Brian Head - Skiing Powder-Plus in Southern Utah
by Mitch Kaplan
The whole idea is counter-intuitive. I mean, who thinks of flying to Las Vegas to ski in Utah? But, there it is. Brian Head Ski Resort. It’s not only among the southern-most ski hills in Utah, it's the highest. Counter-intuitive. You’d think the further north you’d go, the higher the hills would be. But, there it is.
While Brian Head might be the state's highest resort, it's nowhere near being biggest. Indeed, for a destination in a major ski/ride state, the place is rather small. Which helps makes it family-perfect. Perfect, too, for deep powder novices. Here’s a place that’s powder-rich, yet affords terrain on which newbies can flourish.
And powder is what we got. A good 16 inches of it. It took a bit of assimilation. I mean, we were coming out of 70-degree, early-April weather in Las Vegas, passed golfers in action in the golf-rich town of St. George, Utah, and needed wear only t-shirts during a highway rest stop in the desert. But, when the road began to climb, up and up it went, switching back, ascending through several climate zones until we skiddered snowbound into the town of Brian Head, permanent population 118. They call themselves "The highest Little Resort Town in the Country."
Come morning, snow falling in earnest, we scrabbled to the lifts. The two-peak layout is simple. We warmed up on a main face groomer, then quickly moved skiers' right for powder practice. My friend Chris had never skied the west, no less knee-deep fluff. We gave him a few pointers (ski the fall line, avoid sitting back, work both skis, exaggerate the unweighting) and pointed him downhill. Around us urchins on snowboards whooped it up, grabbing one last weekend in the deep stuff.
We found something of a home on Chair 5 (I love a place that doesn’t dream up fancy names - meaningless to most of us - for their chairlifts). A blue called Hard Times and a forgiving black named Straight Up entertained us for a number of rides. They were steep enough to keep us moving, wide enough to allow us to bail when the deep-snow turning got rough, and short enough to allow us to catch our breath. This skiing at 10,000-plus feet is a trial for sea-level-lungsters like us.
Quick to notice was the plethora of middle school-aged kids flying unaccompanied in the powder. It's that kind of place. You can let your skilled snowsliding kid and his/her friends do their own thing. There's not a lot of trouble they can get into.
We shifted to some steeper stuff off of the equally anonymously named Chair 2, where we encountered terrain that challenged our limited powder legs. Soaring down something called Giant Steps, both Chris and I left giant snow divots. "I was flying there - did you see?" I growled happily from my snowy bed. "Til the bottom dropped out and I was going gangbusters!" We both wore mantles of white for the remainder of the morning.
After lunch at Navajo, the beginners' hill, where the Navajo Base Lodge culinary crew creates a mean salad bar - I peeked in on the day care center. It's a small place, gaily decked out and well staffed by experienced and friendly folks. Only a few kids were in attendance - it being late season - but they take kids as young as six weeks, and the adult/child ratio is a very healthy four-to-one (as compared to a state required ten-to-one for kids over two and a half). All kids' programs meet at Navajo. The more advanced classes take the two-minute shuttle bus ride to the main hill for skiing.
The apres-lunch runs on Navajo revealed terrain and lifts that were very novice and small-child friendly. And, just as on the big hill, lots of young-uns - elementary-school aged over here - were skiing together unsupervised. We dashed into Navajo's mini terrain park but, hey!, there was too much snow to get enough speed for airs.
A tiny town like this isn't boiling over with restaurants, but what there is speaks well for itself. We found truly fine dining at Double Black Diamond Steakhouse, and for a real family roadhouse style kick, Johnny Rico's Salsa and Taco Bar hit the spot. Dessert was Brianberry Pie. You’ve gotta love it when the local bakery produces a town pie.
Sunday morning, more powder. Come Sunday afternoon, too. Which led a Park City resident among us to voice his own amazement. "Park City has much more terrain, but this would be skied off in no time there. This stuff will be around for days."
As fine as Brian Head’s skiing was, and as easy to handle and friendly as it may have been, the added elements make it unique. Within a two-hour drive, we hiked in wonderment the trails of Zion National Park. Not far away, St. George’s 22 golf courses bustled with duffers. And, the next night, acute culture shock set in when we traded the sparsely populated snow-capped peaks and craggy redrock canyons for Las Vegas’ glittering lights. That's an activities combo that can be found in few places. I'd suggest, however, that Las Vegas might best be visited first. After the pristine surroundings of the southern Utah high country, even this metro New Yorker felt overwhelmed by the big city lights.
For information: We lodged at the full-service Cedar Breaks Lodge & Spa in a delightful two-bedroom suite, equipped with a kitchenette. Lodging of all kids is available. Visit www.brianhead.com; or call 800-388-3669 or 845-9781 (Central Reservations).
...... Mitch Kaplan
is the author of The Unofficial Guide to the Mid-Atlantic with Kids, The Cheapskate’s Guide to Myrtle Beach and The Golf Book of Lists. He is a contributor to The Unofficial Guide to New England & New York with Kids and to the annual guide Ski America & Canada.