ski school lift
Travel
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Brian Head Utah: Bigger is not Always Better

Season Comparisons

  1. Mammoth
    • Single day lift tickets: $99-239
    • Parking: Street and some lots if you can find space
    • skiable terrain: 3500+ acres
    • Lifts: 25
  2. NorthStar at Tahoe
    • Single day lift tickets: $199 (by reservation only)
    • Parking: Remote lot with shuttle service or premium paid parking in the village
    • skiable terrain: 3170+ acres
    • Lifts: 20
  3. Brian Head Utah
    • Single day lift tickets: $50-100
    • Parking: Ample parking in the lot near the lodges
    • skiable terrain: 700 acres
    • Lifts: 8

At First Glance

Brian Head at first glance doesn’t hold weight when put up against the other two larger world class resorts. However, after snowboarding at all three of these resorts throughout my entire life I can honestly say my preference has ALWAYS been Brian Head. Its rustic charm and low key environment has been a big draw coming in from a very busy Southern California.

There never seems to be a crowd. The lines never last more than a couple minutes even on the busiest holidays. The lift tickets have always been reasonably priced and one of the best perks is that children under 12 ski free.

Driving distance from Orange County California is comparable to Mammoth. Tahoe is the obvious outlier due to the location being in Northern California. You can reach Tahoe by taking the 5 fwy north or by taking highway 395 north. It just doesn’t make sense to pass right by Mammoth on the 395 just to spend more money and have more traffic in Tahoe. I would only recommend Tahoe if you had a reason to be in the area. Otherwise, it’s just not worth the drive time when you could go to Mammoth or Brian Head.

The Real Story

Brian Head is a sleepy little ski community nestled in the mountains just outside of Cedar City Utah. It boasts the highest base elevation of any resort in Utah at 9600 feet. It is easily accessed by way of highway 143 from Parowan off of interstate 15. If you are on the backside, highway 143 is typically plowed and offers a direct route. However, during some winter storms it is one of the last roads to get plowed and can be closed if you are coming in from Duck Creek, Panguitch, or Mammoth Creek areas. You can check road conditions on the UDOT website.

The road closures can be exceptionally exciting though. This offers the more adventurous family outings because you can ride snowmobiles all the way there, ski for the day, and then ride back home. Garfield County is home to some of the best maintained forestry land in the area. They have some groomed snowmobile trails and in the winter, highway 148 becomes an actual snowmobile road.

Variety is the Spice of Life

Lets be honest here. Not all of us are huge ski bums. Me personally, I enjoy it but with a history of traumatic injuries over the years I am not able to really commit to the sport. When our family heads out on an adventure, we often plan for a variety of things to do so we all stay busy and active. This is where Brian Head really stands out when comparing it to Northstar and Mammoth.

Brian Head is surrounded by National Parks. Both Zion and Bryce are less than an hour away and offer a number of family activities. Bryce in particularly has ice skating and a virtual reality tour of Utah. However, Zion has some epic hiking and the kids love driving through the tunnel. Brian Head is also right next to a scenic overlook at Cedar Breaks. This offers some of the most picturesque views in the area.

VR Utah tour
ice skating in Bryce
mom ice skating

Feeding the Beast

In the prior two stories about Tahoe and Mammoth we made a big deal about where to eat. Food is important on any family trip. Tahoe and Mammoth both have amazing food options but they don’t feel the most family friendly. They are better served for adults or couples wanting to get away. People without kids don’t want to deal with the tiny humans running wild through a restaurant while they try to instagram their meals to their followers. On the other hand, people with kids don’t really care because their kids have beaten any sense of restaurant etiquette out of them the first time they took them out to eat.

Eating with kids becomes more about cost and ensuring their favorite foods are listed on the kids menu. I am of course referring to pizza, chicken nuggets or Mac n cheese. Most restaurants have these options at all locations but if you would like to avoid the judgment, your only true family friendly option is Brian Head. I have never once felt out of place in Utah with kids. I cannot say the same about Mammoth or Tahoe. It is tough to shake the feeling of being judged but maybe that’s just me overthinking the situation and trying to be considerate of those around me.

