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The Other Canyon

The Other Canyon

Travel
By Edie Thys
posted: 05/18/2000

THE MOMENT IS APPROACHING kick-the-car frustration outside the 7-11 at the base of Big Cottonwood Canyon as I'm mocked by the yellow lights across the street that flash "4-Wheel Drive Only. It's dumping. It's midnight, and the kid who pulls his 4WD truck in for a burrito— my one last hope of a ride to two feet of fresh that awaits me at Solitude in the morning—laughs when the clerk asks him if he's driving up the canyon. My mind rewinds an hour to the airport rental-car counter, where the agent asked, "Would you like to upgrade to an SUV for an extra $17 per day? I cavalierly responded, "Nah, I'm fine. OK, he said, sealing my fate, "your silver Vibe is six spaces down on the left, handing me the keys and respectfully swallowing the thought that followed: "Idiot.

Outside the 7-11, my downfall rests comfortably under a wet blanket of snow. And therein lies a piece of good advice. When the name of your destination includes the words "Big, "Cottonwood and "Canyon, go for the 4WD.

By 7:30 the next morning, fresh from a night at the Super 8, I'm hauling my bags into a bus full of snowboarders and skiers headed up the canyon to Solitude and Brighton for the day. Just as I read the "$3, exact change only sign on the bus shelter and I'm about to throw my ski boots into a snow drift, a kindly senior citizen skier headed to Brighton fishes a few dollars out of his pocket, another guy with skins and tele skis offers to make change for me, and the driver simply says, "Pay twice on the way down.

Feel the love. Yesterday was near epic, and the more than 24 inches that fell overnight promise even better conditions today. Big Cottonwood's two resorts may lack the hardcore powder image of their famous southern sisters—Alta and Snowbird—in Little Cottonwood Canyon, but they also lack the crowds. There are four high-speed quads—combined—at the two resorts (Vail has 14) and about 2,100 acres (roughly a quarter of what Whistler offers). But skiing here isn't about losing yourself in miles of mountain; it's about losing yourself in the sport of skiing.

That's the implicit compact between the loyal skiers on the bus and their two local resorts. When someone mentions Little Cottonwood Canyon is closed (another key tendency that distinguishes the two canyons), the smiling 20-something snowboarder sitting across from me looks stung. "Damn! she laments. "They're all coming here.

[NEXT "An Easy Sell"]By 9 a.m., I've landed at Solitude's lower base lodge, the Moonbeam Center, caught a shuttle to the Village at Solitude, checked in to my condo and cruised through the small village to the Powder Horn double. It's been more than 10 years since my last visit to Solitude, when I saw little more than the racecourse, so I'm anxious to head out. I can tell immediately that this is going to be an easy sell. A few turns down Paradise—one of the many expert runs that plummet down the frontside from Eagle Ridge—is all I need to determine the snow is indeed bottomless. Beyond Eagle Ridge, my view is dominated by the Honeycomb Cliffs, which dive into the powder playground of Honeycomb Canyon. I heed the call, return to base, and head up Solitude Canyon via the Sunrise and Summit chairs. For three runs in Headwall Forest, as the skies clear, I cascade quietly through near-perfect powder then join the group of natives circling atop Honeycomb.


Marvin Sumners, ski patrol director, stands guard in front of the ropes that keep me at bay. I ask Marvin the question he gets asked all morning: "When's it opening? "In a bit, Sumners answers with a patroller's intentional vagueness. He may be staving off a feeding frenzy, or he may be just weary. Sumners and his crew have been on the hill since 7 a.m. (again) during a season in which they blew through their annual explosives budget by February. (One 16-day stretch alone yielded nearly 14 feet of snow.) "Should we hike out Evergreen for a lap? a guy next to me presses, referring to the southernmost ridge at separates Solitude from Brighton. "I wouldn't do that, Sumners advises coyly, and we all have our sign. Within minutes, the sun fully emerges, the rope drops and I'm in the slipstream of a powderhound train, forging across Cathedral Ridge. The farther the small pack traverses, the more fall-line vertical we'll get. Nonetheless, it feels sacrilegious to pass up the pristine shots that drop to my left. Finally the lead hound says, "Now!' and we peel off into a perfect confluence of speed, powder and pitch. We're flying past trees, over rolls, and down, down, down, choking on our good fortune through irrepressible grins.

