Whenever anyone compiles lists naming the world's greatest ski resorts, it's doubtful Brian Head ever features on them. But if you think that's a disadvantage, then think again.
Because the Vails and Whistlers and St Moritzes of the ski world are big and famous, hogging the travel pages of newspapers and ski magazines, they also tend to attract large crowds. Handsome marketing spends and top-notch facilities lure skiers by the bucket loads which can translate into lengthy lift queues and sky-high prices. You could say they are victims of their own success.
Smaller, second-tier resorts such as Brian Head get completely overlooked in comparison. And what that means for skiers and snowboarders is lots of untracked snow and zero queues on the mountain.
This is my first time skiing in one of North America's smaller resorts, so I'm not sure what to expect. But I needn't worry, for what I discover is that Brian Head boasts 650 acres of inbounds skiing across two connected mountains – Giant Steps and Navajo – with eight chairlifts and two surface lifts servicing 71 runs split evenly between beginners, intermediate and advanced.
There's also night skiing and tubing, three terrain parks and, the piece de resistance, average seasonal snowfalls topping a whopping nine metres. Very few places on Earth can match that.
What Brian Head lacks is big, steep faces to attract expert skiers, though whispers suggest that the backcountry skiing here is a well-kept secret. In fact, prior to visiting, I was told – by a professional snowboarder, no less – that the resort could be "a bit flat". Not to worry, for that makes Brian Head all that much better for some great family skiing.
"I would confidently say that Brian Head is the best family resort in Utah," says Trace Whitelaw, Brian Head's media and communications officer, and my family's ski guide for the day.
After fitting skis and boots from Georg's Ski Hire, we meet Whitelaw at the top of the blue Kodachrome run on Navajo Mountain. The man behind the shop's name, Georg Hartlmaier, is a legend on this mountain – a Hall of Famer, in fact. After emigrating from Germany ahead of the resort's opening in 1964, he became director of its first ski school. He is also Whitelaw's grandfather. "I'm really lucky that I was born into this," he says, as we look out over the snow and red rock canyons towards the Tushar Mountains to the north. Indeed, he is.
It was Brian Head's easy access from Interstate Highway 15 and its proximity to Las Vegas, less than three hours' drive away, that drew me to this little-known resort. Then there's the mountains' almost benign topography as part of a high altitude plateau, instead of a fully-fledged mountain range, which makes for comfortable gradients that my 11-year-old son can ski down without getting bored.
As the statistics suggest, it's high enough to receive ridiculous amounts of snowfall. But because most of Utah is rocky desert country, that snow is predominantly dry and fluffy, allowing my wife and I to zip off in search of thigh-deep powder while our son has lessons in the Kid's Camp ski school.
Beneath every chair lift, bar one, are state-of-the-art snowmaking facilities – as if they're ever needed. And only one black run, First Tracks, is groomed, upping the stakes for advanced skiers and boarders who are looking for a challenge.
There's no doubt it's the space, borne from wide, open runs and virtually no people, that's most appealing here. Whitelaw estimates no more than 400 skiers and boarders on the mountain at a time during our two-day visit. And that beats queuing up any day, in my books.
Mark Daffey visited Brian Head courtesy of Brian Head Resort.
Day passes start at $65 an adult, $46 for children aged six to 12. Ski and snowboard rentals cost $30 a day. There are no resort entry charges. See brianhead.com
Accommodation is available at two hotels on the mountain, Best Western Premier and Cedar Breaks Lodge, or in privately-owned condominiums. See the Brian Head website for more details. See brianhead.com