Cedar Pass, one of California's oldest ski areas, is open again for the first time in three years. Photo courtesy Cedar Pass

Skiing in the wayback

After being closed the past three winters, Modoc County's Cedar Pass Snow Park is open again.

The recent snow has been a beautiful thing for Rody Stains, chairman of the ski area's board of directors. "We've got plenty of snow, as long as it stays cold. This is the best snow we've had in years."

One of California's oldest ski areas, Cedar Pass Snow Park is located Highway 299, 17 miles east of Alturas and 10 miles west of Cedarville near the tri-state border of California, Oregon and Nevada. It opened Dec. 24 and has been open weekends since then. The area has a bunny hill with a rope tow for beginning skiers and snowboarders and a T-bar for intermediate and advanced skiers who can choose between freshly groomed and powder runs.

Cross-country skiers can use the Cedar Pass Snow Park lodge and ski area to access the Cedar Creek Interpretive Trail and the surrounding meadow and backcountry terrain.

Because of its remoteness, Stains said, the area is not crowded. To encourage more skiers and riders, the organizing group is using Facebook and social media to promote Cedar Pass as a low-cost alternative to larger, more expensive ski areas.

"Facebook is helping us a lot. Our rates are so low families will drive the extra miles to save money," Stains said, noting the cost for an all-day pass is $20, while rental equipment is $15.

"I'd say Klamath Falls is about as far away as people come, but there are people who search the internet ... the internet is changing things for us because some people are looking for smaller ski areas that are less expensive."

The atmosphere is laid-back and friendly because many skiers and riders know each other. And along with the rental shop, the lodge offers a place to change clothes and sells basic food and beverage items.

The area began seeing skiers in 1932. As interest grew, Civilian Conservation Corps spent portions of two years clearing runs. Although the area had been used extensively, it wasn't until Feb. 23, 1941, that the first rope tow was installed. It allowed skiers to ride, not hike, up the hill.

Over the decades the ski hill been used by a cross-section of downhill skiers, including the Surprise Valley High School Ski Club from Cedarville, along with others from Alturas, Surprise Valley and the Lakeview area.

According to Guy McTimmonds, from “Cedar Pass Ski Hill,” a story by Shirley Arena in the Modoc Historical Society Journal, during 1944 and 1945 when the tow was not operating, “A few of us continued skiing — all of us who could climb the hill under our own power. We also did some 'ski jouring' — that was being pulled by a rope hooked to the back of a car. Traffic was light over the pass on that old road during the war (World War II). The greatest danger was from patches of bare pavement and from the driver swooping down that crooked road while looking back to see if the skier was still with him.”

Development came slowly. For 22 years, the ski hill land was privately owned by area ranchers. Following a land exchange in 1954, the operation and ownership was transferred to Modoc National Forest.

In 1964, a road off Highway 299 allowed skiers to drive to the ski hill. Until then, skiers parked along the highway and hiked 150 steep downhill yards to the ski hut and rope tow.

The Modoc Ski Club bought a rebuilt snow packer in 1982, which eliminated the need to skiers to literally stomp runs to create a firm base. That same year the old hut built in the 1940s was replaced with a 2,000-square-foot, two-story structure mostly built by volunteers.

The Cedar Pass Ski Corporation, which was formed in 1985, raised enough money to buy a used T-bar from a ski area in Taos, New Mexico. By installing the T-bar in 1988, skiers and boarders were able to go higher up the hill, which increased the number of runs to 12 and added previously inaccessible intermediate and expert terrain.

Inconsistent winter snow has plagued the ski hill over the past decade, resulting in several seasons when the hill was open only briefly or not all, but things are different this season, which has Stains and others optimistic.

"We're hoping more people will learn about us and make the trip," he said, noting overnight lodging is available in Alturas and Surprise Valley, including the Surprise Valley Hot Springs outside Cedarville, where all the rooms have private outdoor soaking tubs.

"There's more to do around here than most people realize," Stains said, "and the skiing is great."

— Lee Juillerat has been writing about outdoor adventures in Southern Oregon and elsewhere for more than 30 years. He can be reached at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.

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