An "atmospheric river" is responsible for the latest snow accumulation in Utah. While that river keeps on flowing, Brighton resort continues to be an island fulfilling powderhounds' wildest dreams.
Words and photos: Pat Harrington
A steady barrage of storms have been marching across the Great Basin and have been ending their journey in the central Wasatch this week. The legendary snowboarding hotspot of Brighton in Big Cottonwood canyon has been at the epicenter of the massive snowfalls that have forced them to start recording the new snow in feet as opposed to inches.
Christmas Day saw the resort get conditions that may have been unrivaled for the entire season in years past, but this past week's "modest" storm was anything but modest and made Christmas day a mere memory to those of us that were able to be there or the first chair on January 3rd.
The "atmospheric river" as it is called is a narrow band of concentrated moisture that is essentially transporting water vapor from the Pacific ocean at hyper-speed. This is the same phenomenon that has led to 20-foot dumps in places such as Lake Tahoe and Mt. Baker, Washington. The uniquely beautiful thing about the central Wasatch is its proximity to the Great Salt Lake. When this river passed over our beloved salty lake, the storm system was able to snatch up that last bit of moisture that was needed to turn this relatively small storm into a 20+ inch affair. Needless to say, even the most seasoned veterans of the cottonwood canyons could only marvel at the amount of snow that had fallen in such a short time period.
In the days leading up to the storm, Big Cottonwood Canyon had seen some of the largest crowds in years due to the hype that has been built up around the new snow during the holidays. However, once the holiday break was over, the sleepier of the two cottonwoods returned to its normal state, rewarding the local shredders with a private snow park that had just been dusted with 21 inches of champagne powder. From a nearly empty parking lot, my friends Nick Catmur and Jess Sluder and I hopped on one of the first chairs on Milly Express to find that the ski patrol had everything open at 9 AM, which is almost unheard of after a storm of this size. What ensued can be described as nothing short of the insane powder snowboarding that has made Brighton a bucket list destination for snowboarders from all over the world.
Having grown up at this resort, we systematically picked our way through all of our favorite zones that we have memorized from Evergreen to Mary's and the conditions only seemed to improve throughout the day.
"Weightless turns and a constant need of a snorkel were persisting until the last chair at 4 PM."
From the looks of things, every sector of the resort is filling into mid-season levels already, and there is only more snow on the way via our new favorite meteorological phenomenon.
The team over at http://www.wasatchsnowforecast.com/ have been giving us a great amount of information in the lead up to these storms and in explaining the event after it has happened. Be sure to use the Ski Utah app to keep track of snow totals and read the integrated Wasatch Snow Forecast report so you too can surf the atmospheric river that is keeping our powder legs in such good shape.