Welcome to Brian Head, Utah’s premiere ski and summer resort. Located at an elevation of 9,800 feet above sea level, our community is the highest elevation town in Utah, and the second highest in the United States.
Here at Brian Head, we offer year-round entertainment and activities, with downhill and cross-country skiing and snowmobiling in the winter, and mountain biking, hiking, and ATV riding during the summer. Our mountain peaks at an astounding 11,307 feet at Brian Head Peak, offering spectacular views stretching more than 100 miles in all directions.
The origin of Brian Head’s unique name is a bit of a mystery. The highest peak of the Markagunt Plateau was originally known as Monument Peak because of its use by early surveying expeditions as a point of reference. Its name was changed at the turn of the 20th century. Some claim that the famous explorer John Wesley Powell named the peak for an official in the Geological Survey Office by then ame of Bryan. Others say that the peak was named for the famous politician William Jennings Bryan. Still others say the wife of a United States government official lobbied for the name change. In any case, the spelling soon changed, and Brian Head became the accepted name for the peak of 11,307 feet. Native American inhabitants used the lands surrounding the peak for hunting and gathering during the summer and fall seasons. Early settlers established small ranching operations on homesteads in the highmountain meadows atop the plateau. These summertime operations produced thousands of pounds of cheese and butter that were shipped to the booming mining towns of Silver Reef, Pioche and Frisco. This was an important source of cash for the settlers of Parowan and Panguitch.
These highmountain homesteads became known as“Little Ireland”due to the relatively lush vegetation atop the plateau. Charles Adams, an enterprising young man from Parowan, built a large lodge in what is now Cedar Breaks National Monument in 1921 to entertain visitors and rent rooms. The business quickly became the focus of entertainment for residents and visitors alike. Charles Adams’ daughter Minnie helped run dance hall operations. Local sheep herders dubbed the place “Minnie’s Mansion.” The business lasted only five years due to the short season and structural damage from heavy snows, but has become legendary as the beginning of the hospitality industry at Brian Head.
Brian Head is also traversed by the Old Sorrel Trail, the route used to haul timber to Cedar City for the first structure on thecampus of what would become Southern Utah University. On January 5, 1898, agroup of men, the first of a long line of townsmen to face the bitter winter weather of the mountains, left Cedar City. Their task was to cut logs necessary to supply the woodf or the new building. They waded through snow that often was shoulder deep, pushing and tramping their way up the mountains,sleeping in holes scraped out of the snow and covered with mattresses of hay. It took them four days just to reach the saw mills, located near the present day ski resort, Brian Head. Once they got there they realized they had to go back to Cedar City again. The wagons they brought with them could not carry logs through the heavy snows, and it was determined that sleighs were needed to do the task. The way back was just as arduous as the tripup. The snow had obliterated the trail they had originally blazed and the snow was even deeper. The wagons could not make it and were abandoned at a clearing. It was in this phase of their march that an old sorrel horse proved so valuable. Placed out at the front of the party, the horse, strong and quiet, would walk steadily into the drifts, pushing and straining against the snow, throwing himself into the drifts again and again until they gave way. Then he would pause for a rest, sitting down on his haunches the way a dog does,heave a big sigh, then get up and start allover again. “Old Sorrel” was credited with being the savior of the expedition.
In 1964 Burton Nichols built a ski resort near Brian Head Peak. It included a T-bar,chairlift, and warming hut. In the 1970s the resort was expanded to include two lift areas,and in March 1975 the resort became an incorporated community. Recreation is the base of Brian Head’s economy, and includes skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling in the winter and spring, and backpacking,mountain biking, and hiking in the summer and fall. According to the Five County Association of Governments, Brian Head’s population in 2005 was approximately 125.
The town also hosts a seasonal transient guest population of about 5,000. Immediately after incorporation Brian Head municipal government became highly involved in providing public services and promoting development. The town maintains signs advertising the resort and sponsors booths at ski shows to promote tourism in southern Utah. Town officials also work closely with Brian Head Enterprises in sponsoring recreational events and activities. Town plans include roads, hiking trails,snowmobile and ATV trails, as well as the development of snow making capabilities. The community’s overall objective is to “refine the overall pattern of land uses, such that the resulting town form takes advantage of Brian Head’s unique setting, creates an attractive and livable community, preserves and enhances the alpine recreation experience and allows Brian Head to compete successfully within the regional resort marketplace.”