Mount Shasta ski slopes get big dose of winter weather

They'll be talking about last week's storms on Mount Shasta for a long time.

When the heavy weather rolled in Jan. 19, the Mount Shasta Board & Ski Park was reporting snow depth in inches. Ten days later, they're measuring the depth in feet.

As of Wednesday morning, 12 feet of snow stood at the top of Coyote Butte, the highest chairlift at Mount Shasta, and 7 feet at the lodge. That was great news for skiers and snowboarders who have been waiting all winter for a big dump at Shasta, but it meant plenty of extra work for the groomers, lift operators and anybody else who could handle a shovel.

"We've had 40 people working during the storms" said Jim Mullins, Mount Shasta's marketing director. With 18 to 24 inches of fresh snow piling up most every day they were all busy — keeping the access road open, moving snow out of the parking lot, packing the groomed runs and shoveling out the chairlifts.

Mullins said waiting for the storms to finish before digging out wasn't an option. "If you let it go, it just becomes a bigger mess."

Mullins said the snow at the top of the Coyote chair was higher at one point than the bull wheel — the big horizontal wheel at the top of the chairlift that turns the cable.

"It took the groomer several hours just to find it," Mullins said.

The grooming crew worked daily to compact the snow on the established trails. Front-end loaders cruised the parking lots, pushing snow to the edges and dumping it in a berm that was nearing 20 feet by Wednesday.

A big rotary snow-thrower patrolled the access road to keep it open. Mullins said the roadside snow is now deep enough for drivers to feel like they're inside a snow tunnel — rather like the road to Crater Lake in a wet winter.

The storms were reminiscent of those that battered Mount Shasta in the winter of 1997-98, burying the ski area in 15 to 20 feet of snow. Shasta often gets hammered when big wet storms blow up from the south, like they do in El Niño years. The mountain is so big it generates its own weather. Sodden clouds have to shed their moisture before they can move on, and the ski park is in the right place to catch its share.

Like much of Siskiyou County, the ski park lost power early last week and finally reopened Monday at 10 a.m., just about when Mount Ashland had to shut down for the day with its own power problems.

Skiers who showed up Monday had an epic day. Mullins said the fresh snow was so deep that some skiers who popped out of their bindings lost their boards in the fluff.

Late Monday the power went down again, but things were up and running again Wednesday. Mullins encouraged skiers and boarders to call the snow phone (530-926-8686) or visit the Web site (www.skipark.com) to prevent unexpected disappointment.

All that snow raised the avalanche hazard to "considerable" in the Shasta backcountry, according to the Mount Shasta Avalanche Center, operated by the U.S. Forest Service. The next avalanche update will be issued Friday. The Web site is www.shastaavalanche.org.

The heaviest snow bypassed Mount Ashland, but our neighborhood ski area did get more than 30 inches of snow over the course of the storms. That brought the snow depth Wednesday to 67 inches near the lodge and 89 inches on the stake in the bowl — more than enough to cover the exposed rocks and brush.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 541-776-4492, or e-mail bkettler@mailtribune.com.

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