[NEXT "The Moonbeam Center"]At the top of Honeycomb Return, rather than cycling down the frontside, I turn back under the lift and traverse the ridge from the other side, again getting pristine powder in steep, sparsely forested terrain. This is not only my best powder day in recent memory, but the most civilized as well. Unlike the Pamplona-like powder dashes I'm used to, a typical powder day at Solitude finds about one person for each of its 1,200 acres, allowing you to have your space and ski it, too. After the entire morning in Honeycomb, freshies still tempt me, but so does wood-fired pizza at the Creekside Restaurant, where I relax and refuel before heading to the frontside to unwind.

The Moonbeam Center, home for frontside skiing, is at the top of the lower parking lot. Until this season, it was a bare-bones affair. This year, day skiers are welcomed by a 12,000-square-foot daylodge with restaurant, bar, fireside lounge, childcare and a proper home for Utah's only four-discipline (ski, snowboard, nordic and telemark) Snowsports Academy (a.k.a. ski school).


From there, beginners ride the Moonbeam triple to wide greens, while everyone else heads to the Eagle Express (Utah's first high-speed quad). The lift whisks you to Eagle Ridge and a variety of options, from cruising Sunshine Bowl to bumping on Inspiration, to free-falling down Challenger. I meet one couple from Salt Lake City who discovered Solitude when their kids started skiing and the need for a stress-free setting became key. While the mountain has enough variety to satisfy all abilities, it's still pleasantly manageable. Here you can breathe a little easier, pick a meeting point and know you'll be able to find each other without cell phones. Sounds quaint, and it is—so much so that I admit to myself that it was a mistake not to bring my own family.

Sure, I'm the one who opted against the family affair, but I did so envisioning all the hassles, particularly when a "village is involved. From my experience, that term means long walks, dodging crowds and waiting in lines, all the while hauling gear and herding kids. But here the village reflects the same unaffected quality as the hill, supporting relaxation rather than proposing diversion, providing everything you need and nothing more. As I take off my skis and eye the edge of the village, I'd bet that my kids could hear me yell at them from here.

[NEXT "Personality"]Six lodges offer 150 slopeside units, ranging from deluxe hotel rooms to well-appointed townhouses. All come with access to Club Solitude, where families chill out at a spa, fitness center, mini theater, game room and library. There's also a small outdoor skating rink, a ski shop, the Thirsty Squirrel bar, one nice family restaurant (Creekside) and one nicer gourmet restaurant (the Saint Bernard). For eating in, you can get groceries at the Stone Haus deli or, easier still, stock your condo online by ordering delivery from Albertsons.


Don't be fooled by the relaxed pace here. Management isn't asleep. Solitude boasts a radio-frequency pass system, for example, which allows you to keep your pass pocketed and avoid zipperfumbling at the lifts. You also can track vertical feet skied and pay per lift ride rather than buy a pass. Solitude and Brighton also offer the joint SolBright ticket, which allows you to ski the trail connecting the resorts, providing you with plenty of options.

The best expression of Solitude's personality is at the Yurt restaurant. Solitude's owner, Gary DeSeelhorst, envisioned the Yurt as a way to re-create the convivial atmosphere of hut trips he took in Colorado. The tent is booked every night, with 20 guests trekking half an hour (if they're plodding) up a path from the village on nordic skis or snowshoes to commune over gourmet food, laughter and ample BYO wine. After our five-course dinner, we emerge beneath starry skies. As easily as we came together inside, we separate on the trail, immersed in the natural world, and 20 minutes later we're back in the pampered world, snug in our beds. Solitude does have its comforting rhythms.

[NEXT "Brighton"]The minute I pull into the parking lot at Brighton the next morning (in my reluctantly retrieved Vibe), I sense a different, decidedly local beat. Brighton sits at the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon. It's a big satellite dish of a mountain, guiding an annual 500 inches of snow into its amphitheater of chutes and bowls.

