Cross-country skiing without the crowds in northeastern California
Marked trails, new nordic centers with Mount Shasta or Lassen
Peak as backdrops. From the Bay Area, 5 hours by car
Predictable snowfall, few people, and vast back-country forests
have for years drawn experienced nordic skiers to northeastern
California. Now there’s good news for beginning and intermediate
skiers: new nordic centers with lessons and groomed trails, all with
spectacular views. Anchored by Mount Shasta and Lassen Peak, this part
of the southern Cascade Range is well worth a winter or spring trip.
Roads are nearly always clear of snow, making driving easy.
From the Bay Area to Mount Shasta or Lassen Volcanic National Park,
you have to spend only about an hour more in the car than you would
driving to the Tahoe Basin. Cedar Pass, in the farthest corner of the
state, is a brand-new, informal operation; it isn’t yet worth a
long detour. Redding, with its Amtrak, bus, and air connections and
rental car services, can serve as a jumping-off point for both the
Shasta and Lassen areas.
If you drive, be sure to bring chains. On rare occasion, stretches
of some roads close in storms but are usually cleared within hours. For
highway information, call (800) 952-7623.
Expect to pay about $23 to $35 for a double room at most motels or
lodges; many have kitchenettes. And except for holiday weekends, you
can usually reserve on short notice.
All telephone numbers are area code 916. Trail pass prices are for
all-day use; rental fees include boots, skis, and poles.
Mount Shasta: miles of forested trails, with a major nordic ski
Mount Shasta Recreation Area (6,800 to 7,000 feet). Rising from
Shasta Valley like a monolith, 14,162-foot Mount Shasta presides over
one of California’s most pristine ski areas. But weather around
the brooding mountain can change at whim– sunny and calm one moment,
cloudy and wind-swept the next. Dress in layers so you can adjust
You can explore the massif’s southwestern skirts on four short
marked trails for beginning and intermediate skiers. The trails lead
from three small parking areas along the north side of the Everitt
Memorial Highway, which is kept snow-free to Bunny Flat, some 11 miles
from downtown Mount Shasta. Blue diamonds placed high on the trunks of
Shasta red firs lead you to meadows buried under 10 or more feet of
Unmarked trails run all over the mountain; sometimes hard to
follow, they’re for use by experienced skiers only.
For maps and information, write or call the Mount Shasta Ranger
District, 204 W. Alma St., Mount Shasta 96067; 926-4511. You can also
get trail maps at the House of Ski (on the Everitt Memorial Highway as
it leaves town) or the Fifth Season (426 N. Mount Shasta Boulevard);
both rent skis and can give trail advice. The latter offers nordic
tours; call 926-3606.
From downtown Mount Shasta, drive east on Alma Street; at
Washington Drive, turn left onto winding Everitt Memorial Highway. Look
for trailhead parking areas on the north side of the road near mileposts
10 and 11. January through March, parking can be crowded weekends.
Castle Lake Nordic Center (5,220 feet). Just across the valley
from Mount Shasta are the Klamath Mountains, and nestled among their
bowls and ridges is this three-year-old facility. It maintains up to 30
machine-groomed trails–27 miles of excellent skiing for all abilities.
Most years, you’ll find snow here mid-November through April.
Don’t be fooled by the boxy trailer that serves as a rental
and snack shop. This is a professional, friendly operation. Children
and beginners get special treatment; at 10 and 11 on weekends and
holidays, they can get lessons for $2.50 with an all-day trail pass.
Regular 90-minute beginner lessons cost $14, or $8 for ages 6 through 18
(trail pass included). Rentals cost $8 and $6.50; trail passes cost $5
and $4. For brochure, write to Box 660, Mount Shasta 96067.
From I-5, take the Central Mount Shasta exit west; follow signs to
Lake Siskiyou. Just after crossing Box Canyon Dam, turn left onto
Castle Lake Road; follow it 6.2 miles to the center.
The town of Mount Shasta is some 275 miles from San Francisco. For
a list of lodging, write or call the Mount Shasta Chamber of Commerce,
300 Pine St., Mount Shasta 96067; 926-4865. Hours are 10 to 3 most
weekdays. The office can also tell you about the Alpenfest, a weekend
of films, dances, contests, and races, held February 1 through 3 this
year. For snow conditions at either Mount Shasta or Castle Lake, call
Lassen area: quiet back-country skiing, nordic downhill,
Lassen Volcanic National Park. To the delight of skiers, 400 to
700 inches of snow blanket the park and virtually close it to cars from
November to early June. You’re left with untrammeled skiing
through a vast volcanic wilderness of plug domes, steaming vents, and 50
Manzanita Lake in the park’s northwest corner, 47 miles east
of Redding on State Highway 44, has 12 miles of marked trails, some
offering easy, flat skiing for beginners; base elevation is 5,847 feet.
