“In case I forget to tell you later, I had a really good time,” said Julia Roberts to Richard Gere before jetting off to the opera in the movie, Pretty Woman, where she shed tears during La Traviata, got the guy and, unlike the tragic opera on which it was very loosely based, lived happily ever after. This movie was about nothing else and remains a classic, much like Pretty in Pink. Oh my, perhaps not.
This, however, is my opening line to my spouse when embarking on a new adventure or just a night out. It sets the mood – we’re going to have fun – and we certainly did on our recent jaunt to Southern Utah, a playground for an active, adventurous couple, which included biking and skiing and so much more. It was like a classic rom-com…with sand and snow and pizza.
With our mountain bikes and skis packed, we sped down for a quick romantic getaway. Heading to Southern Utah from Salt Lake City (or Las Vegas) is easy. A less than four-hour drive south (or two-hour drive north) flies by and on 70-to-80mph highways revs up the excitement. With no kids in tow (if you want a family-friendly itinerary, this is not it, but you can read one here), we checked into The Advenire, the posh boutique hotel in St. George, spread out on the large sofa sectional in our suite and, after booking our dinner reservation, scouted our afternoon options.
Local Tip: Wine buffs should stop at DABC Store #42 in Hurricane, Utah for occasional cult and bargain finds. It is behind the overgrown shrubbery and sign that warns of venomous snakes. No, I never joke about alcohol in Utah. We didn’t stumble across any snakes this trip, but we did find a bottle of 2014 Pahlmeyer for 40% off its national retail price. Again, not joking.
St. George and the surrounding area are home to some of Utah’s most famous mountain biking and hiking trails. They range from slickrock to red rock, beginner-friendly Secret Sauce Loop to the Zen Trail, which is described best as, “It's much like Gooseberry Mesa, if Gooseberry were tilted onto a slope.” The famed Gooseberry Mesa is an incredible, world-class trail but, be warned, this 11-mile loop will not only challenge the best athletes but the best relationships. Although it is easy to navigate one of the three main routes, unless you’re Danny MacAskill, expect to ‘hike-a-bike’ many sections (or almost all of the southern one). That said, with good skills or a better sense of adventure or humor, it still may be worth it for a few pictures of the 360-degree view at the pinnacle…or the nonsense you and your mate got into along the way.
Relationship tip: Take photos of the most ridiculous or frustrating parts of your journey. Those will always make you smile later, even years later.
After months of skiing at Northern Utah resorts (yes, it’s really rough living in Utah), we decided to wake up our legs and lungs from hibernation with a late afternoon ride on Barrel Roll. Located at the Cove Wash Trailhead in the nearby Santa Clara River Preserve, this six-mile intermediate loop with little elevation provided stunning views of red Navajo sandstone cliffs to the snow-capped Pine Valley mountains. A moderately technical trail (which translates to “you can see the rocks before you eat the rocks”) that moved from smooth singletrack to the occasional “there’s no way I’m riding that,” Barrel Roll provided the right mix of confidence-building and challenge and reminded us why we love this area so much.
Relationship Tip: Take photos of your other half looking awesome (photo editors and screen capturing apps are amazing, by the way) and, if you’re feeling “kind of rad,” don’t be afraid to say, “Hey, shoot some video of this.” I am not an expert biker or skier, but my hubby thinks I look pretty hot/cool on Instagram.
Back at the hotel, the “bike valet” gave our carbon steeds a complimentary bath while we leisurely enjoyed the rooftop hot tub and indoor claw-footed tub before heading downstairs to dinner. With the appearance and menu resembling a hip urban bistro, patrons of Wood Ash Rye were donning everything from large silver hoops to tight Ironman tees, but all were hungry and treated to an exceptional rotating seasonal menu. While enjoying its signature cocktail revealed tableside under a cloche of smoke with an actual campfire, we applied my “What am I least likely to make at home?” selection method. Starting with a strawberry and roasted tomato gazpacho and a fist-sized serving of artisan goat cheese accompanied by snap peas and seasoned puree topped with toasted sesame seeds, we, then, shared a plate of braised lamb korma with house-made hummus, topped with pine nuts, mint & scallion oil and served with fresh, wood-fired naan bread. All delicious!
The next day, we walked next door to Bear Paw Cafe for fresh roasted Costa Rican coffee, a fishbowl of oatmeal and more eggs, waffles and French toast than any two people could consume. “Darling, I need to work off these carbs,” I playfully drawled, and pointed on the map to our next ride.
Church Rocks is another intermediate mountain bike trail located just to the north of St. George in Hurricane (almost directly across the highway from DABC Store #42 in case you want to take another crack at the wines or the snakes). There are several ways to get to the trailhead, including the allegedly “haunted I-15 pipe,” but avoiding that Little Shop of Horrors, we chose to access Church Rocks from the more popular (and easier) Prospector Trail at the Cottonwood Trailhead for an 11-mile “lollipop” ride. Note: The directions to the trailhead sound nutty but will get you there…or eventually Yuma.