Randomly scattered A-frame houses on the periphery suggest no master plan, but a three-story daylodge plainly broadcasts to incoming skiers that "this is the place. Inside, the open-beamed Brighton Center is utilitarian yet surprisingly charming with stone floors, log accents and vintage pictures depicting Brighton's long history. There are convenient rentals, retail and services. Everything thus far invites straightforward recreation, so I embark on my tour left to right, peak to peak around the amphitheater, starting with a ride up the Great Western Express to the area's highest point, Clayton Peak.

Despite tempting chutes that drop out of bounds to the left, I stay on mission and turn right off the chair, then right again down Rein's Run, a fall-line drop that jogs my muscle memory from yesterday's (then) effortless adventure. When it flattens, Lone Star's gentle terrain guides me to Snake Creek Express, which runs to the top of Preston Peak. I look past the ropes to the short hike up Snake Bowl. Brighton is full of opportunities to dip out of bounds, so it's become a popular jumping-off point for backcountry skiers. Since I'm alone, I traverse into the trees to catch a thrill in the deep fluff on the lower part of Snake Bowl. Brighton's terrain acts like a big mixing bowl. Chutes and glades flow down from the rim and ooze toward a dome-like center dominated by halfpipes, terrain parks and groomed pinball-alley corridors.

Everywhere I look, Brighton's market niche is evident. Kids are zipping in and out of the trees, jumping at the side of every trail and sneaking into the woods to race through flume-like passageways.

A sense of family permeates Brighton's past and current history. These days, the Doyle bothers—Randy, the manager, and Mike, the mountain operator—carry on the legacy of their father, Zane. In 1936, with the installation of a ropetow, Brighton became Utah's first lift-served ski area. Zane Doyle purchased the Majestic tow in 1941, with Brighton growing into a collection of separately owned tows, T-bars and chairlifts. Doyle installedBrighton's first double in 1953, and in 1968 he and his brother consolidated the facilities to create Brighton Ski Bowl. In 1986, Boyne USA, operated by the Kirchers—the first family of Midwestern skiing—bought the area, but the Doyles continue to run it. Like a big family couch, Brighton feels comfortable, welcoming and immune to attitude.

[NEXT "Molly Green's"]Directly above the Brighton Center, the Majestic quad runs up the area's central hump, serving the terrain parks, which are the centerpiece of Brighton's 200 acres of nightskiing—the most in Utah. The fixed grip is no speed demon, but the view is good entertainment, be it young skiers upside down and backwards, or airborne middle-aged novice boarders succumbing to peer pressure.

Just right of Majestic is the Crest Exi the trail connecting the resorts, providing you with plenty of options.

The best expression of Solitude's personality is at the Yurt restaurant. Solitude's owner, Gary DeSeelhorst, envisioned the Yurt as a way to re-create the convivial atmosphere of hut trips he took in Colorado. The tent is booked every night, with 20 guests trekking half an hour (if they're plodding) up a path from the village on nordic skis or snowshoes to commune over gourmet food, laughter and ample BYO wine. After our five-course dinner, we emerge beneath starry skies. As easily as we came together inside, we separate on the trail, immersed in the natural world, and 20 minutes later we're back in the pampered world, snug in our beds. Solitude does have its comforting rhythms.

[NEXT "Brighton"]The minute I pull into the parking lot at Brighton the next morning (in my reluctantly retrieved Vibe), I sense a different, decidedly local beat. Brighton sits at the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon. It's a big satellite dish of a mountain, guiding an annual 500 inches of snow into its amphitheater of chutes and bowls.

Randomly scattered A-frame houses on the periphery suggest no master plan, but a three-story daylodge plainly broadcasts to incoming skiers that "this is the place. Inside, the open-beamed Brighton Center is utilitarian yet surprisingly charming with stone floors, log accents and vintage pictures depicting Brighton's long history. There are convenient rentals, retail and services. Everything thus far invites straightforward recreation, so I embark on my tour left to right, peak to peak around the amphitheater, starting with a ride up the Great Western Express to the area's highest point, Clayton Peak.

