Brian Head Resort opening weekend brings fun-filled adventures

BRIAN HEAD – Hundreds of adrenaline junkies from all around stood in overflowing lines for gear rentals, lesson sign-ups and chair lift rides to the top of the mountain at Brian Head Resort with ear-to-ear smiles while preparing to hit the snow.

Skiers and boarders ride the lift to the top of the summit, Brian Head Resort, Brian Head, Utah, Nov. 21, 205 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News
Skiers and snowboarders ride the lift to the top of the summit, Brian Head Resort, Brian Head, Utah, Nov. 21, 2015 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News

Snowboarders and skiers, clad head-to-toe in snowsuits, jackets, hats, gloves and ski masks, flocked to Brian Head Saturday to help kick off the 2015-2016 season at Giant Steps Lodge with family and friends.

Two of eight chair lifts were operating at the resort Saturday to accommodate the opening weekend crowd.

Giant Steps Express lift – which climbs a formidable 10,970 feet – carried skiers and snowboarders into a clear blue sky to the mountain summit, offering those with more advanced or adventurous spirits a challenge, while the Blackfoot lift carried people to an easier terrain suitable for the less experienced.

The 12-mile climb on the Giant Steps Express yields an exhilarating view of the many mountains and valleys across the horizon that stretches as far as the eye can see, including the red rocks of the Cedar Breaks National Monument.

Visitors mingle on the deck of the Brian Head Resort, Brian Head, Utah, Nov. 21, 205 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News
Visitors mingle on the deck of the Brian Head Resort, Brian Head, Utah, Nov. 21, 205 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News

Back on the ground, the crisp, cold snow contrasted with the heat of the midday sun against the faces of rosy-cheeked visitors.

Echoes of music reverberated across the mountainside, setting the mood for the Opening Day Rail Jam Competition, as spectators gathered on the patio around two massive fire pits, watching 12 local yokels take on the course created by Terrain Park Manager Michael Dennett and his team the night before.

Men, women and teenagers competed in the Rail Jam to win Brian Head gear and assorted prizes in five major categories: 15 and under, 16 and up, women, ski men and open.

A lot went into the preparation for the weekend’s opening, Brian Head Resort President John Grissinger said.

, Brian Head Resort, Brian Head, Utah, Nov. 21, 205 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News
Snowmaking gun, Brian Head Resort, Brian Head, Utah, Nov. 21, 2015 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News

“There are around 400 employees who come together and make things happen,” he said waving his hand through the room pointing out all of the workers running around taking care of customers. “They are the backbone of this place – I’ll tell you, nothing would happen if they weren’t working out here so much to make it happen.”

While nature lent a strong hand in putting snow on the mountain this fall, crews have also been working night and day since Nov. 2 making snow to cover the mountain, said Kris Brown, the resort’s grooming and snowmaking supervisor.

Over 7.5 miles of underground pipes deliver pressurized water into a snowmaking gun at a rate of 2,600 gallons per minute, Grissinger said. Well water fills a million-gallon tank that feeds into a snowmaking pond, he said, and from there it is pumped throughout the resort and blasted through the guns onto the terrain where it awaits grooming.

The giant piles of snow left on the ground by the guns are called “whales.” Whales sit on the terrain until the water has drained from them enough to spread across the surface of the snow using a snow cat, an industrial vehicle that plows and grates while mulching the snow beneath it to create the smoothest possible surface.

A snow cat grooms the snow preparing trails at the Navajo Lodge for opening day on Nov. 27, Brian Head Resort, Brian Head, Utah, Nov. 21, 205 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News
A snow cat grooms the snow preparing trails at the Navajo Lodge for opening day, Brian Head Resort, Brian Head, Utah, Nov. 21, 2015 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News

The hard work and effort paid off. Chicago native and Las Vegas transplant Cody Kastel said the mountain trails were more than he could have anticipated coming from a place where the slopes are mere hills in comparison.

“It’s pretty cool actually,” Kastel said. “I’ve never been on a park setting before, I’ve only been just snowboarding down regular (mountains) – they’re basically just glorified hills back in Chicago, so it was pretty cool to be able to do real jumps.”

If the Saturday crowd was any indicator of opening weekend success, Digital Marketing Director Pratt Redd said, this year’s kickoff was looking to become one of the most successful season openers in the past four years.

Cruising dawn the mountain with so many ways to go, Brian Head Resort, Brian Head, Utah, Nov. 21, 205 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News
Cruising down the mountain with many ways to go, Brian Head Resort, Brian Head, Utah, Nov. 21, 2015 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News

Though weather and economy have played a role in the fluctuation of seasons past, Grissinger said, even last year’s numbers were high in comparison to other resorts across the nation.

Redd and Grissinger agreed that there have been a number of contributors to the recent upcurve in visits to Brian Head resort recently, but the foremost attraction is the way that everyone is welcomed like family.

“(It’s) the ‘family effect’ … like you were told (by Grissinger) a little bit earlier,” Redd said. “You learn to ski here and then you bring your kids back each year to keep the tradition going.”

Opening Day Rail Jam Competition Winners

  • 15 and under
    • 1st place | Tommy Olivas
  • Opening Day Rail Jame Open Category winners, Brian Head Resort, Brian Head, Utah, Nov. 21, 205 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News
    Opening Day Rail Jam open category winners, Brian Head Resort, Brian Head, Utah, Nov. 21, 2015 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News

    16 and up

    • 1st place | Blake Leavitt
    • 2nd place | Walter Halterman
    • 3rd place | Casey Gray
  • Women
    • 1st place | Renee Shimada
    • 2nd place | Corrin Mendall
  • Ski men
    • 1st place | Carson Halterman
    • 2nd place Walter Halterman
    • 3rd place | Casey Gray
  • Open
    • 1st place | Pat Fava
    • 2nd place | Joey Fava
    • 3rd place | Curtis Mortenson

Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.

Email: cmiller@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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