Utah skier allegedly took shotgun butt to the ribs in confrontation at Brighton

“He’s made a mess. We made national news. Nobody’s happy about it,” Town of Brighton Mayor Dan Knopp said.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Old Prospect Road, where a man threatened a snowboarder with a shotgun for allegedly entering his property near Brighton Ski Resort, on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. The Tribune has found at least one other person who was confronted by the man.

The tiny Town of Brighton is in a tizzy.

The rustic community at the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon has made national news before, mostly for accumulating unfathomable amounts of snow. But when it was mentioned on “The Today Show” on Tuesday, the story didn’t cast the burg of 441 people in a very flattering light.

In separate incidents Saturday, a snowboarder and a skier were confronted at gunpoint by a man who accused them of crossing his property. The man had set out a camp chair along a plowed path that led past several cabins. He then ambushed skiers and riders trying to make their way back from the National Forest to the road. In addition to pointing a rifle at them and yelling at them, the man shoved the snowboarder and allegedly shoved the stock of his gun into the ribs of the skier.

It’s not a good look for his community, said Brighton Mayor Dan Knopp.

“That horse has left the barn,” Knopp said when asked if anything could be done to prevent a pall from being cast over the town. “He’s made a mess. We made national news. Nobody’s happy about it.”

The Unified Police Department has been to the man’s house three times since the incident, according to Knopp. A UPD spokesperson said the case is under investigation but added that officers decided Tuesday to “look at the bigger scope of what’s going on.”

Though the man has lived in Brighton for 12 years, according to Knopp, the mayor said he has never met him. The Tribune does not name people who have not been charged with a crime. Knopp added, however, that several neighbors have told him they have had issues with the man over the years. Among the complaints he has heard is that the man blocks Old Prospect Road even though it is a public street.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

“He’s been a problem child for a while,” Knopp said.

Saturday marked the first known time the man had been caught on video, but not necessarily the first time he had brandished a weapon at a skier or snowboarder. On a Reddit post related to the incident, a person identified as “savingaccount3″ said they had the same experience a few weeks prior.

Loren Richardson, 41, of Fresno shoots video for his Instagram page whenever he is out snowboarding. That’s how he happened to capture his entire interaction with the Brighton resident on his iPhone.

Richardson and several friends went to Brighton as part of a multistate ski trip. They stayed at a vacation rental along Big Cottonwood Canyon Road and rode several days at the resort. On the last day, Richardson said he exited Brighton Resort through an egress at the top of the Great Western Express lift and was taking his final run back to his cabin via the National Forest land outside the resort boundary. He came across what appeared to be a plowed road and was excited that he may have finally found a direct route to his cabin.

Instead, he found himself staring directly down the barrel of a gun.

“Right away he points the gun at me. And that’s where in the video you can see I turn both hands go up like, ‘Whoa,’” Richardson told The Tribune. “My stomach was in my throat. I was just like: Be apologetic. I don’t know. Why he’s going to shoot me? Why is this happening?”

The man can be seen on Richardson’s video shoving him with one hand and yelling at him: “Private property, you [expletive]! What are you, an Ikon user?”

Richardson unstrapped from his board and began walking with it a short ways down what appears to be Old Prospect Road. When he reached its end, he flagged down two skiers waiting there.

“Shotgun! Shotgun pointed right at me!” Richardson called out to them.

“I know, right?” one answered.

Indeed he did.

The skier who had allegedly been accosted by the same man declined to be interviewed and asked that his name not be revealed. However, his ski partner, Ryan Rigstad of Holladay, said his friend told him the man not only threatened him but put the stock of his rifle into the skier’s ribs.

Rigstad, 23, and his friend had come from the other side of the mountain. They were dropping into Brighton to catch the Ski Bus after finishing up the second day of a three-day backcountry ski class near Guardsman Pass that was organized by the University of Utah. Rigstad took a slightly different path than his friends and missed being confronted by the man with the rifle. He heard the man shouting, though, and hurried to the road to look for his friend.

(Ryan Rigstad) Ryan Rigstad, 23, of Holladay stands on Peak 10420 Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024, while taking a backcountry skiing class near Guardsman Pass. Rigstad and a friend were returning to the Town of Brighton after the class when his friend was confronted by a man with a shotgun who said he was protecting his private property.

Rigstad was 8 when he started skiing at Brighton Resort and he worked for a while at Solitude Mountain Resort just down the road. He said he never expected to have a gun pulled on him or one of his friends while in the canyon.

“I’ve always been taught: Be careful out in the desert,” Rigstad said. “But no one’s ever been like: Look out for hillbillies in the Cottonwoods.”

Rigstad said he and his companion filed a police report that evening with UPD. Richardson said he filed one Monday. Another report was filed Sunday, according to a UPD spokesperson. So far, however, no one has filed charges.

Knopp said it is his understanding that, since it is not illegal for the man to have a gun on his own property, little can be done about the incident unless charges are filed. He noted that most Brighton residents are skiers or snowboarders and understand what they are signing up for when they buy property bordering both a ski resort and a popular backcountry area.

“He never should have bought a cabin next to a ski resort if that’s an issue,” he said of skiers crossing onto private property. “That’s like buying a house next to a pig farm and then complaining about the smell.”

Richardson and Rigstad both said they have skied through populated areas in Brighton and at other resorts numerous times without issue. Neither saw signs indicating they were on or near private property, they said, except for one on Old Prospect Avenue facing the road and not the forest. They said they would have avoided the area if signs had been posted and they had seen them.

Rigstad, a self-described “map guy,” also pointed out that on the Brighton Resort trail map, the legend covers the out-of-bounds area that leads to the town. He noted that the Solitude map shows what areas out of bounds are private property, which he said he has found useful.

Both Richardson and Rigstad said they are speaking out because they don’t want someone to get shot.

“I just don’t understand that escalation,” Rigstad said. “I would be fine if he sat there in that blind corner and yelled at people. That would be fine. Or even have a big stick. But a gun?”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Old Prospect Road, where a man threatened a snowboarder with a shotgun for allegedly entering his property near Brighton Ski Resort, on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024.

Knopp said he believes the man was using the gun as a prop but that doesn’t make the situation, or the optics, any better for the man or the Town of Brighton.

“Let’s just say the rest of the residents are not like that,” Knopp said. “No one’s happy with him.

“Yeah, he’s got rights, but nobody’s got a right to do that.”

Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.