Despite tempting chutes that drop out of bounds to the left, I stay on mission and turn right off the chair, then right again down Rein's Run, a fall-line drop that jogs my muscle memory from yesterday's (then) effortless adventure. When it flattens, Lone Star's gentle terrain guides me to Snake Creek Express, which runs to the top of Preston Peak. I look past the ropes to the short hike up Snake Bowl. Brighton is full of opportunities to dip out of bounds, so it's become a popular jumping-off point for backcountry skiers. Since I'm alone, I traverse into the trees to catch a thrill in the deep fluff on the lower part of Snake Bowl. Brighton's terrain acts like a big mixing bowl. Chutes and glades flow down from the rim and ooze toward a dome-like center dominated by halfpipes, terrain parks and groomed pinball-alley corridors.

Everywhere I look, Brighton's market niche is evident. Kids are zipping in and out of the trees, jumping at the side of every trail and sneaking into the woods to race through flume-like passageways.

A sense of family permeates Brighton's past and current history. These days, the Doyle bothers—Randy, the manager, and Mike, the mountain operator—carry on the legacy of their father, Zane. In 1936, with the installation of a ropetow, Brighton became Utah's first lift-served ski area. Zane Doyle purchased the Majestic tow in 1941, with Brighton growing into a collection of separately owned tows, T-bars and chairlifts. Doyle installedBrighton's first double in 1953, and in 1968 he and his brother consolidated the facilities to create Brighton Ski Bowl. In 1986, Boyne USA, operated by the Kirchers—the first family of Midwestern skiing—bought the area, but the Doyles continue to run it. Like a big family couch, Brighton feels comfortable, welcoming and immune to attitude.

[NEXT "Molly Green's"]Directly above the Brighton Center, the Majestic quad runs up the area's central hump, serving the terrain parks, which are the centerpiece of Brighton's 200 acres of nightskiing—the most in Utah. The fixed grip is no speed demon, but the view is good entertainment, be it young skiers upside down and backwards, or airborne middle-aged novice boarders succumbing to peer pressure.

Just right of Majestic is the Crest Express, from which skiers can make a quick hike to deliciously steep treed chutes before funneling back inbounds near the base of Crest. I'm all alone. Brighton does get weekend crowds, something you'd expect of a place 35 minutes from Salt Lake City, and where the most you pay for a daily ticket is $44 and kids 10 and younger ski all season on a $35 pass. Later in the day, busloads of school children arrive as part of Brighton's popular local ski programs. But on this powder Wednesday morning, I can't even find a lift partner, let alone a line.

About halfway through my tour, Carol Garner, Brighton's accountant and de facto PR department, claims she needs a break from her desk. She joins me on my approach to my prime target, the lusty terrain I've been eyeing all day under Millicent Peak. An outpost of its own on the far northern edge of the parking lot, the Millicent lift, a vintage center-pole double, accesses gorgeous, wild terrain of filled-in cliff bands, twisting roller coasters and beautiful aspen groves. Between Millicent and Crest lies a wedge of rugged out-of-bounds terrain known as the Mary Chutes and Panorama City. But as intriguing as it looks, I find no good reason to budge from Milly's steep, deep, ever-changing terrain.


After the third run down Milly's, we break for lunch at Molly Green's, a 1950s vintage private club (A-frame of course, complete with antlers on the wall, pool tables, neon beer signs and great service). It's the best call for old-style après ambience. It's also the only call for nightlife.

Over fish tacos, Garner offers that the one thing people have to know when they come here is that there's no town. In fact, Brighton didn't get plumbing till the '90s, and the only lodging is the slopeside 20-room Brighton Lodge. Brighton is refreshing in that it doesn't try to be anything but itself. It's all about day skiers, young and old, one board or two, inbounds or out.

The beauty of these two resorts, nestled side by side in Big Cottonwood Canyon, is their separate identities. Solitude is serene escape, Brighton is local motion, and both are built on the simple philosophy of getting out and staying out. That mission is sincere. Let Utah's other canyon get all the attention. These two understated resorts are content with what they are. And in this ever-changing world, there's a surprising amount of comfort in that. By the time I point my Vibe down the canyon for the last time, there's no kicking. Screaming quads, but no kicking.

