Mount Shasta's Old Ski Bowl
By Gary VanDeWalker
The End of the RoadSeptember 2015
By Gary Vandewalker
Photos: Taryn Burkleo
The end of 14 miles of roadway to the timberline of Mount Shasta is a string of memories. The
Everitt Memorial Highway recalls the life of John Samuel Everitt, the forestry supervisor who died fighting the Bear Springs Fire of 1934. For tourists, the road is a rare trip by car to a high elevation where they stand and feel the power of the volcanic giant looming above as they take pictures. Velma Nile looks at the road and remembers the parts of three decades where the end of the highway shaped her life.
In October 1958, the highway opened, replacing the old Mount Shasta Snowline road. At pavement’s end, the new Mount Shasta Ski Bowl was set to open after two years of planning. On land leased from the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, a parking lot and lodge were built at 7,800 feet. Advertisements bragged of the largest ski bowl in the United States.
Each year on July 1, the last stretch of the highway is reopened, and the trailheads and former ski area becomes available to picnickers, hikers and sightseers. The snowmelt has turned the forest floor green, while the rocks and alpine landscape reappear. Trails lead in a variety of directions to the ridges, meadows and the summit hikers crave.
On January 12, 1959, this area was filled for the first time with skiers. Before the end of the month, one weekend found 6,000 skiers visiting the lodge. To secure the future, the Herald Ski School began. Nile was the Ski School director. Local schools brought busloads of students on Saturday, filling the classes with 600 students a season. Six lessons were given for a dollar. “I had the gift of recruitment,” Nile says. “I had town directors, instructors and even people to make name tags for each student.”
From the Old Ski Bowl site, there are views of Lassen Peak, the Trinity Alps and majestic Castle Crags. The Old Ski Bowl service road has become the main track of a four-mile trail exploring what little remains of the manmade features. Below the parking lot, ancient forests rise up in homage to their patron, gazing year round at her peak. Grey Butte, Green Butte and Red Butte keep their vigils over their home. The wind brings the smell of the fresh mountain air.
The Mount Shasta Ski Bowl met a series of setbacks. The 1962-63 season became the single year bringing a profit to the fledging corporation. A new corporation took over, finding skiing profitable. However, in October 1971, a fire destroyed the lodge and a smaller lodge took its place. Then in January 1978, an avalanche tore down the Green Butte Chair lift, ending developed skiing at the location. Nile worked here from 1958 until the early 1970s, her teaching career taking her from the ski area in its last years.
The air is brisk here. Its coolness moves over the warmth of the valley below, as the wind picks up and reminds those taking pictures here of what this must be in the midst of winter, with its ice and snow. At tree line, gnarled tree trunks twist upwards, defiant of the blizzards they face, and enjoying the respite of summer. The sunset glows pink over the mountain, while the city beneath already rests in the dark of night. Hikers are the majority here, where skiers once ruled. Winter is silent, as summer and fall have taken charge of the mountain's activity.
From the deck of her home, Nile raises her eyes to the majestic giant which makes up so much of her life. “I remember the winds blowing so hard they knocked us over and the winter where the snow was so deep they dug trenches for the chair lifts,” Nile says. “I just stopped skiing a season ago and when I think back, I remember my time there was good.”
Go north on I-5; take exit 738 for Central Mount
Shasta. Drive east on Lake Street. The road curves
turning into Everitt Memorial Highway. Drive 14 miles
to the end of the road.