You can usually judge a winter based on how quickly the off-season toys get brought out. There’s always a contingency of skiers and riders who are swift in their sports transition. Ready to welcome the spring by jumping right into mountain biking, rock climbing, or other snowless activities. But when the majority of skiers are chomping at the bit for the seasonal shift you know something’s up. With this winter appearing to be one of the worst on record many skiers are turning their eyes to other sports. However, spring skiing centers like Northern California’s Mt. Shasta and Shastina should not be written off.
Point of view down the Trinity Chutes. [Photo: Brennan Lagasse]
Thus far this spring season has been more than memorable for any visitor who has made the trek to what I argue is the premier backcountry ski volcano in the great Cascades, Mount Shasta. Although this was a largely depressing winter for many, if you backcountry ski you know May and June can often times be some of the best months of the season to earn your turns. In a season like this one, not only has Mt. Shasta, and Shastina, been delivering high quality conditions on all aspects, they’ve provided grounds for redemption as many skiers and riders lock into the best runs of their season even though winter is well passed.
In mid-to-late May just about every conceivable aspect on both of these volcanic monsters was serving up the goods. June is looking to be just as good, if not better. If you’re a newbie to the Shasta area chances are you’ll want to explore the south side of the mountain first, and check into two of the most classic ski descents that veterans continue visit year after year for a very good reason.
Skinning up the south side of Shastina. [Photo: Brennan Lagasse]
The standard ascent route up Avalanche Gulch is where you’ll commonly mingle with hordes of climbers that walk up, and yes, get ready for this, walk down thousands of feet of pristine corn on a daily basis during high traffic season. Typically this is right when you’ll be there (May-June), so get ready for the unavoidable, “Why are lugging those heavy skis and boots up the mountain?” You can either be nice or reply, “Have a nice walk down.”
While many people choose to break the ascent into a two, or even three day outing it’s fairly common for skiers and riders to get an alpine start (3-5 a.m.) for a solid one day push of 7k up, and 7k back down to your car via the Bunny Flat Trailhead.
Skiing the north side of Shastina with the Whitney Glacier in the background. [Photo: Brennan Lagasse]
Unfortunately, the skiing to where you really want to be-the top of the Trinity Chutes or West Face-is usually just an exercise in skiing variable terrain after tagging the summit at 14,179’, but once you do get there it’s game on.
Although the West face is the true definition of a classic relaxed corn run the Trinity Chutes are an amazing way to experience all that is skiing Mt. Shasta. Once you’re done slicing turns in confines of the chute system you can either continue on the perfectly pitched apron down to Helen Lake, or stay high rider’s right and milk the several panels of relatively steep snow that are commonly some of the smoothest turns on the mountain.
Powder above 13,000 feet on the Wintun, Mt. Shasta. [Photo: Brennan Lagasse]
When you head over to the east and north sides of the mountain, it’s a whole new world. While these trailheads are for the more experienced skier and rider, and they usually open later than the regularly maintained access road to Bunny Flat, they tend to offer a more secluded mountain experience.
When the Northgate trailhead is open and the Brewer Creek access road is still covered in snow an opportunity to put together a stellar linkup of climbing the classic Bolam-Hotlum Ridge from the north, and descending the Hotlum-Wintun Ridge to the east is fair game. These routes involve negotiating glaciated terrain so if you plan on checking any of these routes out do your homework, but don’t rule out a few powder turns as that also tends to be a byproduct of late season storms in the area.
A typical Saturday summit crowd on the south side of Mt. Shasta [Photo: Brennan Lagasse]
At 12,330’ Shastina is no slouch of a ski descent either. The thing with Shastina is it sees less traffic, so when the snow is good in the greater Shasta area it’s probably even better on Shastina. In fact, of my several missions to the zone this spring the highest quality turns I was able to score were on Shastina, on both the north and south sides of the mountain.
Easily accessed via the Bunny Flat trailhead the south side of Shastina makes for a slightly smaller day than the adventures found on Mt. Shasta, but still gives 5,500’ vertical feet of sublime skiing back to the car, and chances are you and your crew will be the only ones out there.
Robb Gaffney and Jeff Dostie skinning up the Bolam-Hotlum route on the north side of Mt. Shasta [Photo: Brennan Lagasse]
I’ve been harvesting blissful days in the Mt. Shasta region for several years and this season has literally been all-time. All of the photos in this piece were taken over a few trips this past May. Most of my demoralized friends who I could barely motivate for a May ski trip are now telling people left and right that the season really wasn’t that bad after all. All it takes is the same on your behalf, a little motivation. With a positive outlook, June could be offering you some of the best turns of your season. So what are you waiting for? North, south, east and west even in June, when Mt. Shasta is on, it’s on, and the time is now!
Robb Gaffney and Jeff Dostie looking down 7k+ of prime terrain on the Hotlum-Wintun route on the east side of Mt. Shasta [Photo: Brennan Lagasse]
Robb Gaffney carefully crosses the Hotlum Glacier from the east to get back towards the north side of Mt. Shasta [Photo: Brennan Lagasse]
Jillian Raymond booting up the Red Banks via Avalanche Gulch on the south side of Mt. Shasta [Photo: Brennan Lagasse]