[NEXT "The Details"]WITH THE FAMILY
Ice skating Solitude's small, self-contained pedestrian village is a safe padded cell for kids. Send the troops to the ice rink with a few bucks for S'mores Kits and hot cocoa from the nearby Stone Haus. You can stay at the cozy fire pit and direct troop movements.
Sports Academy Keep the kids busy and improve their skiing by signing them up for Solitude's all-day "learn to ski/board workshop ($100 includes a full day lesson, lift ticket, lunch and gear rental). The Snowmobile Express whisks them to the Children's Academy (801-536-5730; skischool@skisolitude.com).
Club Solitude Take the family on a guided snowshoe tour from Club Solitude or lose yourself in the cushy library couches while the kids enjoy the game room, the nightly movie or—during peak season—tubing, storytelling, and puppet shows.
Sleep therapy If your kids are still wired after a day on the hill—send 'em back. Brighton's ski scene under the lights (until 9p.m.) rocks. And it'll set the stage for a good night's sleep—for everyone.

SIGNPOST
Vitals Solitude: 1,200 skiable acres; 2,047 vertical feet; summit elevation 10,035 feet; 500 annual inches; 8lifts. Tickets: adults $50; Junior (7—13) $28; 6and younger free. Brighton: 1,050 skiable acres; 1,750 vertical feet; summit elevation 10,500 feet; 500 annual inches; 7lifts. Tickets: adults $44; Youth (11—15) $40; 10 and younger free. SSolBright (two-resort ticket) adult $62.
Lodging The slopeside Brighton Lodge has 20 rooms ranging from $99 dorm-style to $170 suites. Kids 10 and under stay and ride free (800-873-5512). The Silver Fork Lodge B&B (1mile before Solitude) has cozy rooms, starting at $135 (888-649-9551, silverforklodge.com). For luxurious inn rooms and condos slopeside at Solitude, call 800-748-4754.
Dining Molly Green's at Brighton offers hearty pub fare. In Solitude, savor French cuisine at the St. Bernard, and family-friendly Italian at Creekside.
Après-ski In Solitude, scurry to the Thirsty Squirrel. For a more vibrant scene, hit Molly Green's in Brighton, or head to Salt Lake.
Don't miss For a starlit adventure and delicious gourmet meal, make the (short) trek to Solitude's Yurt restaurant.
Getting there Solitude and Brighton are 35 miles from Salt Lake's airport. Canyon Transportation offers airport shuttles (800-255-1841).
Information Solitude: 801-534-1400, skisolitude.com; Brighton: 800-873-5512, brightonresort.com


JANUARY 2006
ss, from which skiers can make a quick hike to deliciously steep treed chutes before funneling back inbounds near the base of Crest. I'm all alone. Brighton does get weekend crowds, something you'd expect of a place 35 minutes from Salt Lake City, and where the most you pay for a daily ticket is $44 and kids 10 and younger ski all season on a $35 pass. Later in the day, busloads of school children arrive as part of Brighton's popular local ski programs. But on this powder Wednesday morning, I can't even find a lift partner, let alone a line.

About halfway through my tour, Carol Garner, Brighton's accountant and de facto PR department, claims she needs a break from her desk. She joins me on my approach to my prime target, the lusty terrain I've been eyeing all day under Millicent Peak. An outpost of its own on the far northern edge of the parking lot, the Millicent lift, a vintage center-pole double, accesses gorgeous, wild terrain of filled-in cliff bands, twisting roller coasters and beautiful aspen groves. Between Millicent and Crest lies a wedge of rugged out-of-bounds terrain known as the Mary Chutes and Panorama City. But as intriguing as it looks, I find no good reason to budge from Milly's steep, deep, ever-changing terrain.


After the third run down Milly's, we break for lunch at Molly Green's, a 1950s vintage private club (A-frame of course, complete with antlers on the wall, pool tables, neon beer signs and great service). It's the best call for old-style après ambience. It's also the only call for nightlife.

Over fish tacos, Garner offers that the one thing people have to know when they come here is that there's no town. In fact, Brighton didn't get plumbing till the '90s, and the only lodging is the slopeside 20-room Brighton Lodge. Brighton is refreshing in that it doesn't try to be anything but itself. It's all about day skiers, young and old, one board or two, inbounds or out.

