Brian Head Resort
By Roland Leiser
In Southern Utah, a ski area does its own thing with a compact amount of terrain that’s not too big and not too small. Named Brian Head Resort, it has no ambition to compete with the state’s mega-resorts and their huge skiable acreage.
The resort is recognized in consumer media as family-friendly with 40 percent of its terrain designated for novices and 40 percent for intermediates and 20 percent for experts. With 540 acres spread out over two mountains, Brian Head attracts skiers and snowboarders from southern California, Arizona and Nevada and as far away as Texas and Florida, says Craig McCarthy, director of marketing and public relations. Here, lift tickets are a budget-friendly $38 a day on a multi-day purchase (less for youngsters and seniors), and ski and snowboard rentals are $25 and $30 a day, respectively.
If visitors fly into the Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport, they can play the slots and blackjack tables before they begin their mountain recreation trip. Ski Las Vegas offers packages that combine the two activities and they have proven popular, says McCarthy. Let’s just hope that the casinos will enrich–and not empty–the skiers’ pockets before they head for the mountains. Car rental is available for the three-hour, 179-mile drive through high desert country. Salt Lake International Airport is an option, but add an hour to the drive time.
At the resort, two mountains serve different needs. Brian Head Peak is designed for all skill levels while Navajo Peak is primarily for beginners. A lodge at the base of each offers a full range of skier services.
The town of Brian Head sits at 9,600 feet and the resort’s summit tops out at 11,307 feet (although it s not lift-served). Weather permitting, skiers and boarders can ride to the top in a tracked vehicle known as a Snow Cat. The highest lift-served point is 10,920 feet, so we’re talking serious height here. As we drove up to the resorton an early April visit, our unopened bag of chips had puffed up from the change in altitude.
Six chair lifts, two surface lifts and 53 trails don’t match the numbers at the state’s mega-resorts and there are no quads, six-packs or gondolas here. But remember that Brian Head’s elevation virtually assures reliable snow–an average 400 inches a year—and lots of powder. As a result, the resort needs to cover only 35 percent of its terrain with snowmaking machines. In the winter, Brian Head Peak, which faces southwest, gets lots of sunlight for much of the day. In early April, light fluffy stuff blanketed the area, but on the second day the sun emerged and cleared the skies.
Brian Head hosts from 140,000 to 150,000 visitors a year, generally comparable to Powder Mountain and Solitude in northern Utah, according to McCarthy. Elk Meadows nearby will remain closed again, the impact on Brian Head will be minimal in terms of visitor counts.
Snowboarders will head to the area’s four terrain parks, of which one is designed for beginners, two for intermediates and one for experts, says McCarthy. Ski and snowboarding instruction is offered at the Winter Sports School and there is Kids Camp at Navajo Lodge, which includes coaching for youngsters 12 and under plus day care.
Lifts operate from 9:30 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. daily except on holidays when they open at 9 A.M. To extend the ski or boarding experience, three beginner trails are open on Fridays, Saturday and holidays from 3:30 to 9 P.M. The resort plans to open this year on Nov. 22 and close on April 11.
Some 95 percent of the visitors arrive by car but Skywest, a Delta Connection carrier, serves Cedar City Regional Airport, 32 miles away where rental cars are available.
For on-mountain lodging, consider Cedar Breaks Lodge, a 102-room, full service hotel and various condos. A shuttle picks up visitors at their lodgings and takes them to lifts every 15 minutes between 8:30 AM and 5 PM and after that, the service is on demand until 11 PM. “Like a free taxi service,” comments McCarthy.
The area has 2,000 beds including lodgings at the town of Parowan, 12 miles away and at Cedar City. Cedar Breaks Lodge, which is under new management, has revised the hotel’s package deals effective Nov. 1. For example, it offers a weekday package at $410 a couple plus tax, which includes a spa treatment for two, two nights lodging, a one day lift ticket, a sleigh ride and a dinner discount voucher. Willow Glen Inn, Cedar City, has nine B&B rooms that can be utilized in a ski package. After the lift lines close, the resort entertains families and children with a snow tubing, sleigh rides and a game room in the Cedar Breaks Lodge. If boredom sets in, jump into your car and head out to Zion National Park less than two hours away.
Brian Head Resort
329 South Highway
Brian Head, Utah 84719
Cedar Breaks Lodge
Brian Head Reservation Center
Ski Las Vegas 800-388-3669
Willow Glen Inn 435-586-3275