Our favorite ski town in the southwest is Cedar City.
Sort of. You can’t actually ski within the city limits of this small city in southern Utah. But Cedar City is a convenient (Andy says “cheap!”) place to stay if you want to get your alpine on up at Brian Head, which is about 45 minutes away. (35 minutes if Andy is driving.)
Cedar City is less than 3 hours from Las Vegas and well under 7 from Los Angeles (again, with the caveat that a maniacal male is driving an overpowered car and using Google Maps with Waze). It conveniently straddles Interstate 15. And in this little city, the cost of everything from gas, lodging, and lift tickets is about 25-50% less than the cost in California.
Lodging will run you well over $200 per night at Big Bear or the San Gabriel Mountains. (We won’t even talk about Mammoth.) California is more than double what you pay at the new Cedar City La Quinta, or the Holiday Inn Express, or the Spring Hill Suites that overlook I-15. There are a ton of other hotels and motels also, plus some lovely Bed & Breakfasts such as the Big Yellow Inn.
Holiday lift tickets at Big Bear and Mountain High will run you $64-84. Mammoth in northern California is $135. Park City in northern Utah? $129.
Brian Head’s top price is $60.
Storms have hammered Brian Head since Thanksgiving. All their trails are open, which is more than ski areas close to LA can boast. As for Brian Head’s base, their official site reports that it is 55’’. I think they are underestimating the depth. Thanks to a slight off trail mishap, I can tell you from experience that it’s a lot deeper than that. Andy concurs. (Yes, he snowboarded into the trees first. I tried to rescue him. It went…poorly.)
There’s a ski school and a snowboarding school at the Navajo Lodge, if you’ve got kids you’d like to ditch for a day, too. The schools looked very popular (i.e., you have to dodge children to get to the bathroom). Also, the ski school gets to cut the lift line, which will undoubtedly cut down on the list of grievances your kids could air once you collect them at the end of the day. This line cutting would be annoying to those without kids, if the wait was very long, but it adds a whole minute to your 2 minute wait on the chair lift if you are checking out the bunny slopes. You can avoid this easily by heading over to Chair #4 instead.
Don’t ski? Don’t snowboard? There’s also a fast tubing run.
If, say, you somehow melted your old snowboarding boots from the inside out, I would recommend equipment rental from Georg’s Ski Shop. They are nicer, cheaper, and less crowded than the official Brian Head rental places. You can ski from Georg’s to a chair lift, catch a free ride up, and ski down to a lodge to buy your lift ticket if necessary.
On a completely unrelated note, Andy wants me to tell you that the life expectancy of snowboarding boots and the lining in snowboarding helmets is 8 years. Max.
Cedar City is also apparently the mecca of fast food restaurants. All of them. Lost a mitten? There’s a Sports Authority and a Walmart. A Big Five Sporting Goods store will replace the Staples in Cedar City this spring.
Andy thinks it very important that I tell you all that yes, Cedar City has that most important place of all — Starbucks. It’s in the Providence Center by the lighthouse. Yes, this landlocked city at 6,000 feet has a lighthouse. Said lighthouse is utterly incongruous, but very helpful for knowing when to exit the freeway.
Tired of skiing? Thanks to a new tax for parks and trails, Cedar City has lovely trails that can take you a short way up into the canyons in the winter. (In the summer, you can go all the way up to Cedar Breaks, but in the winter, roads and trails are closed.)
Of course, just walking through the residential area up the hill from the freeway and Starbucks is entertaining also. There are gorgeous views of the mountains.
Also, the lawn ornaments are a hoot.
Some of them attempt to continue the nautical theme of the lighthouse.
Others may have evolved out of neighborly one-upmanship:
While across the street:
Oh, yeah? Well, I see your giant buck and raise you a golden eagle!
Fine, now I have TWO bucks!
Perhaps next year there will be a second eagle, though I’m kinda rooting for an orca. Gotta carry that nautical theme as far as you can, Cedar City.
Andy and I first came to Brian Head and stayed in Cedar City a few years ago. The hotels were fewer and less crowded. The ski schools at Brian Head’s Navajo Lodge did not have lines, let alone lines out the door.
This year, we noticed a lot more California license plates with ski racks on our drive.
Amidst the towering blond teens of Utah, our hotel has many Chinese, Chinese-American, Asian-American, and Indian-American guests.
Andy told me that Mandarin was almost as common as English in the café up at Brian Head. He identified the speakers as Chinese Nationals (possibly because they kept cutting in front of him and pissing him off).
Andy used to snowboard in northern Utah with his buddies. He wasn’t exactly thrilled with the lines or the expense. Once we discovered Brian Head, Andy never went north again. I think he’s a little miffed that our once “secret” ski place has gained popularity.
Despite the increase in skiers, Brian Head is still much, much less crowded than the California slopes or Park City. Since it’s also far cheaper, it remains Andy’s favorite place to snowboard.
As for me, well, I’d rather ski on icy slopes of New Hampshire and admire the Christmas card-like view of the trees and houses below. But New Hampshire is currently sixty degrees, rainy, and coping with an explosion of Christmas ticks.
This year, I’ll content myself with Cedar City and Brian Head.
They don’t suck.