Deciding where to ski in Utah is a little like deciding which tropical island to buy…you really can’t go wrong, wherever you choose. That said, there are distinct differences between Utah resorts, and perhaps an even bigger difference between Salt Lake City and Provo area resort and Southern Utah resorts. For the first time, I explored the skiing options in Southern Utah, where I loved the friendly, relaxed, and sometimes almost eccentric vibe.
Brian Head Resort with kids:
Brian Head Resort has the highest base elevation in Utah (you’ll be at over 9000 feet at all times, and up to 11,000+ feet while skiing). It offers 650 acres with eight chairs. It’s not the largest Utah ski resort, and also not the most challenging in terms of expert terrain, but it has something distinct going for it that really plays in its favor: isolation.
Because Brian Head is pretty far from a metropolis (you’re 3.5 hours from SLC and 3 hours from Las Vegas), your closest neighbors during your stay are national parks and monuments. Brian Head has the distinction of being a Dark Sky location, which means you’re free from light pollution. All this isolation means Brian Head Resort makes its own fun. Events, apres ski dining options, live bands, and special programming seems to be scheduled for just about every night. Need proof? Just take a look at their event schedule.
Getting the lay of the land:
When skiing Brian Head resort with kids, it’s important to note Brian Head has two distinct base areas: Navajo and Giant Steps. They are separated by the highway, with a ski bridge that links them. Base lodges are at both locations. The simplest way to categorize them is to say that Navajo offers the beginner and intermediate terrain, and Giant Steps offers intermediate and expert terrain. There’s a meeting place for the winter sports school at both locations, but the kids’ camp is at Navajo. The two Brian Head hotel lodges are a couple minutes’ drive from the Navajo side, but there are many house rentals and condos available at both base areas.
You can absolutely ski between the two sides using the ski bridge, but it does take a few chairs and some traversing. There is also a free shuttle that connects the base areas, convenient if you have family members skiing at different levels but want to meet up for lunch or apres ski.
Skiing at Brian Head:
Brian Head is one of those resorts that seems to double its size on powder days…there are just so many open areas to ski. (The openness of the resort is actually due to the need to remove many trees during a beetle infestation years ago.) But of course, not every day can be a powder day. During my visit, we stuck mostly to groomed runs, which were plentiful and pleasant. There are a number of great chutes near the top of Giant Steps, and even after the fluffy powder is skied out, hidden stashes remain in the trees. On the Navajo side, the green beginner runs are some of the most interesting I’ve seen…think winding paths through forests and fun curves.
From both sides, skiers are rewarded with views of classic Southern Utah red rock, and glimpses of nearby Cedar Breaks National Monument. On clear days, it’s possible to see all the way to Great Basin National Park in Nevada. What you won’t see often are crowds. We visited on a Saturday in January, and it felt like a quiet Tuesday morning.
Other things to do at Brian Head:
Remember how close you are to Cedar Breaks while in Brian Head? If you want to take an afternoon off from skiing, you can actually take a snowmobile tour from the resort area to High Mountain, which offers incredible close-up views of the red rock of Cedar Breaks. Thunder Mountain Motorsports offers 1.5 hour, 3 hour, and all day rides. We found 1.5 hours to be just enough time to go through the backcountry of Brian Head to High Mountain and back, with time to play around in snow-filled meadows and learn about the natural history of the area. Our guide was fantastic: the perfect mixture of helpful and informative but also lighthearted and fun. Tours start at $85/machine, which families can ride double for only $15 extra. If you have it, you can even take your own machine and follow the tour for $20.
If snowmobiling isn’t your thing, you can also snowshoe or cross-country ski in Cedar Breaks. It’s best to call for up-to-date info on road conditions and where to start your winter exploration: 435-586-9451.
Brian Head also offers snow tubing, which I’m told is on a steeper track than most. (I didn’t get a chance to try it.) However, one of the best things I did at Brian Head was their free ‘Star Party’. Held once a month at Navajo base lodge, star parties are a fun and informative viewing of the night sky. Because Brian Head is a Dark Sky location, the view on clear nights is fantastic. They bring out ‘dark rangers’ (like park rangers) to lead short talks, in which they point out constellations and planets and give families time to look through telescopes. There are fire pits and hot chocolate as well.
Where (and what) to eat at Brian Head:
Remember how I said Brian Head was just a bit eccentric? This characteristic is most evident in their dining and entertainment scene. Brian Head was bought by a new owner a few years ago; owner John Grissinger has brought his love of Kansas City BBQ to the resort, and everyone benefits! At least once a week (and usually more often), families can find ‘John’s KC style BBQ’ on the events calendar. Held at Last Chair Saloon at Giant Steps base, this BBQ meal is not to be missed. You may get two choices on the menu, but don’t expect more. What you’ll get is amazing BBQ meat (usually ribs, catfish, or tri-tip) served with sides. It’s accompanied by live music, and the whole event is very family-friendly.
When you can’t get BBQ, you have other options: Giant Steps lodge and Navajo have your standard ski day fare, and if you want to dine out in the evening, the Grand Lodge offers a simple but solid menu at their Lift Bar and Grill. Cedar Breaks Lodge offers a restaurant as well.
Where to stay at Brian Head:
As noted above, there are many condo rentals and home rentals in Brian Head. If you opt for a hotel, you have the choice between the Grand Lodge and Cedar Breaks Lodge. We stayed at Grand Lodge, which has a great indoor pool and hot tub, plus an outdoor hot tub. Their spa was closed for the season, but it is on offer in summer months. They have a decent continental breakfast at the Lift Bar and Grill, which is convenient before your ski day, though it does cost extra (around $10 pp). I found this price to be too high for the standard fare; at some chain hotels, you can get a similar spread complimentarily). However, our waitress did charge less for those who were eating less, which was nice.
Rooms are standard, with mini fridges and microwaves, which is nice to have, and the lodge has fun live music and a pretty hopping bar on weekends. It’s a friendly, welcoming vibe. You’re about a one minute drive to the base of Navajo, or you can get on the free Brian Head shuttle.
Getting to Brian Head: Take I-15 to Parowan, then Highway 143 to Brian Head. It’s about 3.5 hours from Salt Lake City or 3 hours from Las Vegas.
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Disclosure: I experienced Brian Head as a guest of the resort, for the purpose of review. All opinions are my own.