Nobody Knows Big Cottonwood Canyon Like Carston Oliver

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Adam Clark photo.

Big Cottonwood Canyon forged Carston Oliver. He spent his formative years buzzing around Brighton, chasing groups of snowboarders through the unique terrain. Tracking him down was a tough mission as his adventures in the canyon took him out of the range of a cell phone. And when I was finally able to track him down it was actually on the skin track mid-tour in Big Cottonwood. I knew that there was no better person to learn about Big Cottonwood Canyon from.

What is the major difference between Big and Little Cottonwood Canyon?

Adam Clark photo.

I have spent a lot of time in both canyons. Big cottonwood is definitely quieter than Little Cottonwood, it has this great low-key vibe. You don’t have as much traffic as Alta and Snowbird, so the hills feel like small local ones. It’s nice because it’s easier to find your own space and get away from folks. It doesn’t have super continuous vertical as some of the Little Cottonwood Resorts, but the backcountry is pretty sweet and there are a ton of options.

What are the two major mountains, Brighton and Solitude like?

Most of the Little Cottonwood stuff, Alta and Snowbird, you get these long continuous steep shots, but Brighton is just like a natural skate park. It’s a little benchier with a lot of things to jump off of. There are these fun little gullies that you can jib as well. It’s definitely a snowboarder’s mountain in a lot of ways because of these really cool natural hits that are very easy to build. It’s really fun and a little more low key, but if you just want to play there is not a better place. It’s one of the few places where you can find pillows in the Wasatch.

Solitude is just quiet. There is hardly anybody there, but there is a lot of great gladed tree skiing. You can hike off the top of Fantasy Ridge and there is some real deal terrain up there. You can definitely scare yourself but that only opens up during larger snow years.

What are some classic runs in Big Cottonwood?

Adam Clark photo.

If I’m riding lifts I usually go up at Brighton and out from Millicent over toward Mary’s area, which is a bunch of cliffy stuff. If it’s clear go up to Wolverine or on stormy days go up Pioneer Peak. Sometimes I’ll dip over on the Park City side on the backside of Clayton from Great Western.

That is the great thing about Brighton. I use the lift as a bump to get up and out of bounds and loop back to the chairs. It’s pretty rad because you can work the openings and usually ski pretty untouched snow most of the days after a storm.

How is the touring?

Adam Clark photo.

If I’m just going for a tour I usually walk up either Silver Fork or Cardiff. A lot of the terrain at the top of those is shared with Little Cottonwood. The standard approach is to go up and drop in at the top. I like going from Big because even though it’s a little longer walk you can save yourself from skiing south facing chunder on the exit.

What are the best conditions to ride Big Cottonwood?

That is the beauty of it. Regardless of the conditions here you can always find something good. The days you dream about are those blower classic Utah days. Even if it hasn’t snowed in a long time there is always, especially if you are willing to walk a little bit, something to ski. There is a lot of sheltered north facing terrain that can really hold snow even if it has been weeks after a storm. If you are willing to work for it a little bit you can always find something good.

What are the characteristics of skiers and riders who come out of Big Cottonwood?

Everything is so connected in the Wasatch. It literally takes twenty minutes to walk up and over into the other Canyon. You see a lot of folks who spend time at Brighton with this buttery more playful type of style. There is always tons of little park skier kids that you can convince to throw on some fat skis and jump off stuff that will blow your mind.

What are the local spots to grab some food?

The Blind Miner is a little coffee shop right below Brighton that is great for an early morning pick me up. The dude who runs the shop is super mellow. He gets out and skis everything and is good buddies with everyone in the canyon. After you are done skiing there is a sweet little bar right at the base of Brighton called Molly Greens. You can get a pizza and a pitcher deal. If you are more of a late start Sunday brunch person, Silver Fork Lodge, which is halfway up the canyon has some good grub.

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