Ah … Shasta!

Tahoe has drawbacks as well as draws, so staying closer to home is an appealing option

LOCAL SNOW<br> Just about two hours from Chico, Mount Shasta Ski Park has packed powder and halfpipes, but not the congestion of larger resorts.

Just about two hours from Chico, Mount Shasta Ski Park has packed powder and halfpipes, but not the congestion of larger resorts.

Courtesy Of Mount Shasta Ski Park

Scope it out: Mount Shasta Ski Park (800) 754-7427--i.e. 800-SKI-SHASTA www.skipark.com

For many people in the Sacramento Valley and the rest of California as well, Tahoe reigns as the traditional skiing destination. From Chico, the region’s ski resorts all lie within two to three hours—on the map. But once the car is packed, on the road and sitting in traffic on Interstate 80 or Highway 50, those two to three hours slowly swell to four or five.

Quickly the illusion of a full day of skiing fades into the reality of an afternoon of waiting in ticket lines, lunch lines and lift lines with intermittent breaks taken to scour the hillside for any sign of the people you came with. Is this is a skiing vacation or a lesson in patience?

The folks at Mount Shasta Ski Park believe their resort holds the answer for those frustrated with Tahoe’s congestion problems—both on the highways and the slopes. Located just more than two hours driving distance from Chico, north on Interstate 5, this ski park certainly isn’t another Tahoe. It sits entirely on private property, whereas most resorts lease land from various national forests. Running up the flanks of 14,179-foot Mount Shasta, the ski park boasts some of the best resort skiing in the North State.

Last year marked the Mount Shasta Ski Park’s 20th season, and it continues to be owned and operated by the same family that founded it. That “Ma and Pa” connection, said Jason Young, marketing manager and grandson of the resort’s founder, contributes to the park’s family-oriented atmosphere. And while Mount Shasta had a record year last year both in snow levels and customers served, Young said the average customer can still expect relatively uncrowded lift lines and slopes at a fraction of Tahoe costs.

“We’re a small resort, and we’re not really that busy,” Young said. “I mean, for $25 you can get a full day of skiing.”

The ticket prices Young referred to are for weekdays only, with weekends and holidays costing a bit more at $37 per adult. Night skiing from 3 to 9 p.m. goes for $15 per adult ticket.

FLUFF PIECE<br /> If you’re looking for something a little different from Tahoe, Mount Shasta may add variety to your winter season.

Mount Shasta Ski Park does have its drawbacks. There are only three chair lifts, and its 425 skiable acres are a mere fraction of what most Tahoe-area resorts offer. The average marathon skier or snowboarder could easily cover the entire mountain in a day. Furthermore, there is no summit-side ice-skating rink, nor is there an enclosed gondola to take you to the top.

However, the vertical rise of the resort, from lodge level to the top of the highest run, comes in at just under 1,400 feet, on par with many Tahoe destinations. Mount Shasta Ski Park also has two terrain parks featuring a 300-foot-long halfpipe and multiple tabletops and rails.

Seventy-five percent of the resort’s terrain is designed for beginners and intermediates. Young said this too contributes to a family environment, allowing skiers and snowboarders of all abilities numerous options for carving their way down the mountain.

In addition to the downhill scene, the park also offers a limited amount of Nordic trails. Covering roughly 30 kilometers, they offer well over a day’s worth of terrain for cross-country skiers and snowshoers alike.

In the mainstream fashion of many resorts, Mount Shasta also offers several different clinics, including a freestyle clinic covering the ins and outs of the terrain park, a telemark clinic for the free-heeler at heart, plus senior- and women-specific clinics. Furthermore, the resort offers adaptive skiing opportunities for athletes with a variety of disabilities. Adaptive clinics are held on a case-by-case basis and should be arranged ahead of time.

The big deal of the season is for beginning skiers and snowboarders who sign up for and complete a three-lesson package by Feb. 28. If completed on time the package, which includes all three lessons, lift tickets and rentals for $180, will also award the customer a free Spring Season Pass. It’s good for unlimited skiing the last six weeks of the resort’s operation and retails for $249.

The nearby mountain towns of Mount Shasta, Weed and Dunsmuir offer a setting drastically different from Tahoe. They all have a bouquet of shops in their downtowns without the flashing lights of Harrah’s overwhelming the senses. There are a number of inns and bed-and-breakfasts in the area to provide lodging.

Before you head out, call or check online for conditions and more information about prices, clinics, directions and lodging. In the meantime, brace for winter and pray for snow.