I admit to being a thrill-seeker on skis. Unlike my children, who like slaloming through the woods, I like to ski open trails, so we need a ski area that delivers both. That’s one reason we head to Brian Head, Utah, a fantastic winter retreat for any Las Vegas family. As winter approaches, the three-hour drive to the small mountain hamlet, located at 9,600 feet in the southwest part of the state, makes for an alpine treat.
Brian Head offers great snow with 400 inches of Utah powder every season. The slopes are well groomed, and most trails are dedicated to beginner and intermediate skiers. For more adventurous sportsmen, there is mogul skiing as well as a system of trails through the woods to back ski bowls. Lift lines tend to be short so once you are geared up to hit the slopes, you can take on any slope. Keep your slalom rhythm going on each ski run until you have exhausted yourself or your ski friends. When it’s time for a break, park the skis and poles and enjoy a hot chocolate or lunch at the Giant Steps or Navajo Lodge grills. Loosen those ski boots and stretch out your feet for 15 minutes.
Brian Head has eight chair lifts. My favorites for downhill skiing are Chairs 2 and 5. The terrain is good and deeply sloped with connecting wooded trails. The wide choice of trails allows me to make challenging runs in the morning, when I am fresh, and enjoy more scenic tours at leisure in the late afternoon. When my children were younger, they always wanted the adults to follow them as they flew off the moguls while skiing through the trees. Kids love the excitement of going fast, but these days I leave the trees and airborne flights to younger skiers. From the mountaintop I can carve an independent snow trail in style and zip down to the chairlift for another exhilarating run.
Ski season at Brian Head runs from November until May, but my favorite month is March, which offers a combination of powder snowfall and warm-weather days. Dare to spring-ski in a tank top, but don’t take a spill in the snow!
There are also 10 cross-country ski trails and meadows at Brian Head, and they provide an excellent workout. The sound of the skis crunching through the silence of the backcountry is trancelike. Snowshoe trekking is another fun way to enjoy the snow. You are off the grid with only the snowshoe tracks as a trace. Stop at a vista point and feel the faint drift of snow off the cedar, fir and spruce trees. It’s magical.
Still, I prefer to snowshoe and cross-country ski at Cedar Breaks National Monument, just three miles up the mountain from Brian Head. In the winter, the great amphitheater above the Markagunt Plateau, more than three miles across, is a breathtakingly beautiful scene of vibrant-colored cliffs – red, orange, purple, white and tan – descending some 2,500 feet. Take cross-country skis or snowshoes to view these rainbow buttresses, which have been eroded over millions of years by wind and water.
With adult lift tickets at $45 a day, Brian Head is a value-friendly ski destination for family and friends. More importantly, it is an outrageous piece of southern Utah “color country.” I always feel humbled and awed by its alpine beauty, no matter what I have on my feet.