Family Getaways in Brian Head
By Jenny Willden
Utah is home to the Greatest Snow on Earth, but you’d be crazy to think our fluffy powder is only a Wasatch Front phenomenon. Head south and experience it for yourself at Brian Head, a town set high in Utah’s mountains at 9,800 feet and home to just 83 year-round residents. Their scenic ski resort boasts Utah’s highest base, an annual snow total surpassing 360 inches, and powder skiing without the crowds.
It’s just a 3.5-hour drive from Salt Lake City, but the striking views of snow-capped red rock and clear, blue skies make Brian Head feel worlds apart. And with nearly 650 acres of terrain spread across 63 runs and two mountains, you won’t quickly run out of places to explore.
Visitors from Southern Utah, Las Vegas, and Southern California have long been privy to these perks, but Northern Utahn’s rarely explore this hidden gem, thanks to our bounty of nearby resorts. It’s time to change that!
Brian Head is an ideal winter destination for families on a budget. Here lift tickets are a bargain, and you’ll find learning lifts and easy terrain with fewer folks using them, making it ideal for new skiers and youngsters. No, you won’t find fancy ski lodges at Brian Head, or a resort village with high-end retail outlets, but the low prices mean you can ski and stay for the cost of a lift ticket elsewhere!
Need lessons before you venturing out on your own? Try the excellent Winter Sports School where you’ll get budget-priced instruction that includes lift ticket, equipment rental, and a hot lunch. The instructor to student ratio four-to-one, meaning you’ll receive personalized help transitioning from a pizza to parallel or overcoming fears. Beginner packages are just $89, so the whole family can afford to learn. Or just send the kids to ski school while you access the resort’s most challenging terrain via a snowcat ride to Brian Head Peak.
And if a day of riding isn’t enough, night skiing is available on selected runs on Friday, Saturday, and holiday evenings. Terrain park junkies of all levels can hone their skills in two parks with rails, pipes, boxes, and other jibs. The latest addition to the terrain park, BagJump, is great for newbies because it prevents the risk of injury while developing solid technique.
While teens perfect their jumps, take the little ones to the endlessly entertaining Brian Head Snow Tube Park. Tubes are provided and a lift takes you to the top (without the huffing and puffing) so you can maximize your runs! Unfortunately, reservations fill up fast, so book in advance if you plan to ride it. The park is open every day through April and night tubing is available most weekends and holidays.
Get gear or rentals at Georg’s Ski Shop (georgsskishop.com), which was founded in 1965 by Brian Head’s first year-round residents, Georg and Stephanie Hartlmaier. Today, the shop continues as a family-run business that specializes in high-quality rentals and equipment repair. There’s enough gear here to get lost in, but knowledgable staff members can help you navigate it quickly. Georg’s also offers great lodging rentals on their property and throughout town.
Where to Stay
Choose from every kind of lodging at Brian Head. Enjoy spacious, on-mountain accommodations at Cedar Breaks Lodge (cedarbreakslodge.com), where even the smallest rooms feature a kitchenette, jetted bathtub, and gas fireplace. These junior villas sleep up to four comfortably and are priced at just $119 a night on weekdays and $139 on weekends during the winter season. Large, two-bedroom villas with space for eight are $269 on weekdays.
As a Lodge guest, you can ride a free winter shuttle for quick lift access. Use it to return to the hotel mid-day so youngsters can take a break before heading to the tubing park. After skiing, relax in the gorgeous indoor pool, two hot tubs, dry sauna, and steam sauna, or get pampered with a deep tissue massage or a calming facial at the on-site day spa. Other amenities like free underground parking, multiple restaurants, fitness center, and a video game room make this hotel a stand out. Be aware that the lodge’s WiFi costs $10 a day, and the cell phone reception is less than optimal if you don’t have 4G. But who cares? You’re on vacation after all.
Another option is DoubleTree Resort & Spa by Hilton, a full-service 100-room lodge featuring an indoor pool and fitness center, the Red Leaf Spa for luxurious and relaxing treatments, fine dining at Leany’s Steakhouse, and the Lift Lounge & Patio for après ski fun. You’ll also get a hot chocolate chip cookie when you check in!
If you prefer a cozy cabin or private condo to a hotel, book it online through the Mountain Info tab on brianhead.com, or on scenicsouthernutah.com. Many units include access to an indoor swimming pool and recreation room, and most are within walking distance of Brian Head’s lifts. Further away condos almost always include a free shuttle to the resort, but check online before booking.
Don’t be surprised if you wake your first morning with a high-altitude hangover. Yes, Salt Lake residents live at altitude, but Brian Head is double that elevation and the change can give sensitive folks headaches. Take it easy on your first day, and get plenty of shut-eye to mitigate the negative effects.
Where to Eat
Start your morning with an espresso drink and light breakfast from the Cedar Breaks Cafe inside Cedar Breaks Lodge before hitting the slopes. Free WiFi is available here during selected hours with any purchase.
Snag a quick, cheap lunch just steps from the chairlift at Pizano’s Pizza, where you can get a slice of pizza for just $2.50! Finding prices this low at a ski resort is uncommon, and the authentic New York-style pizza is droolworthy. Confession: We visited twice in two days.
For dinner, partake of gourmet food with a mountain casual atmosphere at the Double Black Diamond Steakhouse in Cedar Breaks Lodge. Make reservations beforehand and request a table by the fireplace. Try the seared Ahi Tuna as an appetizer, and don’t miss our favorite secret entree! It isn’t on the menu, but ask for the pear and cheese fiocchi, a stuffed pasta with a light oil sauce. You won’t be disappointed! Homemade desserts like peach cobbler and indoor s’mores will tempt you into making your meal a three-course affair. Nearby Leany’s Steakhouse, located inside the DoubleTree Resort, is another fine choice.
Keep the party going into the night at Cedar Breaks Bar & Grill or the Lift Lounge & Patio at Doubletree, which have full bars and regular live music performances. Gather with friends old and new at the Lift Lounge’s indoor and outdoor fire pits or play a game of pool at the Cedar Breaks Bar.
Most of the three-and-a-half-hour drive from Salt Lake City is on I-15, but the last 10 miles require steep hill climbing on a well- maintained highway. If snow is in the forecast, you’ll need chains or a 4-wheel drive vehicle to access the resort.
Brian Head’s recent purchase means changes are afoot for this hidden Utah treasure, and the new owner intends to make Brian Head better than ever. So enjoy your trip south, but look forward to exciting improvements to come. And don’t tell ALL your friends, a secret this good is better kept than shared.
Jenny is the Managing Editor of Outdoor Sports Guide and a self-proclaimed gear and grammar nut. She loves adventure and is happiest when riding horses or snowboarding in Utah’s mountains. Llama racing and deal finding are her secret superpowers. Follow Jenny’s exploits on Twitter @jennywillden or on Google+.