Rumors of a major expansion and new lift coming to Mt. Shasta Ski Park were spot on. The Northern California mountain plans to build a Doppelmayr fixed grip quad on Gray Butte, significantly extending the skiable vertical drop with five new intermediate runs. The new lift will rise 1,154 vertical feet along an approximately 4,300 foot run, topping out at 7,500 feet in elevation.
“We are so excited to announce the Gray Butte Lift, which has been a long time in the making,” says a new project webpage. “The new lift will service much higher elevation, epic terrain, and access to our backcountry area.” Gray Butte will be the longest chairlift at Mt. Shasta with 14 towers and a 9.5 minute ride time.
Although the lift line has already been cut, the project has not yet received final approval and the ski area is asking the public to contact the Siskiyou County Planning Commission with support. Planning documents state construction is expected to take place in the fall of 2022 into early 2023. More information on the timeline will be shared at an April 20th public meeting.
Have skied that before with a snow cat ride to the top. All south face, super cool view and pretty good terrain.
Couldn’t tell from the map where the access back to the existing area is. The two sections outlined, the existing ski area and expansion are all on private land. At one time they were talking about using a little strip of USFS land to get back into the upper section of the existing ski area??
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From the looks of it, they intend for people to egress via the saddle between Coyote and Douglas, but I’ll be shocked if a large portion of skiers don’t endeavor to cut skier’s right off the top and ski to the bottom of the Coyote pod with a more consistent fall line.
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I’ve skied at the Ski Park off and on since 1990, at times pretty deeply involved with the racing programs. The lean snow years led me back to Donner Summit a few years ago, and a hip replacement in 2018 cost me a couple of seasons.
When I picked up the news about the Gray Butte expansion in August, I resolved to buy a pass in October. First day was last Friday, 12/15/22. I’m at a loss to understand this project as it’s implemented.
The Park says it’s either “backcountry access” or “a short hike”. The “short hike” appears to be about a quarter-mile schlep on a flat road, both to and from the Gray Butte base. The “backcountry access” is an intimidating double-diamond northeast face of Coyote Butte, ungroomed because the lower half is Forest Service land. The week-old chop last Friday was just plain dangerous. I might have tried it when I was decades younger, and I’m still a strong expert with close to a thousand days on skis, but this was a hard pass.
So it’s either exit the Park boundaries and take your chances with garbage snow and unmarked obstacles, or a sweaty 10-15 minute hike there and back. My companion and I started the hike out there but turned back because he’s out of shape and was struggling. The handful of skiers we encountered were mostly on foot, skis on shoulders, and not happy campers. The lift was empty every time we looked over from the top of Coyote.
In 65 years of skiing at nearly 40 ski areas, I’ve never seen anything remotely like that. I worry that this may be an investment that will not generate a sufficient return.
It’s obviously dictated by the boundaries between the Merlo Trust inholdings and the Forest Service lands. I wonder if they aggressively sought some kind of accommodation that could make this a ski-to and ski-from lift. Two possibilities come to mind.
A land swap would seem feasible, given the size of the Merlo properties and the number of acres that would be needed to cut and maintain a blue trail into the basin from the top of Coyote and a gravity path around the northeast base of Coyote Butte back to the saddle. The Merlo land looks to be approximately the top half of that gnarly north face, which would be vastly better with grooming, so there could be two ways to ski to the Gray Butte base.
Another thought would be a limited special use permit to allow clearing and grooming of such ingress-egress paths without siting any facilities on the ground.
My concern is that the vast majority of paying customers lack the skills for routine backcountry skiing and will not warm to the challenge of a long, flat slog to get there and back after paying for tickets and passes. As such, this expensive new lift will be underutilized most of the time, and that’s a shame after the years of anticipation and planning.
An immediate band-aid would be to shuttle skiers and riders behind snowmobiles with knotted tow ropes. Mt. Bachelor has done that for years when skiers would frequently miss the eastside catch lines and end up outside the boundaries at the bottom. It’s safe and efficient.
I hope this is not dismissed as a rant. I love the Ski Park and what it represents as a regional gem. I’ve had dozens of great days there and made a lot of friends. I’m thrilled to see good December snow and intend to make the most of my bargain Senior pass. May it live long and prosper, but, please, fix this. 😁
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Quick follow up: Taking another closer look at the map, it looks like a short lift could be be built between the top of Coyote and the Gray Butte base, with two-way loading, passing right through the adjacent corners of the Merlo land. Close downhill loading at 2:45 and continue return loading until the basin has been swept and closed.
But of course that would require another summer and another investment. The snomo shuttle is the only thing they can do immediately.