For $15 (including rental, or $7 without rental), you can take group
lessons here some Saturdays at 10; for required reservations, write or
call Alpine Outfitters Sports, 950 Hilltop Dr., Redding 96003; 221-7333.
For lakeside snow conditions, call 335-4266.
Most visitors enter the park at its southwest corner, 52 miles east
of Red Bluff. Just inside the gate is the Lassen Park Ski Area (6,800
feet), with a chalet, chair lift, and two surface tows. Nordic skiers
with bindings and safety straps can use downhill slopes. All-day lift
tickets cost $11 weekdays, $14 weekend days.
The area gives a 2 1/2-hour nordic lesson and tour for $15 per
person ($10 for each extra person in a group), and a 1-hour nordic
downhill lesson, also $15; to make required reservations, call 595-3376.
Nordic rental fee is $9, but selection is limited.
Four marked and five unmarked trails lead from the chalet. For
free maps (and advice on nearby trails just outside the park), check
with rangers in the chalet or park headquarters in Mineral.
Mineral Lodge in the town of Mineral, 9.2 miles from the southwest
gate, rents skis for $8 adults, $5 children. You can also join free
ranger-led snowshoe tours from the Lassen chalet at 1:30 Thursdays
through Mondays; the 1 1/2-mile walk takes about 2 1/2 hours. For snow
conditions, call 595-4464.
For a brochure on winter in the park, including a list of nearby
accommodations, write or call Lassen Volcanic National Park, Box 100,
Mineral 96063; 595-4444.
Childs Meadows Resort. On State 36 just 9.4 miles southeast of the
park entrance, this resort (at 4,800 feet) grooms up to 25 miles of
meadow and mountain trails, half of which are just right for beginners;
daily trail fee is $5, $2.50 for ages 7 through 12. Fridays through
Sundays, 1 1/2-hour lessons ($10) are given at 10 and 1. Rentals cost
$9 adults, $5 children. For details, call 595-3203; for lodging, call
Cedar Pass: New trails off U.S. 395
For scenery different from the Cascades and Klamaths, consider
6,305-foot Cedar Pass in the rugged Warner Mountains east of the Modoc
Plateau. Here, a club-run downhill operation has a new neighbor: a
fledgling nordic center in the adjacent meadow, with 6.2 miles of
groomed trails for all abilities. On some of the ridge trails, you can
look straight across Surprise Valley to the Nevada desert.
Begun this season, the nordic operation will be open most weekends
from mid-December through Easter. Trail fee is $4; rentals and 2-hour
lessons, $8 each. For schedule, write or call Modoc Chamber of
Commerce, Box 1690, Alturas 96101; 233-2819.
From Alturas, drive 5 miles northeast on U.S. 395, then about 10
miles east on State 299 to Cedar Pass.
Finding unmarked trails on public lands
Each of northern California’s national forests has unmarked
routes. For a list of addresses, write or call the Office of
Information, U.S. Forest Service, 630 Sansome St., San Francisco 94111;
(415) 556-0122. For details on skiing on BLM lands, write or call the
Recreation Planner, Bureau of Land Management, Box 1090, Susanville
96130; (916) 257-5381.
Photo: Snow flying off nordic skis, she telemarks down slope shared
by alpine skiers in Lassen Park’s southwest corner
Photo: “Bend those knees,’ says instructor at Castle
Lake. Inexpensive beginner lessons are given weekends and holidays.
Skiers in background warm up for race
Photo: Color denotes five ski areas. Diamonds mark groomed trails.
State 89 through Lassen Park is closed November to early June
Photo: A-frame chalet at Lassen houses cafeteria, rental shop, and
ranger office. You meet here for nordic lessons, snowshoe tours
Photo: A swirl of snow and cloud obscures Mount Shasta’s peak,
while three skiers and their dog blaze a trail on lower meadow at Bunny
Photo: Waltzing on snow isn’t easy, but one couple can’t
resist at Castle Lake’s Alpenfest weekend, February 1 through 3