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Plan ahead for skiing, boarding at Shasta

Planning on downhill skiing or snowboarding at the Mount Shasta Ski Park?

If it’s a weekend, especially a Saturday, be prepared. Last Saturday, several factors combined to create never-seen-before backlogs when the seven-acre parking lot, which can accommodate about 1,000 vehicles, was completely filled. As a result, later-arriving skiers and riders had to wait in their cars at a checkpoint until parking spaces were opened up by people leaving. The lines became so long that other would-be skiers and riders were turned away.

“We’re imagining we could run into the same situation this weekend,” said Delaney Adrian, Shasta’s communications director, calling the parking dilemma “unprecedented.” She said ski park managers have been meeting to devise ways to avoid a repeat of Saturday’s traffic backlog by “trying to devise a better traffic flow. We take this very seriously.”

Ski Shasta wasn’t the only area impacted. Parking was difficult to find at other downhill ski/snowboard areas, including Willamette Pass Ski Area, and at popular parking areas used by cross-country skiers and snowboarders, including the Pederson Sno-park on Dead Indian Memorial Road between Klamath Falls and Ashland.

Crowds have been more manageable at the Mt. Ashland Ski Area even though the mountain shuttle is not operating this season.

“We are seeing crowds but manageable,” said Hiram Towle, Mt. Ashland’s general manager. “We have been limiting our day ticket sales, as they are all online now. The nice thing about Mt. Ashland is that even when the parking lot is full, we are not crowded out on the slopes.”

Along with increasing numbers of downhill skiers and boarders, other forms of winter recreation are experiences surges in visitors, especially on weekends. At Pederson, for example, last Saturday some vehicles were parked one behind another. Popular trails, including the Pacific Crest Trail, which goes north and south from Pederson and is among several trails accessed from the parking area, were filled with cross-country skiers and snowshoers.

But the lines of traffic waiting to gain and eventually denied entry to Mt. Shasta were unexpected and caused ski area officials to improvise.

“It became a problem quicker than we anticipated,” said Adrian, adding that many people want to be outside because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Mandated closures and/or limits on the number of skiers and snowboarders at Lake Tahoe region ski areas have also spurred people to search out other areas, including Shasta.

“Now they’ve discovered we exist,” she said. “We’re a small, family-owned resort, so we were not prepared for that. This is a local’s hub that is not known for having lines.”

The usual easy entry changed last Saturday. “We had a lot of upset people. We’re reaching out to them,” Adrian said, noting people who were turned away may be offered refunds or passes for free ski days.

At Shasta, as at other ski areas, problems are being compounded by difficulties in hiring staff. Adrian said the ski park is always seeking employees — “We’re always hiring” — for such jobs as chairlift operators (who are also charged with making sure people are wearing masks — “They’ve become the mask police”), ski and snowboard instructors, rental technicians, cashiers and janitorial staff. (For job information, see www.skipark.com/employment.) Finding workers, something that’s always a problem because of the ski area’s remoteness from cities with large populations, has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Adrian said the increased visitation is a “double-edged sword,” noting Shasta managers are eager and delighted to see more people skiing and riding while also being challenged by the higher-than-expected demand.

Last weekend, Shasta staff erected barriers on the road into the ski park. If the parking lot was full, people were required to wait until others left the parking area. People headed to the Mt. Shasta Nordic Center or other areas to snowmobile were permitted to continue, but a second checkpoint was established to ensure that people were not skipping the line.

“Weekdays are the best days to come. We want to get people out here,” Adrian said, noting lifts operate from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays, and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays.

For more information on the Mt. Shasta Ski Park, see www.skipark.com or call 530-926-8610. For information on Mt. Ashland Ski Area, see www.mtashland.com or call 541-482-2897.

Luckily, it was a weekday when Mike Reeder and I skied at the Mt. Shasta Ski Park. Unluckily, on Mike’s second run he was clobbered in the back by an out-of-control snowboarder. After becoming dazed and disoriented, he drank a cup of coffee, ate a snack and regained a sense of clarity, which allowed me to get in a few runs before cutting our day short and returning home. Mike has mostly recovered — back pains experienced that day have eased, as have his neck aches.

Because it was a weekday, lines at all three of Shasta’s chairlifts — Douglas, Coyote and Marmot — were mostly nonexistent. Despite this winter’s meager snowfall, most trails had adequate snow, although some were marginal because of a combination of heavy use and sun exposure.

Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.

A snowboarder begins his descent down the Diamond Back Trail off the Coyote chairlift at the Mount Shasta Ski Park. Photo by Lee Juillerat