Making your way up Big Cottonwood Canyon from Salt Lake City, the road meanders through slots in cliff bands, tight corners and pine glades, all it seems in preparation for what you’ll find at Brighton. From any vantage point on Brighton’s slopes, you can easily see why this hill has long been known as a Mecca for snowboarders, and home to many savy skiers. Rocks, gullies, cliffs, steep tree lines are just a few of the architectural tools used to design this mountain playground.
Upon pulling into the parking lot in I immediately spotted Mt. Millicent looming above me to the Southeast. On this, another bluebird day in the Wasatch, it commanded my attention with it’s steep narrow lines, riddled with cliff bands.
Although the initial plan was to ski and explore the Great Western area of Brighton, I immediately tossed the “game plan” out the window, knowing I had date with Millicent. All thoughts of Great Western were gone as my focus became skiing the peak.
The Brighton Experience
Although Brighton is a local’s hill, complete with families who spend the lunch hour with barbeques and lawn chairs in the parking lot, I was impressed by the level of guest service in the day lodge. At every turn it seemed there was someone in a Brighton uniform ready to open a door for me or asking me if I needed directions somewhere. They even took the time to call patrol for me to see if Mt. Millicent was open for hiking. I liked the answer – it was on.
Riding up Millicent Lift one gets the feeling that this is a tucked away corner of the resort, a secret stash that they don’t really want to upgrade nor highlight for fear it will attract the masses. Perhaps it’s the slow double lift, or the long walk across the parking lot to get to the Millicent area. Once you’ve passed the third tower it’s easy to see the potential on a powder day, the lines are limitless, the rocks to huck yourself off of plentiful. And then Mt. Millicent looming above it all like a sentinel. Although not all together steep, there are sections in the Millicent area that will test any expert terrain skier, but they unfortunately don’t last too long. It was the only thing about Brighton that kept me wanting more; longer and more extended steep runs.
Brigham Graff and I arrived at the top of the Millicent Lift and started up the boot pack to the top of Mt. Millicent. Pretty straightforward as hikes go and in about 15 minutes we found ourselves on top of the world. Mt. Millicent is nicely positioned in the heart of the Wasatch backcountry, but our challenge lie down the double diamond rated run named Elevator that takes the obvious line from the summit. It’s a steep rocky pitch that requires a few turns to the skiers left to gain the entrance of the chute. Once inside, the walls steepen and the slope angle reaches near 45 degrees. About half way down, the chute chokes into a small cliff with a very tight side slip on the skiers right and a sliver of a straight-line between the rocks in the center.
Brig started down the chute with a little bit of slough helping him along, the snow still a bit powdery with some wind packed pockets. He neared the choke and pulled off to the skiers right next to a large tree, a little island of protection from the slough. I started down, finding the turning conditions very good, despite the lack of recent snowfall. As in most ski descents, I chose the path less traveled and edged up to the rocks, dropping straigh-line through them into the apron. Nice re-crystalized snow was my reward for first tracks. After arcing nice big turns I paused to watch as Brig negotiated the choke and shot through the apron to the runs below Mt. Millicent.
As we descended into the more traveled terrain, we were pleasantly surprised to find little stashes of powder tucked in the trees next to a plethora of cliffs and rocks. We picked our way through the rocks to find stash after stash of nice creamy pow, lightly tracked. We emerged from the trees onto a perfectly groomed run, our smiles beaming and contagious. On the lift I confirmed what I suspected Brig was thinking; we’ve got to hit this place on an epic powder day, the kind that you dream of. Oh Millicent!
The next run we decided to hit the main line, Scree Slope, which encompasses the main bowl area of Millicent. Pretty straightforward skiing on top led us to a double black rated mid section with small trees and rocks of all sizes. Both wide chutes and billy goat lines abound in this area and we found ourselves entertained by the many descent options, so much that we came back multiple times to seek out the most challenging lines. Little flutes of powder leading to 10′ drops kept us busy. After slicing through the rocky mid section of Scree Slope things get pretty mellow in a hurry with rolling drops that lead back to groomed slopes below.
Riding up the lift we spotted a few little rocks and lines on Lone Pine, the area just skiers left of Scree Slope which makes it’s way under the lift before veering into the bowl. The highlight of Lone Pine is likely the 25-foot hero huck that sits under the lift, likely the location of much bravado and Kodak courage when the snow is fresh and deep. Lone Pine starts out east facing but has a lot of terrain features and rolls that face south, making it a nice option on warm sunny days when the snow has softened up. Carving fast smooth turns through sun softened snow, weaving in and out of rock outcroppings was as addictive as anything we had skied earlier in the day. I did manage to find a couple of spots to catch a bit of air as I found my way out of some tight spots.
One of the things that always seem to fascinate me is that despite how long a ski area has gone without fresh snow, if you’ve got a bit of adventure and the ambition to look around a few hidden corners, you’re bound to be nicely rewarded. Brighton was no exception to this rule as there were plenty of little stashes and fun lines that were waiting for us to get our fill.
The Lowdown on Brighton’s Millicent Area
The beauty of an area like the Millicent Lift and the runs Elevator, Scree Slope and the adjacent run Lone Pine is that it’s hard to take the same line twice. Rolls, ribs, rocky chutes, sparse tree shots and wide open spaces can keep any expert skier busy for many hours and perhaps days. Any east coast skier would be beside themselves with the limitless options. The truth is that anyone fortunate enough to call this home could spend a season learning and memorizing all the details of this one area of Brighton Resort so that when the powder falls deep and light like it can in Utah, that Millicent would become one of the best winter playgrounds in the west. Chances are good that the next big powder day in Utah you’ll know where I can be found. But no worries, I’ll leave some lines for you, there are plenty.