Everyone has a happy place. A patch of land, sea, or mountain where everything makes sense. A geographical and emotional pin, where the past, present, and future can connect easily or meaningfully. For iconic snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg that place is Brighton Resort, Utah.
“I love that there’s no real town, so it’s a journey to get up here,” Sage Kotsenburg said. “You gather at the mouth of the Big Cottonwood Canyon, carpool up, grab your squad, turn the tunes up and it feels like you are part of a unit.”
It’s early morning, in early January 2023 and Sage was talking from the parking lot of Brighton Resort, Utah. The back of his truck is a blaze of yellow, filled with kit from his just-dropped Db x Sage Kotsensburg Collection. It is yet again about to be put through another phase of serious testing. The tunes blaring of his truck just about drown out the excited froth of his mates prepping for a powder day.
“You wake up and you know it’s a Brighton Day. It has a little feel, or ring to it like no other, and this season has been awesome,” said snowboarding's first Olympic Slopestyle Gold Medallist, Natural Selection Tour Champion, and general snowboard icon.
Kotsenburg had already made the 45-minute drive from his hometown of Park City to Brighton a dozen times this winter. It’s his go-to riding and filming destination when he’s not doing trips overseas or competing at the Natural Selection.
“Look around the lot and you can smell the strong whiff of the 1990s and early 2000s snowboarding culture,” he said. “Everyone gets up early on storm days. They are grilling in the lot, drinking coffee, each with their rituals getting ready for the lifts to open. I reckon I have at least 30 buddies in the lot right now just psyching.”
Kotsenburg was born in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho but started snowboarding at Park City at five years old. Following in the footsteps of his two elder brothers, he soon created his path from an early age. By the age of 9, he had his first taste of riding Brighton.
“My brothers and I watched all the snowboard movies and Brighton was this legendary snowboard destination where all the pros filmed,” recalls Kotsenburg. “We first went there for a contest when I was young, but the terrain park was terrible. It was all about the powder. I kept going back through my teens and it had a real mom-and-pop, locals' resort vibe to it. While things change, it still has those fundamentals today.”
It also has history. Brighton Resort was the first ski resort in Utah, and one of the earliest in the United States. It was also one of the first resorts to embrace the new craze of riding sideways back in the 80s.
“The terrain is naturally designed for snowboarding,” said Kotsenburg, who grew up watching JP Walker and Jeremy Jones in their iconic snowboarding video parts filmed in Brighton in the early 90s. “It’s a kind of bench mountain, with these cliffs and poppers and not a sustained downhill the whole time. That means you can find these creative features, be it trees, rocks, or pillows. It’s just made for snowboarding.”
The same could be said for Kotsenburg. In 2011, aged 16, he became the first to perform a Cab double cork 1440. However, it was at the Sochi Olympics in 2014, when he dropped the never-been-done trick, the Holy Crail 1620, and won snowboarding's first Olympic Slopestyle gold medal that he became a household name.
His next move though was even more impressive. Sage’s creativity and style were always about more than the competition. In his early 20s, and having reached the peak of competitive snowboarding, he turned his back on it to focus on what made him happy: backcountry riding.
"I'd been at the top of slopestyle for so long. That just wasn't enough for me, and I didn't want to keep doing that,” he said. “I wanted to find something where I was uncomfortable.” He spent the next few years focused on learning and honing his craft when it came to backcountry safety. A lot of that was done at Brighton. With that as a platform, his talent and creativity could shine.
Sage was named 2020 Rider of the Year by Snowboarder Magazine, a title won on the back of his closing video part in Joy, where he landed a double backside twelve Japan at Chad’s Gap in Utah. In 2022 he won the Yeti Natural Selection event at Jackson Hole.
Yet having ridden Brighton since he was nine, it is perhaps unsurprising that he now has the mantle of the snowboarder’s snowboarder. That mountain, its backcountry, and in-bounds terrain, together with its rootsy mom-and-pop feel, have shaped the rider he is.
A perfect Brighton day for Sage would be hitting first lifts on the Crest or Milly quads, splitting into a group of four to make for fast effective lift packs. After strafing the off-piste until the powder is gone, the crew would lap the resort features, before stopping for a plant-based lunch back at the truck.
Fuelled up, they grab the backcountry packs and go outer bounds. There’d be time to shape a feature and have a last session, before heading back to the lot. Here Sage checks in with everyone from the start of the day to see what his friends got into. The shared stoke is a huge part of the experience.
“It’s the zone I feel most at home and where I’ve met so many cool people that I have so much in common with,” said Sage. “I can go there and turn everything off and snowboard with my friends. And whether we hike out of bounds or stay within the boundary lines, it’s where I’ve had some of the best days of my life on my board. And nothing makes me happier than that.”