Most mountains hide their grandeur amid chains of similar-sized peaks. Not Mt. Shasta. A prima donna that hogs the spotlight of Northern California's Cascade Range, the 14,162-foot snow-covered volcano towers 10,000 feet above its surroundings.
No wonder Shasta has captivated humans through the ages. Indian tribes considered it the gods' sacred stepping stone down to Earth. Renowned naturalist John Muir was 50 miles away, alone and on foot, when he spied Shasta for the first time. "All my blood turned to wine," he wrote in the 1870s, "and I have not been weary since."
Today, Shasta lures another type of seeker: New Age spiritualists, who consider the mountain a mystical power source. They swarmed it during the Harmonic Convergence of 1987, when people sought to gather at sacred sites. They fell in love with Mt. Shasta and stayed, entertaining the town with their drum circles and incense. But this is timber country, where real men cut down trees - not hug them. "They're nice folks," says a former logger, "but who knows what they're talking about."
Skiers have a more transparent reason for seeking Shasta. The Mt. Shasta Ski Park, located on several small peaks below Mt. Shasta itself, is a friendly community hill with 32 trails across 424 acres, three chairlifts and 1,400 feet of vertical. The area opened following the demise of Mt. Shasta Ski Bowl, swept away by an avalanche in 1978.
Perhaps it was a sign. The gods, some believe, could abide no commerce on the sacred peak. But thanks to the paved road to the old ski area, Shasta provides access to some of the region's best backcountry skiing. And when the ski park, topping out at 6,900 feet, opened in 1985, the locals were happy to have a place to ski in their jeans again. With teenagers in T-shirts and steep black-diamond groomers covered in sun-warmed spring corn, Shasta offers a folksy charm that harkens to days past.
But Mt. Shasta still casts its spell over the region, often in the form of the beautiful cloud formations hovering around the peak. Most stunning are the disc-shaped lenticular clouds that rise around the summit like a stack of cosmic flapjacks. Ask the New Agers, and they'll tell you that these clouds indicate the presence of Lemurians - advanced beings who dwell inside the mountain.
Hey, why not? After all, anyone smart enough to snag ski-in, ski-out digs like those surely exists on a higher plane.
Mt. Shasta Ski Park is 295 miles north of San Francisco. Lift tickets are $25 midweek, $39 weekends.