anxious snow seekers to spread out a little more. And Park City Mountain Resort announced Tuesday that it is aiming to have parts of Canyons Village active by Sunday. The Cabriolet and Red Pine gondolas and the Saddleback and High Meadow Lift are expected to be running.

Park City, Solitude and Brian Head all had initially anticipated opening Nov. 19 but didn’t have enough snow.

Snowbird should be next up on Dec. 1. It got two inches of snow Tuesday night and still plans to get the lifts running by Wednesday, conditions permitting. It has adopted “Birdstock” as its opening-day theme for the resort’s 50th season, spokesperson Sarah Sherman said. Representatives from Nordic Valley (Dec. 3) and Deer Valley (Dec. 4) said those also still plan to be in operation by the end of next weekend.

The National Weather Service has predicted November will close out with temperatures still in the low 50s around Salt Lake City. Park City and Ogden won’t be much cooler, with Sunday expected to be as warm as 51 degrees in Park City and not get cooler than 30. That’s on the warm side for snowmaking, which is best done when the temperature is between 25-28 degrees.

The good news for skiers and snowboarders, however, is that the warming trend isn’t expected to wind up the Cottonwood Canyons. Throughout the week, the NWS predicts highs in the mid-30s and the lows between 24-27 degrees.

(Julie Jag | The Salt Lake Tribune) Wayne and Denise Paisley of West Jordan are all smiles after spending the day riding the Majestic lift at Brighton Resort on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021. Brighton started the lift at noon to become the first in Utah to open for the 2021-22 snow season.

“Even if it gets warm, I think this is going to stick around,” Winkler said, casting aside any speculation Brighton’s opening on Monday might be temporary.

That comes as sweet relief to the snowboarders and skiers who have been jonesing to get back on the slopes ever since the season ended last April (or July, for those who ride at Snowbird). Monday’s start is believed to be the one of the latest in the resort’s history. It comes just one calendar day ahead of last season’s opener, which also took place the Monday before Thanksgiving.

Denise and Wayne Paisley, ages 45 and 44, had such an itch to get on the lifts that they showed up two hours before the official start. The West Jordan couple actually planned to ride at the “Bone Zone,” a guerrilla, hike-up terrain park that sprung up on a hillside adjacent to Brighton. When they learned the lifts were running, though, they rode at the resort until their legs gave out.

Even better than first turns, they said, was seeing all their snow friends, the ones they wouldn’t recognize without their goggles on. The ones who found a way to get the season’s first turns on a Monday afternoon.

“Honestly, this morning felt like a big family reunion,” Wayne Paisley said. “As soon as we got up to the top, it was one person after another that we saw, just smiling faces.”

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