Back-to-back

The recent snowstorm hit Siskiyou County hard and created havoc for travelers and truck traffic on the interstate. I-5 was closed for about 36 hours while crews rescued trapped motorists, cleared wrecks, and removed snow. Hundreds of southbound tractor-trailer rigs were parked in Yreka and along the shoulders of the freeway as they could not get through. The same thing happened in Redding as northbound lanes were closed at Fawndale.

Chaos for some is opportunity for others and my ski partner and I decided there would be excellent skiing at Mount Shasta Ski Park. Access to I-5 was blocked in Yreka so we went south on the old highway until we saw the backlog at the Edgewood on-ramp where the CHP had set up a control. No one was getting on I-5 so we turned around. The CalTrans information line said that motorists should look for “alternate routes” and that’s what we did. We tried to get across Louie Road towards Lake Shastina but were thwarted by snow drifts. We doubled back to the interstate (no one was on it!) and found our way to County Road A12. From there we found our way past Lake Shastina to Highway 97 and into Weed. The entrance to I-5 was open at College Avenue so we took advantage of that and continued south.

When the CHP says a road is “closed” what they really mean is that access is restricted. I-5 is a key artery and it was open to local traffic. You just had to find entrances that were not blocked! We fell in behind a plow just before the McCloud exit and he scraped the road clear of snow and laid down some cinders for us which made that big looping curve easier to navigate. He pulled to the side once we were on Highway 89 and it was smooth sailing from there to the Ski Park Road.

The skiing was challenging as the snow was quite deep, at least two feet in most places with some sections getting twice that. It was too thick and heavy for the intermediate runs—you had to stay on the groomed sections or you’d get stuck. On the steeper pitches you could get up enough speed to “plane” in the powder and actually make some turns. It stormed most of the morning and by noon we were wet and tired. The trip home was uneventful as there was still no traffic on I-5 (other than locals) and the surface had been continuously scraped and sanded.

The next morning we decided to try again and planned to head out to A12 and 97 but we changed our minds at the last second as we saw traffic moving on I-5. Just before the Weed Rest Area, at the Edgewood on-ramp, chain controls were being enforced and scores of trucks were making a mess of things. After crawling along for about 15 minutes through the craziness we slipped past the last of the big rigs chaining up and climbed over Black Butte summit. The road surface was packed snow with some icy spots but fortunately a CHP vehicle was out in front leading the pack at about 40-45 mph. I always say it isn’t the road conditions that make the driving dangerous, it’s all the idiots driving recklessly. The speed control kept us all in line and relaxed and we eased down to the turnoff without incident. The officer led us all the way to the Ski Park Road before pulling over. That’s the way it is supposed to work!

Like the previous day the crowd was small. Most skiers like good weather but there are a handful, like us, who enjoy the storm days. The snow is fresh and the “refills” are a delight to ski. It snowed heavily all morning and we chased the powder all over the mountain. It was much better skiing as the surface had firmed up a bit underneath and the new layer (about a foot) made for softer, easier turns. Nonetheless it was still challenging. If you fall in the big, deep drifts it can be a real hassle to get back up. There is often not enough firm surface for leverage and you can flounder around like a fish out of water. I fell once and pitched forward, heading for a face plant, but I was able to use my momentum to roll over and throw my feet (and skis) over my head and have them land downhill. It’s a lot easier to get up when your head is uphill and your feet are downhill!

Despite the challenges there was great skiing and beautiful snow in heaping piles everywhere so we had a lot of fun. The usual group of powder-hounds was in attendance and everyone was happy. Since I-5 was closed to northbound traffic the large numbers of Shasta County snow enthusiasts were unable to get to the Park so we locals had the place mostly to ourselves.

The trip home on I-5 was eerie. An enormous caravan of mostly trucks had been cleared and given the go-ahead to resume their southbound journey and the bumper-to-bumper traffic jam stretched for miles. My buddy and I had never seen anything like that before. The northbound flood of backed up traffic had not reached Mt Shasta City and there was no one behind us on the interstate most of the way home. It is the weirdest feeling to be on a freeway with no other vehicles behind you. I kept thinking I’d “missed the memo” or something. How could we be the only ones on the road?

The whole two-day adventure made me appreciate how dependent we are on our freeways and our commercial truck traffic. And how easy it is for Mother Nature to make a mockery of both!

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