To the north, a small lift area on Mount Lassen has been supplemented by a brand-new giant ski bowl on Mount Shasta. It is largely the creation of Chapman Wentworth, a Dartmouth skier and industrial engineer turned small-town publisher, who discovered when he had bought his paper that nobody in the logging communities of Siskiyou County paid any bills when the logging stopped between February and April. His efforts got the communities of Dunsmuir, Mount Shasta City and Weed together. Everybody and his sister bought shares of stock at $10, and the county did its bit by paving a road to the bowl, which now has a double chair lift and a huge rectangular lodge-with-solarium-and-view.
Shasta has three principal handicaps as a ski resort. One is the distance from big cities—it is a six-hour drive from the Bay area. Another is a lack of nearby accommodations. Except for those who get one of the 20 rooms at the area's lodge, people have to drive up and down every day and go for their good times to the pleasant but limited facilities of the Black Butte Inn in Mount Shasta City or the Dunsmuir Hotel. A third handicap is the weather; on any winter day the mountain may be smothered in clouds.
On the other hand, the people running Shasta—Manager Joe Futch and Ski School Head Buck Martin—are young, enthusiastic and determined to give everybody a good time. The ski area itself is one enormous bowl, half a mile wide at its narrowest point; some skiers say that this vast expanse and the lack of landmarks tends to give them vertigo. Nevertheless, the bowl makes an ideal arrangement for families, where every member can watch everyone else showing off above or creeping down below.
In addition to having Klamath Indian medicine men on hand as snow makers, Mount Shasta can claim to be holy ground to no less than two California religions, the Rosicrucian (AMORC) and I AM movements. The Rosicrucians hold that the mysterious lights and bell-like sounds sometimes encountered on Shasta are indications of the continued existence of the holy city of Yaktayria, an abode of the Lemurians who survived the sinking of their continent into what is now the Pacific Ocean. The Lemurians are tall, shy, radioactive, extrasensorily perceptive and have knoblike excrescences on their brows. Their thoughts are mostly profound, but they take an impish delight in tripping up skiers unawares.
As for I AM, its gospel was revealed to the late Guy Warren Ballard on the slopes of the mountain in August 1930 in interviews with a supernatural communicant, identified as Saint Germain and accompanied by a panther.
Far to the south a new area, potentially the biggest of all, has opened up on the slopes of Mammoth Mountain, a rugged and picturesque site about 320 miles from Los Angeles. The six-hour drive is nothing to the Los Angeles skiers fleeing from the overcrowded thin-snowed peaks available to them in the south. Mammoth has enormous quantities of snow. It was reconnoitered and recognized as prime ski country by Dave McCoy, a racing champ and also hydrographer for the city of Los Angeles. His studies of snowfall led him to Mammoth, and in 1948 he installed his first rope tow there. Year by year the operation has expanded with the profits of the year before and whatever McCoy could borrow from the local bank. Besides the beginner's T bar there are two chair lifts, with a vertical rise of 1,000 feet, starting at points about a mile apart but coming together at the top. The newest chair lift starts at these terminals and rises another 1,000 feet to the 10,700-foot level.
Last year a group of rich Angelenos, headed by Lawyer Andrew J. Hurley, erected the Mammoth Mountain Inn, the most expensive structure the mountains have seen in a generation. It is a handsome, modernistic-Alpine building, with a steep-pitched roof and an artful design that manages to look both luxurious and warmly ski-lodgy. It can sleep 300 people at high prices—$5 for a dormitory bed to $40 for a two-level corner suite with sun balcony.
The inn has been crushingly popular from the start, but it has hardly made money. Its opening season was a catalog of all the mistakes that can be made in getting a resort under way. The manager, a skier himself, filled the huge establishment with a staff of eager sportsmen, some of whom were only dimly aware of the big-business demands of a 100-room lodge. "What do you know about running a hotel?" cried one of the chambermaids to Hurley when he announced the imminent departure of the manager. "You can't even ski." Out went the manager, and a new one came in who dresses in business suits of electric blue and keeps strict books. With this firm new hand on the wheel everything should be under control for the 1960 season, including the new outdoor ice rink.
A new competitor will be going full blast by that time, at China Peak near Huntington Lake across the mountains from Mammoth, with a 5,800-foot-long chair lift and possibilities of great expansion when the roads to the area are improved. All over the Sierra, in fact, keen eyes are searching the remaining white wastes. For it is generally believed that the western ski boom has only begun.
It is not yet a guaranteed road to fortune. Besides the vagaries of the weather, avalanches, blocked roads and the like, there is another kind of competition. The best season for Sierra skiing is generally in the spring, when the long sunny days and the cold nights produce acres of glorious corn snow. But the California sportsman, when he sees the wild flowers blooming by the roadside, tends to get out his boat and head for the water; so that though races can be held through the Fourth of July the season is generally dead after Easter. Another danger hangs over the heads of the operators: the increasing litigiousness of the injured skier who in the old days might get his leg crunched in a rope tow without a whimper but now has a tendency to bring suit at the crack of a bone. Insurance against personal injury claims is now the second-highest item on the operators' budget, after labor, and the premiums grow every year. Sometimes the injured parties have a grievance, as did the couple that was left dangling on the Squaw Valley lift when the man at the controls shut it down for the night.