Brighton, the ski resort at the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon, has long been known for being no-frills, family-friendly, and a great place for locals to ski or snowboard.

Brighton is still one of Utah’s more affordable resorts but it recently added one significant frill — an upscale dining experience at the Milly Chalet with executive chef Jeffrey Sanich at the helm.

To check it out, I first spent a day skiing at Brighton. I’m spoiled, as many Utahns are, to live within spitting distance of multiple resorts. I hadn’t skied Brighton other than night skiing once in college, simply because it’s 10 minutes farther away than a few other resorts. But it still only took me 30 minutes to get there, and then seconds to walk from the parking lot to the lift because they are mere feet away from each other.

Once I had my lift ticket secured and my skis strapped on, I had my first-ever lift ride where all my other seatmates were from Salt Lake County. Usually I hear New York, Texas or California when I ask where other people are from on the lifts at the Park City or Little Cottonwood Canyon resorts.

After a few such conversations, I learned Brighton is many locals’ preferred resort. Like the resort says on its website, it’s the place where many of them learned to ski or snowboard. This is due in large part, I assume, to both affection for the resort and the relative affordability of lift tickets.

A seven-hour lift ticket currently ranges from $109 to $131, which yes, is a three-whole-digit price tag, but is still significantly lower than a ticket at many other resorts. Adults with season passes or single-day lift tickets can also claim up to two free tickets for children 6 and under. For children older than 6, a learner lift ticket for the Majestic and Explorer lifts is $80.

After a couple of powder-happy hours on the Great Western runs, I wandered over to the Explorer lift — aka the bunny hill — because I wanted to see if it was suitable for my kids, who are beginner snowboarders. Indeed, the hill is sloped just enough to gain momentum, but not so steep as to cause collisions, which is great for both my very cautious kid, who is nervous to board too fast, and my speed-happy kid, who really should be more cautious. So it’s no surprise so many winter sports enthusiasts cut their teeth at Brighton. Including chef Sanich.

“I’ve been skiing here since I was 2,” Sanich told me, explaining his deep connection to Brighton. “Brighton is a very special place to me, and I look forward to bringing my passion and enthusiasm to the resort for years to come.”

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Skiers and snowboarders take the magic carpet at Brighton Resort in Big Cottonwood Canyon on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

Sanich’s culinary career began in Park City, where he worked as a bartender. That job led him to New England, where he worked as a fry cook before working his way up to executive chef positions and then coming back to Utah and now, back to Brighton. “I never went to school,” he says, then explains, “I got lucky and had some great mentors.”

Sanich tells me he’s recently married, and Brighton feels like the right place to have landed. He started serving brunch over the summer to resounding enthusiasm from patrons, then oversaw the transformation of the Milly Chalet from a cafeteria to a gourmet dining experience.

I sampled some of the dishes from the new menu: pan-seared prawns, truffle fries and crispy fried Brussels sprouts to start, followed by a citrus-spiced beets salad. Then, Utah trout, short-rib macaroni and cheese, and caramel apple bread pudding.

I was delighted to recognize some of the flavors from Sanich’s time as head chef at the Sundance Resort’s Foundry Grill — my go-to spot for special occasions. “This menu is me,” he told me. “It’s the best representation of myself I’ve ever put out. I can’t tell you how gratifying it is for me.”

The sample dishes were some of the best food I’ve had in the past year, and at a price point that won’t bust a family’s budget. The kid's meals — chicken tenders or burgers and rosemary fries — cost $12, and while the main courses are steeper, there are plenty of affordable dishes on the menu.

It’s clear that the space was revamped to better accommodate families who need a little room to sit and eat, either in the middle of the ski day or the end of it. There’s nothing I want to do less than usher my kids and their trays through a cafeteria line or through a crowded bar after a few exhausting hours on the slope. To sit down and be served food everyone will enjoy is a true parental luxury, second only to having someone else teach your kids to ski or snowboard. (My most strongly held parenting belief is that this is a task that should be outsourced.) But the restaurant is also a good option for child-free visitors looking for something beyond the typical pizza-and-burger fare of most ski-resort eateries.

And the chalet has implemented a reservation system for breakfast, lunch, après and dinner.

“There’s just something about this place that’s different and special to me,” Sanich says. “I feel like I’ve found my home.”