Posted by: Jerry Garrett | September 28, 2011

Life At 11,000 Feet: Four Seasons in Brian Head, Utah

Brian Head, Utah - December 2010 - Before the snow got deep!


It’s been nearly a year since the population of Brian Head (est. 129) expanded by two people. That’s a fairly significant influx of newbies, percentage-wise.

It’s hard to get accurate facts and figures about this place. Like the weather. One night last winter it got down to minus 23 degrees. But the only one in town who could verify that was the lady who runs our tiny post office.

The power went out that night – I can verify that. It took until the next afternoon to get it back. But that was better than the folks at Duck Creek, which is about 10 miles away, as the crows fly; their power was out for more than nine days. My truck wouldn’t start until I was able to run a blow-dryer on certain engine components for an hour.

Balmy spring weather

There are challenges in living in Brian Head. First, it’s either the highest or second highest year-round inhabited city in the United States (depending on whose house you are doing the measuring at). The elevation atop the town’s eponymous peak, Brian Head, is 11,004 feet. The local ski lift goes nearly that high. My altimeter app says its only 9,870 at the cabin, however. Either way, climbing stairs from the basement to the loft, we used to gasp for air. Now we’re used to it.

The locals say it doesn’t snow all that much up here, but last year was apparently an exception. It snowed either 3,000 percent of normal or 3,000 inches. I’m not sure which. But I’m pretty sure I shoveled about 3,000 inches’ worth. An excellent Christmas gift this year would be a snow blower.

It didn’t stop snowing here until June 19 – Father’s Day! (The ski resort, however, closed on Easter – which was a blown financial opportunity for them. Eight feet of pristine powder fell, unused.)

Summertime lawn mower in Brian Head

When the snow did stop, it took until well into July to melt. So our spring got a rather late start. But once the glacier receded (just kidding) we started seeing deer herds wandering back into town from the lower elevations.

About six weeks later, we started feeling the first cold winds of fall. Fortunately, the turning of the aspens held off until late September.

So far, we’d probably pick fall as our favorite time of year. Brian Head Town sits in a protected bowl, full of acre after acre of aspens. In addition to the bright yellow kind, we’ve also got a lot of those rare apricot-colored ones. Almost every day, there’s something extraordinary to photograph.

Wait until ALL the aspens turn color.

Our favorite pastime is probably star-gazing. The sky is so filled with stars, it seems milky (Oh, is that the Milky Way?) or cloudy. So many stars, the constellations get lost.

The air is so clear up here, and there are so few lights, this is probably one of the ten best places in the country to watch meteor showers. We’ve seen a bunch. Even on nights with no meteors, there are always airplanes, satellites and the occasional space ship full of aliens headed over toward Nevada or down to New Mexico.

Life at 11,000 feet is educational. The tap water, always about 38 degrees, is more pure than Evian. Air pollution doesn’t seem to rise this high. The altitude makes pancakes puff up as thick as biscuits. Fires are hard to light, because there is so little oxygen. One bottle of beer packs the wallop of two.

Fall in Brian Head

Right now the town is in another one of its “quiet” periods. This one is following the summer mountain bike season, and the return of kids to school. Another quiet time is after the ski lifts shut down. Most of the locals – all ten dozen of them – leave town for a month. The convenience store, pizzeria and real estate office all close.

Even our cabin’s ghost seems to take a few weeks off, to fly off to Florida or Vegas or somewhere.

The lady at the post office has to hang around, although she only works 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The fire station is always manned. Other that than, you can go days without seeing a soul. We have no school, no churches, and no police force. We don’t need them; there’s no crime.

It gets so quiet you can hear the person next to you think. Hmmm. She’s thinking, “What has he got me into here?”

Interesting place. Reminds me a little of that old “Northern Exposure” TV show. Only a lot smaller cast of characters.

Jerry Garrett

September 28, 2011


  1. Hello! My name is Nick, my father has a piece of land somewhere really really close to Brian head. ( been there once about 4 years ago…) this is a very nice piece about Brian Head. I am looking to move there and build a cabin, and actually live full time. Any information on weather, (do you get snowed in) , why do The locals leave for a month or so, about how much food do you store up . Anything would help!!


    Nick Nasse Jr

    • We just got 26 inches of new snow last night! So we were snowed in this morning. The snow plows come around pretty quickly though. The locals leave during “shoulder” seasons – the spring, for sure, and some times in late fall (after the aspens turn). The rest of the time, you can easily get to either of the small stores in town for supplies (one houses the post office too). The new owner of the ski resort has really made the town better in every way – there’s even a lake stocked with fish, in the center of town now!

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