Cross-country skiing without the crowds in northeastern California Essay

Cross-country skiing without the crowds in northeastern California Marked trails, new nordic centers with Mount Shasta or LassenPeak as backdrops. From the Bay Area, 5 hours by car Predictable snowfall, few people, and vast back-country forestshave for years drawn experienced nordic skiers to northeasternCalifornia. Now there’s good news for beginning and intermediateskiers: new nordic centers with lessons and groomed trails, all withspectacular views. Anchored by Mount Shasta and Lassen Peak, this partof 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 woulddriving to the Tahoe Basin. Cedar Pass, in the farthest corner of thestate, is a brand-new, informal operation; it isn’t yet worth along detour. Redding, with its Amtrak, bus, and air connections andrental car services, can serve as a jumping-off point for both theShasta and Lassen areas. If you drive, be sure to bring chains.

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On rare occasion, stretchesof some roads close in storms but are usually cleared within hours. Forhighway information, call (800) 952-7623. Expect to pay about $23 to $35 for a double room at most motels orlodges; many have kitchenettes. And except for holiday weekends, youcan usually reserve on short notice. All telephone numbers are area code 916. Trail pass prices are forall-day use; rental fees include boots, skis, and poles. Mount Shasta: miles of forested trails, with a major nordic skicenter nearby Mount Shasta Recreation Area (6,800 to 7,000 feet). Rising fromShasta Valley like a monolith, 14,162-foot Mount Shasta presides overone of California’s most pristine ski areas.

But weather aroundthe brooding mountain can change at whim– sunny and calm one moment,cloudy and wind-swept the next. Dress in layers so you can adjustclothing accordingly. You can explore the massif’s southwestern skirts on four shortmarked trails for beginning and intermediate skiers. The trails leadfrom three small parking areas along the north side of the EverittMemorial Highway, which is kept snow-free to Bunny Flat, some 11 milesfrom downtown Mount Shasta. Blue diamonds placed high on the trunks ofShasta red firs lead you to meadows buried under 10 or more feet ofsnow. Unmarked trails run all over the mountain; sometimes hard tofollow, they’re for use by experienced skiers only. For maps and information, write or call the Mount Shasta RangerDistrict, 204 W.

Alma St., Mount Shasta 96067; 926-4511. You can alsoget trail maps at the House of Ski (on the Everitt Memorial Highway asit leaves town) or the Fifth Season (426 N. Mount Shasta Boulevard);both rent skis and can give trail advice. The latter offers nordictours; call 926-3606. From downtown Mount Shasta, drive east on Alma Street; atWashington Drive, turn left onto winding Everitt Memorial Highway. Lookfor trailhead parking areas on the north side of the road near mileposts10 and 11. January through March, parking can be crowded weekends.

Castle Lake Nordic Center (5,220 feet). Just across the valleyfrom Mount Shasta are the Klamath Mountains, and nestled among theirbowls and ridges is this three-year-old facility. It maintains up to 30machine-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 rentaland snack shop.

This is a professional, friendly operation. Childrenand beginners get special treatment; at 10 and 11 on weekends andholidays, 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 $5and $4. For brochure, write to Box 660, Mount Shasta 96067.

From I-5, take the Central Mount Shasta exit west; follow signs toLake Siskiyou. Just after crossing Box Canyon Dam, turn left ontoCastle Lake Road; follow it 6.2 miles to the center. The town of Mount Shasta is some 275 miles from San Francisco. Fora 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 mostweekdays. The office can also tell you about the Alpenfest, a weekendof films, dances, contests, and races, held February 1 through 3 thisyear. For snow conditions at either Mount Shasta or Castle Lake, call926-5555.

Lassen area: quiet back-country skiing, nordic downhill,beginner trails Lassen Volcanic National Park. To the delight of skiers, 400 to700 inches of snow blanket the park and virtually close it to cars fromNovember to early June. You’re left with untrammeled skiingthrough a vast volcanic wilderness of plug domes, steaming vents, and 50lakes. Manzanita Lake in the park’s northwest corner, 47 miles eastof Redding on State Highway 44, has 12 miles of marked trails, someoffering easy, flat skiing for beginners; base elevation is 5,847 feet.For $15 (including rental, or $7 without rental), you can take grouplessons here some Saturdays at 10; for required reservations, write orcall 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 eastof Red Bluff. Just inside the gate is the Lassen Park Ski Area (6,800feet), with a chalet, chair lift, and two surface tows. Nordic skierswith bindings and safety straps can use downhill slopes. All-day lifttickets cost $11 weekdays, $14 weekend days.

The area gives a 2 1/2-hour nordic lesson and tour for $15 perperson ($10 for each extra person in a group), and a 1-hour nordicdownhill 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. Forfree maps (and advice on nearby trails just outside the park), checkwith rangers in the chalet or park headquarters in Mineral. Mineral Lodge in the town of Mineral, 9.2 miles from the southwestgate, rents skis for $8 adults, $5 children. You can also join freeranger-led snowshoe tours from the Lassen chalet at 1:30 Thursdaysthrough Mondays; the 1 1/2-mile walk takes about 2 1/2 hours.

For snowconditions, call 595-4464. For a brochure on winter in the park, including a list of nearbyaccommodations, 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 thepark entrance, this resort (at 4,800 feet) grooms up to 25 miles ofmeadow and mountain trails, half of which are just right for beginners;daily trail fee is $5, $2.

50 for ages 7 through 12. Fridays throughSundays, 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, call595-4411. Cedar Pass: New trails off U.

S. 395 For scenery different from the Cascades and Klamaths, consider6,305-foot Cedar Pass in the rugged Warner Mountains east of the ModocPlateau. Here, a club-run downhill operation has a new neighbor: afledgling nordic center in the adjacent meadow, with 6.2 miles ofgroomed trails for all abilities. On some of the ridge trails, you canlook straight across Surprise Valley to the Nevada desert. Begun this season, the nordic operation will be open most weekendsfrom mid-December through Easter. Trail fee is $4; rentals and 2-hourlessons, $8 each.

For schedule, write or call Modoc Chamber ofCommerce, Box 1690, Alturas 96101; 233-2819. From Alturas, drive 5 miles northeast on U.S. 395, then about 10miles east on State 299 to Cedar Pass. Finding unmarked trails on public lands Each of northern California’s national forests has unmarkedroutes. For a list of addresses, write or call the Office ofInformation, U.S. Forest Service, 630 Sansome St.

, San Francisco 94111;(415) 556-0122. For details on skiing on BLM lands, write or call theRecreation Planner, Bureau of Land Management, Box 1090, Susanville96130; (916) 257-5381. Photo: Snow flying off nordic skis, she telemarks down slope sharedby alpine skiers in Lassen Park’s southwest corner Photo: “Bend those knees,’ says instructor at CastleLake.

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, andranger 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 BunnyFlat Photo: Waltzing on snow isn’t easy, but one couple can’tresist at Castle Lake’s Alpenfest weekend, February 1 through 3this year

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