There’s a familiar grating sound ski and snowboard edges make as they cut into early season snow. The surface—typically a mixture of manmade flakes and what’s charitably referred to as “frozen granular”—may not be the Greatest Snow on Earth splashed across the pages of magazines expounding on the virtues of Utah skiing, but there’s an undeniable joy to those first few days on the mountain, when clicking into your bindings feels like the unlikely realization of some distant shoulder season fantasy.
To put it more directly, everyone knows a mediocre day skiing is better than a great day at work. The conditions won’t always be epic, but the early days of the season are a great opportunity to experience a different side of mountain culture. The lift lines are nonexistent, the hotel ski-and-stay deals are radically antithetical to skyrocketing costs, and the pace of everything is just a bit more leisurely. It’s the perfect time for a ski road trip through the Utah mountains that doesn’t involve obsessively researching weather models or selling a prized internal organ. Load up the car and get ready to shred.
Stop #1: Ski Brighton, Stay at Silver Fork Lodge
Brighton is the first resort to open in Utah each year—both Brighton and Solitude welcome skiers on Nov. 23—so, naturally, it’s the perfect place to kick off an early season ski trip. While many other mountains play the waiting game ramping up to the lucrative holiday season, Brighton cranks the snow guns to 11 and gets the lifts spinning as soon as possible.
New for this winter, Brighton is offering the Early Pass for maximum shreddage during those early days. For just $249, pass holders get unlimited skiing and riding from opening day through Dec. 23. That’s about the same cost as two individual day tickets, a pretty unbeatable bargain, with the option to upgrade and apply the cost to any other season pass—midweek, night or full.
Spend the night in Big Cottonwood Canyon just down the road from Brighton at Silver Fork Lodge. It has a charmingly rustic character, a fantastic restaurant and affordable rates outside of peak season.
Pit Stop 1: Hog Wallow Pub
It’ll only take about 40 minutes to drive down S.R. 190 and up S.R. 210 to get to the top of adjacent Little Cottonwood Canyon, but it’s worth a quick stop at the Hog Wallow Pub for some smoked wings and a brisket sandwich with a pint to wash it down. The seminal après joint has a great atmosphere and hosts live music most evenings.
Stop #2: Ski at Snowbird, Stay at the Cliff Lodge
After scratching the early season itch at Brighton, seek out gnarly turns by day and luxurious digs by night. Snowbird is renowned for its steep terrain and copious snowfall, and it’s frequently home to an early-season powder bounty that leaves other resorts envious. The Aerial Tram whisks riders up to 11,000 feet where the temps are cooler and the snowpack is deeper than at lower elevations.
Skip the pre- and post-ski canyon rush with Early Bird Stay and Ski specials, packaging lodging with lift tickets at affordable rates you won’t find during the rest of the season. Each booking includes one lift ticket per adult for each night of the stay and children under 12 ski for free. Myriad accommodation options can be booked online, including the Lodge, The Inn, or my personal favorite, The Cliff. The iconic Cliff Lodge is a mere ski boot’s throw from the Tram and has a pretty delightful spa and pool for some decadent après.
Pit Stop 2: Centro Woodfired Pizzeria
Up next is a nearly four-hour drive down I-15 to Brian Head, but head past your turn in Parowan for just a few miles for a bite at Centro Woodfired Pizzeria in Cedar City. The pies are in the running for the best in the Beehive State—I’m partial to the Dolce Diavola with whipped ricotta and a honey drizzle—making the extra minutes in the car well worth the effort.
Stop #3: Ski Brian Head, Stay at Best Western Brian Head Resort and Spa
It seems like just yesterday people were heading towards the desert for shoulder season shenanigans, and now it’s time to point the compass south again in search of snow. Topping out at 10,920 feet, Brian Head has high alpine terrain that’s heaven for anxious powder hounds. The resort makes an effort to open before Thanksgiving each year—they are currently anticipating a Nov. 24 opening—providing a surreal early-season setting to arc turns down groomers and dive into cold smoke while overlooking the red rock landscape of Cedar Breaks.
New for the winter, the resort is managing the Best Western Premier Brian Head Resort and Spa just a half mile from the Navajo Lodge base area. It’s the first lodge the resort has overseen and has really easy access to uncrowded slopes. Early season lift ticket specials are available on the Brian Head website. The earlier you buy the better the deal you’ll find, so plan your trip early.