Ski This Mountain and You'll Be a Believer

By Cindy Loose
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 2, 2007; Page P06

"Mount Shasta rises in solitary grandeur from a lightly sculpted lava plain. . . . Go where you will within a radius of 50 to 100 miles, and there stands the colossal cone of Shasta, clad in perpetual snow, the one grand landmark that never sets."

With those words, famed naturalist John Muir described Northern California's Mount Shasta to Harper's magazine readers in 1877. His words remain true today, as the mountain remains unspoiled by housing developments and other man-made intrusions.

In fact, the Mount Shasta Ski Park is nearly the only mark of man on the mountain, and the park -- for now, at least -- treads lightly: some lifts, trails and a building for renting skis, warming up and having lunch or drinks. Overnight visitors go down the mountain and into one of several small towns to sleep -- a drive of 10 minutes or so that is well worth making to preserve the mountain's natural state. Getting to the area requires a bigger commitment: Mount Shasta is 245 miles north of Sacramento and 295 miles from San Francisco.

A volcanic mountain that is part of the Cascades range, Mount Shasta suddenly rises 14,179 feet from a flat area, just a mite shorter than Mount Rainier, in the same range. With a base nearly 70 miles in circumference, it dominates the landscape, its lower section covered by pine and cedar, its upper regions with pearly white snow that in a certain light shines with a silvery glow or takes on a purple hue.

Five Native American tribes still live scattered within view of the mountain they consider sacred, home of the Creator, and they still hold rituals in the mountain's meadows and on its peaks.

"It is so pristine and quiet. It's a healing place because of its peacefulness," says Michelle Berditchevsky, environmental coordinator for the Pit River tribe. "It has not been overshadowed by human things. Nature is still the most powerful force, and you feel it palpably."

That feeling of spirituality and power has drawn New Age followers to settle in the shadow of Mount Shasta. "I Am" believers -- who say that a figure they call Saint Germain descended from heaven to Mount Shasta to tell Guy W. Ballard the true way in the 1930s -- consider Mount Shasta home. Others drawn to settle here believe that the inside of the mountain is populated by the Lemurians, an advanced civilization of tall, bearded people who escaped to Mount Shasta when their homeland was destroyed, Atlantis-like. Believers say that this was between 75,000 and 20,000 B.C. and that Easter Island was once part of Lemuria.

But you don't have to buy into the mountain's magical power to sense that it is special; even nonbelievers feel the mountain's power, says Lowell Robertson, who was volunteering at the Saint Germain Foundation's "I Am" Reading Room in the town of Mount Shasta. Robertson moved here from Texas to be near what he calls the "mountain's drawing effect. It's hard to explain, but it's a feeling this mountain gives -- a spiritual magnetism."

THE SKIING: Mount Shasta Ski Park uses three triple lifts to carry skiers to 32 groomed trails -- 20 percent of them for beginners, 55 percent intermediate and 25 percent advanced. The highest vertical drop is 1,390 feet; the longest run is 1.75 miles. Really advanced skiers can supplement the runs with guided backcountry skiing with Shasta Mountain Guides (530-926-3117,

Feeling rusty and somewhat intimidated by the mountain, I started on beginner trails. After two runs, I graduated to intermediate. Fresh powder made the skiing easy: no slick layers of compacted snow or ice of the kind that makes a recreational skier feel about to careen out of control. With an average of 275 inches of snow each season, Mount Shasta is rarely out of powder, and its snow is often compared to the best of Colorado powder.

By noon on a day in early March, I was feeling ready for the advanced runs, and it was warm enough in the bright sun to dump my jacket. I schussed down the mountain trails in shirtsleeves between stands of snow-covered pines. Sunburn, says marketing manager Jason Young, is the most frequent injury on the slopes.

Truly experienced advanced skiers -- those who head straight to black diamond trails even at the beginning of a season -- might find after a day or so that they need something more challenging. No problem: Magazines and Web sites routinely describe Mount Shasta's backcountry skiing as some of the best in the world.

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