Once again I violated my retirement rule about going to a public place on a weekend. But Saturday promised to be a beautiful day and even with the prospect of a large crowd my ski partner and I decided to check out the scene at Mt Shasta.
We left early of course, and we were glad we did, as we got stuck behind a couple of real amateurs on the road up to the ski park. One chap in a 4WD Ford pickup was fishtailing in the icy spots and crawled along at 15 mph. He finally got out and locked his hubs—which he should have done beforehand—and we were able to pass. Then we got behind another fellow who was in an older 2WD pickup and barely had enough traction to maintain his 15 mph. About 100 yards before the parking lot he stopped and put on chains! What a lame-ass! Pickups, because of the lack of weight over the rear wheels, are notoriously bad in the snow. Four-wheel drive (along with something heavy in the cargo bed) really makes a difference.
We found a good parking spot very close to the base area. While we geared up for the day the flood of new arrivals continued. Long lines formed at the ticket booth and the rental shop and the lack of face coverings and social distancing was noticeable right away. Employees seemed unprepared for the rush. They could have avoided most of that by simply requiring reservations and refusing walk-up sales. But it’s not my business to run.
The line for the Douglas lift was unorganized and people were milling around in clusters. My buddy decided to cut through by using the line reserved for Ski Patrol, and I reluctantly followed, but amazingly no one noticed. The lift operators were friendly but obviously distracted and we loaded without trouble. We zipped quickly down to the Coyote lift. At the top we were greeted with friendly shouts from a mask-less lift operator. We told him he should wear a damn mask, and to his credit he did that the rest of the morning. At one point the line at the Coyote lift degenerated into a free-for-all and I told one of the employees they should get out and organize things. It was fixed the next time we hit the bottom. You have to wonder about a place where the customers have to tell the employees their jobs!
Despite our frustrations with the lack of COVID-compliance, we managed to get on the lifts with very little crowd contact. We also discovered that our favorite place, an out-of-bounds* section with steep terrain and deep snow, was being ignored. We happily skied there all by ourselves. It takes a little hiking to get back to the park, but they had groomed the return road which made the trip much easier.
Mt Shasta Ski Park has a detailed description of their safety rules on their website but I have to say they get a failing grade for this trip. Many of the customers did not wear masks in line and the lift operators simply ignored them. At Mt Ashland they would have been asked to mask up or step out of line until an employee brought them a mask. It seems like a small thing, but with the surge in cases all across the state and the nation it is idiotic not to make an effort. Skiing itself is not particularly risky. People are outdoors and mostly well-spaced. Lift lines get crowded fast and people bunch up, and that’s pretty much the only real risk to skiers so it makes sense to take some simple precautions. At Mt Ashland the lines were marked with ropes and there were gaps between the lines and an employee walked up and down encouraging people to stay properly distanced. It isn’t that hard to do the right thing!
Despite our disappointment with the management of the park (I intend to write them a letter), the skiing in our special spot was superb as the thick layer of snow was soft and playful. The weather was sunny and windless and the views of Mt Eddy and Lassen Peak were outstanding. The top of Mt Shasta was bathed in an unusually impressive lenticular cloud for most of the morning. My partner and I really enjoyed the relaxed, crowd-free backcountry hike back to the boundary, and we both got to practice our kick-and-glide skating technique and got a good workout with the pole thrusts, too.
I suppose I learned my lesson. Follow the rules! That is, my own rule. Stop going places on the weekend! I’d really like to go back to Mt Shasta when we get another storm cycle but because they seem indifferent to enforcing their own COVID policies I’ll have to be extra vigilant. We’ll see. I may just spend the rest of the season at Mt Ashland! I feel lucky to have two resorts so close by. Both mountains offer a unique experience, they are not really comparable, and I would hate to give one up in favor or the other. But they need to get their shit together down there.
Most of the time our ski day is over by noon. We like the “go early and hit it hard” approach, that’s our M.O., so by lunch time we are usually ready to leave. The crowd had not abated by then and in fact the road was closed to uphill traffic as the parking lot was at capacity. The short-term forecast is looking pretty bleak so it may be a few weeks before we get any decent chance for another powder day.
Stay safe out there!
*I should note that going out-of-bounds at Mt Shasta Ski Park or at Mt Ashland is not against the rules as long as you use the access gates provided and don’t cut across roped-off sections. Both resorts abut National Forest land so there are no restrictions. It is definitely an enter-at-your-own-risk behavior!