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Good times on the mountain

Mt. Shasta Ski Park offers all that is good about skiing
Photo by Larry TurnerRob Crawford of Tulelake descends the slope with Mount Shasta in background.
Photo by Larry TurnerA snowboarder starts his run at Mt. Shasta Ski Park.

There are googolplex reasons people, me included, love to ski.

The obvious include the thrill of aiming the skis downhill, pushing off and, depending on the terrain, snow conditions and the individual’s level of confidence, aiming and zooming straight ahead or carving a series of smooth, controlled turns.

Of course, there’s also the quiet pleasure of being outside, especially on a sun-filled day.

But one of my most personal pleasures involved with skiing doesn’t actually involve skiing. It’s the time sitting, relaxing and savoring the scenery while riding a chairlift that effortlessly glides me to heights and sights featuring otherwise unattainable, looking-down views.

A recent day at the Mt. Shasta Ski Park provided that — and more. While I watched, the clouds sometimes played peek-a-boo, or peak-a-boo, with Mount Shasta, the bulging mountain that looms over the ski park. Sometimes, as the overhead clouds danced and rose just high enough to reveal shimmering flashes of sunlight that highlighted and glowed, exposing Shasta’s ragged, jagged terrain. Other times bluebird-clear skis revealed Shasta’s intimidating upper reach and its distant, towering summit.

Coyote reaches the ski park’s highest elevation, 6,880-feet. That’s still well below Shasta’s 14,180-foot summit. But it’s enough to provide sights of what’s below, a series of intermediate and expert runs that slice through often thick forests.

What was missing — although not really — were other skiers and snowboarders. A weekday on Shasta, and other ski areas, can also be a day of relative solitude. The slopes were virtually uninhabited, parking was plentiful and lift lines nearly nonexistent. Ah, the joys of a flexible schedule.

Weekends usually mean an outpouring of skiers and snowboarders, a natural phenomenon that results from most people working 8-to-5 weekdays. Add on desires to be outside stemming from the ongoing COVID pandemic, and the slopes get crowded.

Consider what happens, for example, at the Mt. Shasta Ski Park. Along with the regular crowds of downhill skiers and snowboarder Saturday and Sunday, Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. holiday brought out the crowds. The ski park’s social media was filled with reminders to arrive early to find a parking space and to be prepared for lines at chairlifts.

“It was busy,” Shasta’s general manager “Big” Jim Mullins reported of the three-day weekend. Last year the ski area’s parking lot was frequently filled to capacity on weekends and holidays. Would-be skiers and riders had to wait for a vacancy or turn around. To meet the crunch, Shasta added to its parking lot, increasing the capacity to about 2,000 vehicles. On Monday the lot held an estimated 1,600 to 1,700 cars, pickups, RVs and SUVs.

“We have plenty of parking now,” said Mullins, who strongly suggests, “Just get here early for the best parking.”

On our weekday visit, we — Max and Rob Crawford, Mike Reeder, Charlie McGonigle, Larry Turner and I — arrived early and parking was plentiful. Even after lunch by the new, warm fire pit outside the also new Ray’s Place lounge, the afternoon lift lines were minimal and the slopes mostly all-to-ourselves. (The lodge is closed but the outside patios and limited capacity bar are open. Because of state mandates, masks are required indoors.)

Even on the busiest days the wait times to load onto Shasta’s three triple chairlifts are generally brief. The chairs access 32 trails on the area’s 425 acres of skiable terrain. The trail mix includes 20% beginner, 55% intermediate and 25% advanced, along with beginner and intermediate terrain parks, plus two “moving carpets” for basic beginners. We took no magic carpet ride, but after meeting up with Nathan and Kyle Staunton, most of us skied the full mix.

Ski, ride or glide, rising up the hill or skiing downhill, it’s always a good day at areas like the Mt. Shasta Ski Park.

Through Feb. 28, lifts operate 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, 9 to 7 Fridays, and 9 to 6 Saturdays. Hours will move to 9 to 4 seven days a week beginning March 1. Day passes are slightly higher on weekends. For more information, visit www.skipark.com or call 530-926-8610.

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