February 11, 2022 - 9:41 am
Thrill is mixing with winter beauty on the ski slopes of Southern Utah. A frosted February wonderland with red rocks as part of the view greets skiers and snowboarders after chairlifts carry them up to the start of their downhill fun at Brian Head Resort.
Each winter, Southern Nevadans flock to Brian Head because of its relative proximity, about 3.5 hours northeast of Las Vegas. Skiing and snowboarding are expensive endeavors, but lift tickets at Brian Head remain under $100 and are considerably cheaper if it’s in the middle of the week or not on a busy weekend.
The quieter Eagle Point Resort, open Fridays to Mondays at this point in the season, is about four hours away, close to Beaver, Utah. Weekend lift tickets there are $75 for walk-ups. Both resorts suggest advanced purchases for the best prices. A little extra driving to Eagle Point leads to a tranquil escape on a mountain with lighter crowds, fewer ski runs and a less intense vibe.
In early February, Eagle Point claimed a base of 60 inches of snow while Brian Head boasted 40 inches. Conditions are updated regularly on the resorts’ websites, and social media posts provide hints about how fun and forgiving the snow might be.
Arid skies and high elevations produce plenty of fluffy powder each year and snowcat machine operators make the best of available snow, but there have been times at Brian Head when falling on iced-over snow has felt like slamming against concrete. Mostly, though, trips to either resort have meant exhilaratingly good times that can make adults feel like kids. When conditions are right, skiing feels like gliding through ground-level clouds. There’s a sense of freedom that comes with surrendering for a day to the inherent dangers of left and right turns all the way down a mountain.
Chilly air and extraordinary surroundings add to the winter magic in Southern Utah. Both Brian Head and Eagle Point resorts have base elevations above the 9,000-foot mark, with chairlifts carrying skiers and snowboarders above 10,500 feet. With that come picture-perfect panoramas of surrounding forests and mountains meeting stark blue skies or disappearing under dramatic cloud blankets. A bonus at Brian Head is its unforgettable views of the red rock amphitheater of neighboring Cedar Breaks National Monument.
The skies consistently offer up surprises. In the past five years, I’ve skied on several mostly bluebird days, when the sky is clear and calm after a night of light snowfall. There have also been gray days, with winds strong and unsafe enough to temporarily close chairlifts. After a first run a couple of years ago at Brian Head, I returned to the Wildflower chairlift and shared my shock that snow was falling because skies had been clear just 20 minutes earlier. “Welcome to Utah,” the chairlift operator said with a laugh.
Nature’s details — whether the feel of big snowflakes falling on your face or the sight of intricate hoar frost clinging to aspen trees — help create the prettiest impressions of skiing. The fun memories come from favorite runs well done, treasured times with friends and family on the chairlift, and the opportunities to encourage little ones during their first battles with seemingly uncontrollable skis and snowboards.
Moments of frustration and exhaustion are an inevitable part of the ski and snowboard package, and costs are steep for lift tickets, rentals, lessons and lodging (especially hotel rooms and condos closer to the resorts). But the rewards, accomplishments and memories tied to days of skiing or snowboarding can remain vivid for decades. And, for most of us, those sparkling, spectacular vistas of a wintry world would otherwise be elusive.
If you go
Southern Utah ski resorts are up to 8,500 feet higher in elevation than Las Vegas, which means you’ll be closer to the sun in the reflective snow; pack sunscreen. It’s also important to recognize the challenges that such elevation gains pose on the body, which will be exercising while building more red blood cells to capture scarcer oxygen. Drinking plenty of water and giving yourself time to rest, especially if feeling short of breath, are two pieces of good advice. The higher elevation can negatively impact the sleep of some visitors; there are plenty of reasonably priced lodging options in Cedar City, which has an elevation of 5,800 feet.
Skiers and snowboarders are advised to know the limits of their own abilities, to keep an eye on the movements of daredevils near them and to stick to trails in their comfort and skill zones.
Brian Head Resort: Lifts are open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mountain Standard Time on weekends and holidays as well as from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays. Night skiing happens from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Resort ticket offices and base lodges open at 9 a.m. daily, with tickets also available for purchase online. brianhead.com
Eagle Point Resort: Lifts are open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mountain Standard Time on Fridays through Mondays until the end of February, and Fridays through Sundays from March 4 to April 3. Lift tickets are available on-site at the Skyline Lodge and Canyonside Lodge ticket windows from 9:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., with tickets also available for purchase online. eaglepointresort.com