Brian Head Ski Resort

Brian Head is broken up into 2 different lodges. The Giant Steps Lodge is dedicated to mostly intermediate and advanced terrain while the Navajo Lodge is beginner and intermediate. We typically park at the Navajo side and check the kids into the ski school there. Parking is easy and free. It is an open lot like most resorts so larger vehicles like a Sprinter will fit no problem. Once parked you can make your way into the main building. The counter is located immediately to the right when entering from the parking lot. I have never had to wait more than a few seconds to get the kids checked in and pick up lift tickets for Jen and I. I cannot stress the lack of crowds here.

You could spend two to three times as much for a lift ticket and wait in line for 20-30 minutes to get on a lift at both Northstar and Mammoth. At Brian Head… this is what it looks like when you walk in.

Brian Head front desk

For clarification, this image was taken at lunch on a holiday week in February 2023.

Baby Steps

The Navajo lodge also has the staples for any standard kid friendly foods. It also houses a rental shop and the ski school for kids. It makes a great base camp for your day if you are traveling with your tiny humans. I highly recommend booking the school for the afternoon session. That way you can show up at lunch, get them sized up for rental gear and then eat lunch in the lodge before sending them out to the slopes. From there you can jet up to the navajo summit and drop in on the backside and head over to the giant steps area for more advanced terrain. This makes it feel like a bigger adventure when you have to snake your way back over to the Navajo side to pick them up.

The ski school is directly out front of the Navajo lodge. There are two different conveyor belts available to teach them how to ski or snowboard. When they get the skill up, they can then move to the ski lift and take the full beginner run. If you have family that is not skiing, this location makes it really easy for them to hang out by a giant fire pit and watch the kiddos do their thing the whole time.

ski school sizing
ski school lift
ski school board

Adulting…

Once the kids are checked in, mom and dad can head out on their own for a few hours. Jen and I decided to take it easy and stay mostly on the navajo side so we could check in on the kids. This was their first time and we were not sure how they would handle the difficulty of snowboarding. It worked out great because we could see them from the ski lift and one of the runs connected through the general area where they were practicing. It kept us far enough away they didn’t see us but allowed us to snap some photos of the fun.

Jen has always loved the mountains and really takes to the snow. We don’t have enough time to devote to snowboarding so Jen never gets the chance to push her limits. She likes to stick to the groomed runs for the most part because she feels like she can control her speed more. Me on the other hand… I’ve been snowboarding since the 80’s and have done my share of back country. I’ve had enough near death experiences so I’m ok just following Jen down the mountain for the comedic experience at this stage of life.

The Bottom Line

If you are looking for a way to introduce your kids to winter sports but trying to avoid the crowds, I highly recommend Brian Head. The resort is only slightly further than the drive to Mammoth. It may not have the size or luxury Mammoth and Tahoe offer but you can save a ton of money on lift tickets, food, and maximize your time on the slopes by avoiding the long lines.

As an added bonus, Brian Head is now working on expanding the resort with 7 additional lifts and a gondola. Aspen Meadows is a new real estate development that has already begun working on phase 1 of their new skiable terrain and housing. The master plan shows the development of 850 more skiable acres which will more than double the size of the resort and also make it the 7th largest resort in Utah.

I hope they maintain the charm of the place but I understand their need to expand. The new development is supposed to bring a new village style lodge on the northern side of the community. From the renderings I have seen it should be a pretty nice update for the area. I would encourage you to vacation there now before things start to get busy. Brian Head truly is a diamond in the rough but it won’t be for much longer. So get out there and check it out before the secret gets out.

TripAdvisor

2 thoughts on “Brian Head Utah: Bigger is not Always Better

  1. Of all the videos of course you had to use the one of me falling.. 😛 thanks Josh
    Nice blog, good info. A few things I’d like to mention about our Brian Head ski lesson experience, is that we paid for “group lessons” and it was just our 2 kids and the instructor! This happened both days we booked. The instructors are awesome, the kids said they had the best time. ( also the tickets are discounted if you buy them a few days in advance).

  2. Brian Head is very family friendly.. I hate to see it change to much. Thank you for sharing your info and family stories!

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