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By Richard Cheski
Brighton Resort, a local favorite for skiers and snowboarders, wasn’t always a recreation hot spot. Here's how this quiet mining town became the promised land for powder hounds.
A few years after the Mormon pioneers arrived in Salt Lake City, they explored Big Cottonwood Canyon and found thick forests with rapid streams that made it ideal for sawmills. By 1858, the three mills produced more than a million feet of lumber used to construct many of Salt Lake’s homes and buildings. The area near Brighton also had a wealth of minerals: gold, silver, and lead. At this time people used the mountains for mining, not recreation. This would soon change.
Part of the land that is now Brighton Resort was settled by the “first family” of Brighton, William Stewart Brighton, his wife, Catherine, and their children, Dan and Will, who emigrated from Scotland to Salt Lake City and homesteaded an 80-acre plot.
Brighton became a popular summer destination in the 1850s when Salt Lake City residents came to escape the city heat. Visitors rode horses to Brighton in pioneer days and spent time swimming, fishing, and enjoying picnics in the outdoors. But the name Brighton was not selected until 1887 and was named after the Brothers Brighton who placed the first telephone and communication lines there that year.
In the late 1800s, Dan and Will Brighton made crude skis so they could move around on the snow and used them to enjoy Brighton’s earliest power turns. Soon others began discovering the winter recreation possibilities and began enjoying their own turns in fresh snow.
But in those days there were no ski lifts. Instead, groups would travel to Park City, climb up over the ridge tops, and ski down into Brighton where they would spend a few days skiing, eating, drinking, dancing, playing bridge, and getting very little sleep, according to accounts from The Utah Ski Archives and Sons of Utah Pioneers.
Meanwhile, mining booms in Park City and Alta resulted in travelers moving frequently between the two towns, and Brighton lay between them. The shortest route was a one-day trip over the ridge and through Brighton. Otherwise, it took about three days by wagon to go from Park City, down the canyon to Salt Lake City, then up another canyon to Alta.
By 1910, Brighton was hailed as a mecca to mountain lovers. Affluent people began day tripping to Brighton by car to enjoy outdoor recreation and festive parties, but the road was unpaved, making driving difficult.
In the 1920s, the Wasatch Mountain Club was established. This Club’s purpose was to promote outdoor recreation in Utah’s mountains, deserts, and rivers. Then Club members hiked together and soon became interested in skiing. They visited Brighton because of its sumptuous snow, and it quickly became a favorite skiing location. Today the club continues as an outdoor recreation group for adults.
The Wasatch Mountain Club continued growing in the early 1900s and ski pioneers marked the frequently used routes from Park City to Brighton with signposts displaying the club’s insignia. Then in 1936, the Wasatch Mountain Club built the first rope tow at Brighton, making it Utah's first ski resort.
But in those days, lifts were all privately owned, so many tried their hand at building lifts at Brighton. The Alpine Ski Club built a J-bar in 1936, but it didn't work very well. Then a very successful 1,400 foot T-bar was built in 1938 by K. Smith, an avid skier with the Wasatch Mountain Club. After building it, Smith went to Sun Valley to study a new invention: chairlifts. He learned from his mistakes and used the newfound lift technology to develop Brighton’s first chair.
In 1940, the eruption of WWII called many men to duty and nearly putting an end to recreational skiing. But Zane Doyle, a meat cutter for the bustling Hill Air Force Base, disliked the meat business and decided to try his hand at the ski industry. With a unique vision and after much haggling, he bought Smith’s idle lift to begin a ski business.
But the first time Doyle turned on the power, a lift tower collapsed. This did not dampen his spirit. Doyle went on to create a fully functional lift service accommodating early skiers. Over the years he continued installing other lifts, and the mountain officially opened in 1947. In the winter of 1947–1948, Doyle erected a 4,000-foot long, 1100-foot high chair called Millicent. It was praised by skiers and called one of the best constructed ski lifts in the United States. Brighton was now on the map as a ski destination.
In 1987, Boyne USA’s Everett Kircher, purchased the resort, and the Doyle family continues to operate Brighton to this day. The Doyles helped create one of the friendliest resorts in North America, and you can still find family members enjoying deep powder there today. Brighton now boasts multiple high-speed quad chairs, expansive night skiing, amazing power riding, terrain parks, and family skiing. It's a favorite skiing and snowboarding destination for locals and visitors of all ages.
Richard Cheski has been producing photography of Utah's winter wonderland for 25 years. Utah’s powder is what drives his winter sports and editorial photography. Richard attended the University of Utah- studying filmmaking and photography. He spends his time in Utah, San Diego, and Hawaii producing photography and HD Cinema. See more of his work at stockphotowebsite.com.