Of Powder and Mt. Shasta

Where to start with all this snow? All I can say is Pow Wow! If you make Tahoe home because you love to slide on steep, snowy surfaces, then you’re probably thinking that you have died and gone to heaven. If not, with all this shoveling you might think that your bad behavior has landed you in hell.

As I write this, it 28 degrees outside, the wind is gusting up to 30 miles per hour and stellar flakes are piling up on my back porch. This scene makes it hard to remember how this whole storm cycle started. And that is probably a good thing.

However, if you will recall, early last week Tahoe was getting nothing but rain. All of the streets in town had turned into a sloppy-wet snow swap. The resorts – except for Kirkwood – had rain at their bases and most people in town had sour looks on their faces.

It was all quite depressing, and well, a general pain in the butt. As a result, I started looking around to see who was getting the better end of things as far as snow was concerned. The California/ Oregon border was near the center of the storm and the weather witchdoctors were conjuring up snow spirits and calling for them to unload their precipitous burdens on to the southern Cascade range. Mt. Shasta in particular, looked to receive a powerful whack by the ol’ weather stick.

By the time I talked over the plan with my brother, NOAA was calling for snow levels down to 2,000 feet south of Dunsmuir, with ridiculous amounts of accumulation up higher. We were both sold on the idea. But, on the morning of the 19th we woke up in Redding to wind and rain. To add insult to injury, the Mt. Shasta Ski Park was reporting only 3″ (that’s inches) of new snow overnight.

At that point we were feeling pretty discouraged as the resorts back in Tahoe were claiming larger amounts. Regardless, we figured that we better head up higher and have a look for ourselves. We were not disappointed. We had originally planned to ski in the backcountry, but the remarkable amounts of snow in the town of Mt. Shasta took that option right off the table. So, we capitulated to the inclement weather and headed to the resort instead.

Just to clarify, the town of Mt. Shasta sits at 3,543 feet just east of I-5, about 50 miles south of the Oregon border, on the flank of the volcanic peak of the same name. Having an impressive summit elevation of 14,179 feet, Shasta sweeps up from the Valley below in a progressively steepening rise of nearly 10,000 feet. Mt. Shasta’s massive proportions are estimated at 85 square miles of rock and ice, which makes it seem more like a mini mountain range than a single peak.

The resort, Mt. Shasta Ski Park, occupies a couple of the buttes directly to the south of the main summit. Topping out at 6,880 feet, Coyote Butte it the highest point in bounds. Although it’s fun and affordable (only $39 a day), the resort does not share in the majesty and grandeur of its parent peak. However, the amount of snow that fell on the resort the night before made up for any deficiencies in steepness and terrain.

The resort was totally buried with nearly 4′ (that’s feet) of fresh, yet there was barely any one there. When we got on the lift there were 3 or 4 empty chairs between us and the guy ahead. In fact, there were so few people riding that the lifties didn’t even bother putting up the lift-line ropes until noon – even then they just got in the way as you skied right up to the lift.

Coming from the Tahoe pow-hound scene, the lack of pressure for first tracks was surreal. When I got on the first chair, I called a buddy I knew was skiing Squaw to tell him about the conditions and the lack of a crowd. He was waiting to catch a chair on KT-22. He told me that they had “only” gotten about 20” and that there were probably over 1,000 people in line. We shared a laugh about the eager powder hounds in Tahoe and the people that were coming off the lift at Shasta only to get stuck, literally up to their necks, on their first run down the pole line.

It stormed all day, but visibility was good enough and the winds didn’t bite too hard. We skied non stop until 3 pm, when our legs just couldn’t take it any more. Driving back down the hill we both had smug looks on our face. I couldn’t help but feel like we had gotten away with something sly after having had the place nearly to ourselves on such a huge day.


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