Prospector was an easy, mostly buff, rolling singletrack trail that ran parallel to I-15 heading south for about three miles to the entry of the Church Rocks Loop. From the trailhead, it provided stunning views of the Red Cliffs Desert Preserve before bending left across desert grasses, sandy washes and eventually slickrock slabs.
At the Church Rocks turnoff, we turned left (for a clockwise loop). Like water leaving a sea bed, the well-defined trail climbed revealing an undulating land of smooth sandstone that bikers flock to Utah to experience – slickrock. Understanding that the best parts of the trail were, actually, on the massive slabs right above our heads, hubby forgave me for five minutes of hike-a-bike at the beginning and end of the loop as we pushed our velocipedes up over ancient boulders and down around switchbacks that neither of us thought wise to ride.
Riding slickrock is like carving groomed corduroy. The knobbed tires grab like the sharpened edges of skis allowing you to bend, twist, topple and fly up, down, across and over. We rode this mile-long ribbon of sandstone without stopping until we were out of rock and out of breath, cheering ourselves audibly while onlookers below seemingly murmured, “I’ll have what she’s having!” Finishing Church Rocks in the early afternoon before it got too hot, we jumped into our packed car and drove up I-15 to Brian Head Resort just over an hour away.
There are few places where you can enjoy mountain biking (hiking, swimming, or a host of other activities) in 82-degree temperatures, drive less than 90 minutes, and ski powder from an 11,000ft summit.
Welcome to Brian Head Resort! With the highest altitude base of any resort in Utah (over 9600’ above sea level) and an average of 360” of snowfall annually, this resort perched between Zion and Bryce National Parks in Southern Utah is a snowy mountainous oasis rising above an otherwise balmy desert.
We checked into the Best Western Premier Brian Head, an upscale, lodge-themed property with an indoor pool, indoor and outdoor hot tubs and numerous fireplaces, nestled among bristlecone pines under some of the Darkest Skies in the universe. Scouting the options for dining and other entertainment, we could have enjoyed another romantic meal in a nearby restaurant, but I had another idea.
Cedar Breaks National Monument is a geologic formation filled with fins, hoodoos and arches that form a crown in the region’s grand staircase. Although most of the monument is inaccessible during winter months, the sole open viewpoint is just four miles from Brian Head up Highway 143, and there, I announced, we would dine that evening. My husband looked at me for a moment, puzzled and then, realizing I was serious (I don't joke about food either), played along knowing that I kind of have a knack for adventure, culinary and otherwise.
Pizzano’s Pizzeria is at the base of the Grand Steps Lodge at the resort. Calling ahead, we picked up our Chicken Parmesan pie and drove up the route to where it turns onto the Scenic Park Road (Highway 148, which is typically closed through May), parked along the side of the deserted pavement and walked through a mixture of late-spring snow and slush to the North View Overlook.
Although I packed a Pendleton blanket and even wine glasses, at 10,435’ in springtime, I should have remembered to bring a parka and snowshoes or, at least, boots. The area wasn’t plowed and, as the sun was setting, the temperatures dropped rapidly. But, honey, that’s part of the adventure, right? We made our way, stretching from snowprint to snowprint, staying mostly dry, to the stone patio perched above the most scenic natural amphitheater on the planet.
Paired with one of the wines we picked up in Hurricane, it may have been the most romantic, most beautiful, most delicious pizza dinner on Earth.
And, of course, we followed it up with a nightcap by the fire back at the hotel before calling it a night.
Yes, we did ski. With so much excitement and a surprising amount of rest, we left every bit of energy and emotion on the mountain on our final day.
Brian Head is a resort like no other in Utah. Comprised of two mountains connected by a ski bridge spanning Highway 143, it provides guests with two unique experiences. Navajo Peak caters to families and novice skiers and snowboarders. Made up entirely of beginner and intermediate runs, this is the perfect terrain to learn, practice and, if you want to just take pictures and avoid arguments with your partner, enjoy a few fun runs.
Pro Tip: Never let your partner or spouse teach you to ski! Take a lesson. It’s cheaper than therapy.
We were still riding an adrenaline high from our blockbuster activities and chose to tackle the more-challenging terrain off Brian Head Peak. At over 11,000 feet, these are some of Utah’s highest elevation runs. They are also some of the most scenic. We did multiple laps off The Dunes Lift aka #7 (Brian Head’s lifts have both names and numbers) on Wild Ride and Hard Times, which were not only empty on a weekday but provided breathtaking views of the Cedar Breaks hoodoos we dined at the night before.
Cutting over to Roulette aka #5 Lift, we flew down the Out Skirts and over Last Chance with as much joy and excitement (but a lot more speed) as the slickrock the day before. Unlike the rest of the trip, here, we didn’t have any plans. We took any lift, any run. We skied hot laps for hours until our legs were dead, our story was done and the credits rolled.
A wonderful, romantic getaway with a happy ending.
Life is not a rom-com, but the best romantic holidays feel like one: full of adventure, some things planned, others spontaneous, some things well-executed, others well-intended. A great location – with skiing and biking and so much more – helps too. Don’t shoot for Oscar-worthy performances, just smiles and laughs and occasional displays of hopeless romanticism and optimism. Perhaps announce, in advance, that you had a good time and, then, enjoy every moment.