Riding Brian Head

Kenny Jones enjoying the ripping downhill. Photo: Lukas Brinkerhoff.
Kenny Jones enjoying the ripping downhill. Photo: Lukas Brinkerhoff.

By Lukas Brinkerhoff

Riding the lift at Brian Head. Photo: Lukas Brinkerhoff.
Riding the lift at Brian Head. Photo: Lukas Brinkerhoff.

I consider myself a bit of a connoisseur when it comes to porches. This is mostly because they happen to be the best places to sit and relax with a recovery drink after a long day in the saddle. In fact, my porch is the one reason I was talked into buying a home a few years ago. It is the number one most frequented “room” of our house and is the gathering place for the Mooseknuckler Alliance. My wife and I always notice a good porch and even fantasize about purchasing different houses strictly for what they offer in outside seating areas. Unfortunately, a good porch is hard to come by these days.

To be honest, porches were the last thing on our mind. We came to get our gnar on.

During the heat of the summer, us Southern Utahans are forced to ride at the very earliest hour possible which explains the zombie like stares of most cyclists in St. George. The alternative to losing sleep is heading to higher elevation. The obvious choice for us is the hour and a half drive to Brian Head and the trails that surround it. Leaving 100+ degree weather and cactus for 75 degrees and Quakies will refresh any wary desert traveler.

The downside of this journey to higher elevation is that you are at higher elevation. Living at 2500 feet and trying to ride at 10,000 feet is difficult. There are plenty of cross country options for those who have the lung capacity of a Sherpa. I do not have that lung capacity and due to a recent introduction to the effects of HAPE, I was not looking for a sufferfest. So we started at the Brian Head Resort for some gravity assisted riding, also known as getting our gnar on.

The resort is in the process of rebuilding its mountain bike park. We were ok with that as there was pretty much no one else on the mountain. We rode the lift to the top, rode the trail down and got back on the lift. No waiting in line, no dodging other riders, just us and some smooth mountain singletrack. The downside to this rebuilding is the fact that the original lift is closed. This means that the price of entry, $29, gets you access to three runs. Luckily, those three runs are all new and the antithesis of what the older trails were. They are smooth, flowy and aren’t too big or fast for beginners. The original lift will be open again next year and will be equipped with a new high speed lift.

Stopping to take in the views of the Cedar Breaks National Monument from Blow Hard. Photo: Lukas
Stopping to take in the views of the Cedar Breaks National Monument from Blow Hard. Photo: Lukas

We rode the lifts until our stomachs were in need of sustenance and nothing says recovery food like beer and pizza. Next to Giant Steps is a small pizza place known as Pizanos. We’ve been frequenting this place for years. The pizza is great and the recovery drinks available are top notch. And then there’s the porch. The summer sun can bake you when it is at full height, but simply stepping into some shade will turn the heat down to a nice 70ish degrees. Getting some awesome pizza and enjoying it at a perfect temperature whilst under a good porch, that’s pretty much the perfect end to a ride.

For us this was just the intermission of a great day of riding. Once the pizza and beer settled we loaded the bikes back up and headed out for our first shuttle run. The great thing about Brian Head is that there is lift assisted riding and then there’s all the other stuff outside of the resort. Our choice for the day was the Blow Hard trail. For those unfamiliar with the Hard that Blows, it starts at 10,000+ feet and drops over 3,000 into Cedar Canyon. It does this just at the edge of the Cedar Breaks National Monument. This means you get to try and keep the rubber side down on some steep singletrack while also attempting to take in the views as they blur past.

I recommend stopping frequently.

Blow Hard feels like three trails in one. The top section is a steep, loose downhill that switchbacks on the edge of the Monument. You will need to stay on top of your handling to negotiate the corners. This drops you into the middle section that is wide open downhill with a few short punchy climbs that feel like they will last forever (don’t forget you’re still at elevation). The trail then ends on a section of smooth switchbacks and open space as it drops you down into the canyon. If you do this quick enough, you will need to pop your ears a few times due to the drop in elevation.

We hit the canyon floor with big eyes and wide smiles. It wasn’t the typical outing for us, but the stoke was high. Kenny Jones and Heather Gilbert were accompanying us on this journey. They were unaware of the existence of this trail and had nothing but good words to say about the journey. We were all pretty sure it had been a good day and anything good on top of the riding we had enjoyed would just be a bonus that we probably didn’t deserve.

The Grand Lodge has the best porch in Brian Head. Photo: Lukas
The Grand Lodge has the best porch in Brian Head. Photo: Lukas

And then there was the porch. It was tucked away in the trees. We had no idea it existed, but were happy once it was revealed to us. There was a fire raging in two different pits that were bordered by a brick and rock bar. Chairs were conveniently placed around each of the pits. We found our way to the far side and sat our tired bones down. The air temperature was perfect, just chilly enough to make you want to feel the warmth of the fire but not cold enough to really need it. Moments after we relaxed into our seats, a server arrived by our side and then promptly brought us our recovery drinks.

It was everything you could ask for in a porch.

Brian Head Travel Information

From I-15 take the Parowan Exit 75. Follow Utah 143 to the Resort.

The lifts are open Friday through Sunday till the end of August. Through September they will be open Saturday and Sunday. Lifts open at 10 AM. If you are looking to rent a bike or need supplies, the bike shops open at 9:30. Lift tickets are $29. For more information go to brianhead.com/summer/mountain-info/

After you get done shredding the gnar, the pizza and beer at Pizanos Pizza next to the Giant Steps Lift is the place to be. The staff is friendly and the pizza is fresh. Whatever the current sporting event is, it will be playing on the tvs. For more information, visit: pizanospizzeria.com

The Grand Lodge not only has the best porch in all of Brian Head Village, but is a top notch place to stay. I always know things are going to be ok when I’m told it’s ok to store my bike in the room. The rooms are clean, comfy and provide great views into the forest. Both restaurants provided us with top notch service and delicious food. For more information, visit: grandlodgeatbrianhead.com.

Lukas Brinkerhoff blogs about mountain biking and life at mooseknuckleralliance.org.

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