Heading south for snow just doesn't seem right. Snow goes north, the sun south, in the winter. No one goes north for a tan, or south for icicles, and yet . . .
Across the southern border of Utah County, what many may consider the absolute end to good snow, is a cache of white flakes as fine and light as any made for the state.And a package of skiing opportunities as intriguing as any offered.
It goes with the basic belief that anything worth doing must be followed by something equally entertaining. Variety, otherwise.
Like skiing at Elk Meadows, a quaint little resort as close to "down-home" as a resort can get. Messages to guests are passed on a first-name basis, a line is two skiers and the hill is surprisingly challenging.
A short distance away is Ruby's Inn, gateway to Bryce Canyon, and cross-country skiing that leads to a panorama of some of the best artwork nature has yet produced.
And over the mountain is Brian Head, a big-time resort in a country setting . . . hotels with hot tubs and room service, and a country store complete with a sleeping dog and a consensus on who makes the best jams in the county.
Together they share a common bond - snow - and yet each has its own personality. The three areas, all offering skiing, all connected by plowed and maintained highways, and all, as yet, relatively undiscovered by northerners, offer independent experiences or, for something different, a joint adventure.
Ruby's Inn, a few miles from the gateway to Bryce Canyon National Park, has, in recent years, swung wide open the doors to winter visitors. A popular stop in the summer, it has only recently been discovered by nordic skiers, snowmobilers and winter visitors who are coming to the park to find the white accent on the red-rock formations gives a more subtle look to a striking landscape of reaching spires and sheer cliffs.
The nordic center at Ruby's grooms 15 kilometers of track that is 12 feet wide and features both parallel groves and skating area, says Jean Seiler, marketing director for the inn. Inside the park there are another 15 kilometers of track. Between the two areas, on and off the track, there is enough cross-country skiing to involve a skier for life.
Because roads into the park are kept plowed during the winter for vehicle and foot traffic, snowmobiling is not allowed. But away from the inn there is access to 2 million acres of forested plateau riding.
Park rangers offer use of snowshoes to visitors from the visitors' center at no charge.
Brian Head, 30 miles west as a plane flies and about double by highway, has for 26 years been a center for winter activity in southern Utah. It is best known for downhill skiing but is capable of offering both cross-country skiing and snowmobiling.There are 34 kilometers of groomed and patrolled track open in the winter, ranging from Cedar Breaks National Monument on the south to Panguitch Lake northeast of the resort.
With seven lifts and 40 trails, and the 11,000-foot Brian Head Peak in the background, the area offers all of the services a ski area is supposed to, notes ReneMeyer, including lessons and race course and groomed-flat runs, but in a small-community setting. There are no supermarkets, not even a stop light. The closest thing to city life is the town fire truck.
And 50 yards from any doorway at Brian Head is the heart of a forest.
An hour's drive north is Elk Meadows, formerly Elk Meadows/Mount Holly, and before that Mount Holly.
Located 18 miles east of Beaver, the area is probably Utah's least known ski area.
The fact that it does get so few Utah visitors makes it a new experience for most skiers. The area has three lifts, one of only two Poma lifts and the state's only T-bar.
The terrain, however, is pleasantly satisfying. The lower slopes are challenging, the upper runs ideal for children and new skiers. The area has dated itself by naming its 30 runs after popular rock-and-roll songs of the '60s, such as "Route 66" and the Rolling Stones' song, "Satisfaction."
New owner Wayne Yuen says that before long there will be new development at the area . . . "More intermediate terrain, a central village, new runs and more lifts."
Surprising to many who live and work at these areas is how few northerners do, in fact, venture south for snow considering any one of the areas can be reached in about four hours from Salt Lake City, or all three within about six hours driving time.
Nevadans and Californians are, for now, the main recipients of Utah's good southern snow.