Rainier Dean embodied the stoke of the opening day of ski season — all 3 ½ feet of him.
The 7-year-old stood in line for first chair at Solitude Mountain Resort on Thursday alongside his mom, Liz, and his 5-year-old brother. As the minutes ticked down to official start, and as hundreds of skiers and snowboarders filed in behind them, the Butler Elementary student became increasingly animated.
His family had gotten in line at 8:30 a.m., and even a five-plus hour wait in ski boots hadn’t dampened Rainier’s excitement.
He said he couldn’t wait to “Just to get some snow and some powder and just to hit it — because we’ve been waiting like a year now.”
In second-grader years, that’s practically a lifetime.
Don’t tell Rainier, but Solitude’s ski opener wasn’t the first this season, or even that day, in Utah. The state’s southernmost resort, Brian Head, surprised most of the state when it opened Nov. 4. And in a bit of gamesmanship Thursday, Brighton Resort one-upped its Big Cottonwood Canyon neighbor by opening its season at 11 a.m.
“We knew we were going to open today at some point,” Brighton spokesperson Jared Winkler said, noting it was just waiting on the go-ahead from ski patrol. “It happened a little earlier than expected. And it was just sort of nice to get the jump on Solitude.”
For years, Brighton and Solitude have engaged in a friendly tit-for-tat over which will open first. The winner typically also opens the ski season in Utah. And it’s usually Brighton.
This year looked to be Solitude’s season, however. The resort initially was among four Utah resorts that pegged Nov. 18 as their opening day. After the ski areas received manna from heaven in the form of moisture-heavy snow and temperatures cold enough for making snow, however, Solitude reset its opening day to Friday.
All eyes were on Brighton after that, with the expectation it would open early this week. This year, though, Brighton had taken on some large projects, such as adding lights for expanded night skiing, and Winkler said it was still trying to wrap those up when the snow started flying. On Wednesday morning, though, the announcement finally came: Brighton, with a 51-inch base, planned to open at 9 a.m. Friday. Three hours later, Solitude, with a 59-inch base, said it would actually open Thursday afternoon.
But, as Winkler said, “It’s like poker. They played their cards too soon and we jumped on it.”
At 10:50 a.m. Thursday, Brighton announced it would open to passholders at 11 — three hours before Solitude.
Amber Broadaway, Solitude’s president and COO, said she expected as much.
“The rivalry, the pressure, really it’s very fun with Brighton,” she said. “So, you know, we make our plans and we always kind of know they’re going to figure it out.”
Anyway, Solitude has moved onto the next fight. Last week, it quietly began a competition with another neighboring resort, Snowbird, over bragging rights for having the longest season of the state’s 15 ski areas. A Nov. 4 Twitter post, in which Solitude first announced it would be opening earlier than expected, was tagged with #longestseasoninUtah, which has traditionally been Snowbird’s slogan.
When asked about it in the comments, a reply from the official Solitude account said, “We had the longest season in Utah last winter and are opening 12 days earlier this season and plan to stay open later than last year if conditions allow.”
On Thursday, Snowbird cut into Solitude’s lead when it announced it would also be opening early, on Nov. 18 rather than Nov. 30. But Snowbird spokesperson Kelsey Johnson said the resort’s earliest opener since 2012 is a result of its 67-inch base, not because Solitude threw down the gauntlet.
Shawn McPherron of Draper can respect the hunt for bragging rights. After all, that’s why he showed up at Solitude at 9 a.m. Thursday, when the Dean family offered him a spot on first chair with them. Maybe that’s why, after 56 years of skiing in Utah, he still likes to see the state’s resorts egg each other on.
“I think it’s fun that they try to compete with each other,” he said. “I think that’s what skiing is all about, a little friendly rivalry.”
Broadaway agreed that the showdowns between ski areas are all in good fun.
“My feeling is that when resorts get open and stay open late, the guests win,” she said. “So whether I beat Brighton or I beat Snowbird, it’s just super fun to, you know, jab about it during the season. But ultimately, the skiers and mountain enthusiasts win.”
She’ll get no argument from young Rainier, who had a Snowbird sticker plastered across his red helmet. He has big plans for this season, including skiing down a triple black diamond run and jumping off cliffs. And he has been ready to get going on them ever since the snow started falling. So if it’s competition that gets the lifts turning sooner, he’ll take it.
“I was like, ‘Oh, come on, I really wish we could be skiing right now,” he said of seeing the snow piling up near his Cottonwood Heights home. “I was like, just, ‘I need to ski!’”
Now, he and everyone else on the Wasatch front finally can.
2022-23 Utah Ski Season Opening Dates
Updated Nov. 11, 2022
Alta — Nov. 18
Beaver Mountain — TBD
Brian Head — OPEN
Brighton — OPEN
Cherry Peak — TBD
Deer Valley — Dec. 3
Eagle Point — Dec. 16
Nordic Valley — Dec. 9
Park City Mountain — Nov. 16
Powder Mountain — TBD
Snowbasin — Nov. 18
Snowbird — Nov. 18
Solitude — OPEN
Sundance — Dec. 9
Woodward Park City — TBD
— Julie Jag