The beauty of these two resorts, nestled side by side in Big Cottonwood Canyon, is their separate identities. Solitude is serene escape, Brighton is local motion, and both are built on the simple philosophy of getting out and staying out. That mission is sincere. Let Utah's other canyon get all the attention. These two understated resorts are content with what they are. And in this ever-changing world, there's a surprising amount of comfort in that. By the time I point my Vibe down the canyon for the last time, there's no kicking. Screaming quads, but no kicking.

[NEXT "The Details"]WITH THE FAMILY
Ice skating Solitude's small, self-contained pedestrian village is a safe padded cell for kids. Send the troops to the ice rink with a few bucks for S'mores Kits and hot cocoa from the nearby Stone Haus. You can stay at the cozy fire pit and direct troop movements.
Sports Academy Keep the kids busy and improve their skiing by signing them up for Solitude's all-day "learn to ski/board workshop ($100 includes a full day lesson, lift ticket, lunch and gear rental). The Snowmobile Express whisks them to the Children's Academy (801-536-5730; skischool@skisolitude.com).
Club Solitude Take the family on a guided snowshoe tour from Club Solitude or lose yourself in the cushy library couches while the kids enjoy the game room, the nightly movie or—during peak season—tubing, storytelling, and puppet shows.
Sleep therapy If your kids are still wired after a day on the hill—send 'em back. Brighton's ski scene under the lights (until 9p.m.) rocks. And it'll set the stage for a good night's sleep—for everyone.

SIGNPOST
Vitals Solitude: 1,200 skiable acres; 2,047 vertical feet; summit elevation 10,035 feet; 500 annual inches; 8lifts. Tickets: adults $50; Junior (7—13) $28; 6and younger free. Brighton: 1,050 skiable acres; 1,750 vertical feet; summit elevation 10,500 feet; 500 annual inches; 7lifts. Tickets: adults $44; Youth (11—15) $40; 10 and younger free. SolBright (two-resort ticket) adult $62.
Lodging The slopeside Brighton Lodge has 20 rooms ranging from $99 dorm-style to $170 suites. Kids 10 and under stay and ride free (800-873-5512). The Silver Fork Lodge B&B (1mile before Solitude) has cozy rooms, starting at $135 (888-649-9551, silverforklodge.com). For luxurious inn rooms and condos slopeside at Solitude, call 800-748-4754.
Dining Molly Green's at Brighton offers hearty pub fare. In Solitude, savor French cuisine at the St. Bernard, and family-friendly Italian at Creekside.
Après-ski In Solitude, scurry to the Thirsty Squirrel. For a more vibrant scene, hit Molly Green's in Brighton, or head to Salt Lake.
Don't miss For a starlit adventure and delicious gourmet meal, make the (short) trek to Solitude's Yurt restaurant.
Getting there Solitude and Brighton are 35 miles from Salt Lake's airport. Canyon Transportation offers airport shuttles (800-255-1841).
Information Solitude: 801-534-1400, skisolitude.com; Brighton: 800-873-5512, brightonresort.com


JANUARY 2006
ee. SolBright (two-resort ticket) adult $62.
Lodging The slopeside Brighton Lodge has 20 rooms ranging from $99 dorm-style to $170 suites. Kids 10 and under stay and ride free (800-873-5512). The Silver Fork Lodge B&B (1mile before Solitude) has cozy rooms, starting at $135 (888-649-9551, silverforklodge.com). For luxurious inn rooms and condos slopeside at Solitude, call 800-748-4754.
Dining Molly Green's at Brighton offers hearty pub fare. In Solitude, savor French cuisine at the St. Bernard, and family-friendly Italian at Creekside.
Après-ski In Solitude, scurry to the Thirsty Squirrel. For a more vibrant scene, hit Molly Green's in Brighton, or head to Salt Lake.
Don't miss For a starlit adventure and delicious gourmet meal, make the (short) trek to Solitude's Yurt restaurant.
Getting there Solitude and Brighton are 35 miles from Salt Lake's airport. Canyon Transportation offers airport shuttles (800-255-1841).
Information Solitude: 801-534-1400, skisolitude.com; Brighton: 800-873-5512, brightonresort.com


JANUARY 2006

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