After 40 years of running The Fifth Season, Leif Voeltz is retiring. On Tuesday, March 14, Leif gave a talk at the Mt. Shasta Rotary Club that provided some details about his business, his health issues since 2014, and his plans for retirement.
Leif has a long history with our town. In the early 1960s, he visited the Mount Shasta area with his parents, and they would climb and ski Mount Shasta. In high school and college, he worked at climbing and skiing shops doing boot fittings and ski tuning. Later, after he had gotten his college degree in biology, and had tried several different kinds of jobs, he decided that he wanted to open a climbing and skiing store. After doing some research, he and a partner decided to open a shop here in Mt. Shasta.
In 1977, The Fifth Season opened as a backcountry skiing and climbing shop. That same year, a big avalanche on Mount Shasta closed the downhill skiing facility, The Ski Bowl. This proved to be a good opportunity for the newly opened Fifth Season. Local people still wanted to go skiing, and to do that you needed a new type of skiing equipment. The Fifth Season became well known as the place to get good backcountry skiing equipment.
Several Rotarians shared their experiences with going to The Fifth Season. “It was the location to go to,” said Doug Carter. Tom Hesseldenz stated that “Leif taught me how to climb the mountain without dying.” I mentioned buying our first cross-country skiing equipment at The Fifth Season in 1979, and how it is now on display at Mt. Shasta Sisson Museum.”
Leif accepted the compliments and stated that those comments exemplified something he loves about this town, “The embrace of the people of this area, and the love and care of everyone has been so wonderful for Lacy, my wife, and me.” This was especially evident after he became sick.
Leif told the story of his health problems which began in 2014. “I usually ski three to five days each week, but I wasn’t able to do that in the winter of 2014 because we didn’t get enough snow. I felt really down in the spring of 2014 and did not feel like myself, but I blamed that on not doing enough skiing in the winter. I should have listened to my body and paid more attention to what it was trying to tell me.”
In August 2014, Leif and Lacy were down in the Los Angeles area. He felt like he had the flu, so he went to the emergency room. Within an hour, he was in a coma. “I found out that I had had leukemia for quite awhile, and my body had continued to try to deal with those symptoms. It is amazing what a body can do.” Leukemia is a disease in which the bone marrow is not working correctly, so it stops the production of normal blood cells. This leads to anemia and other problems.
During the next six months, Leif went through chemotherapy treatments. In January 2015, he seemed to be cured. Then in August 2015, the disease came back with a vengeance. He needed a bone marrow transplant. They needed to find a donor, but that proved difficult. Eventually, a donor was found who lived in Germany. It was not a perfect match, but it was the best one available.
In order to help his body accept the donated bone marrow, Leif had to go through another round of chemo, and he said he was sicker than he had ever been before.
“Now, I had to be in a wheelchair. I was exhausted and weak. Simply walking a few feet completely drained my strength. My empathy for disabled people greatly increased,” Leif declared.
Since the bone marrow transplant, Leif has made steady progress. The bone marrow is generating healthy red blood cells, platelets, and white blood cells. Luckily, he had been in great shape before this health crisis began. “I am at about 70% of my strength now. I am improving steadily and can go skiing and climbing for a couple of hours. I had my one-year anniversary in the middle of December. They took me off the anti-rejection medication one month ago. I am looking forward to the next anniversaries – especially when you make it the five-year anniversary and they consider you cured of Leukemia.”
Leif announced that he is retiring from running The Fifth Season. “I have a great person who is taking over at the store. Jeff Williams has worked in this profession for 20 years, and he is well prepared to take over. I will be there off and on too.” When questioned about his retirement plans, Leif stated, “I have always had a lot of fun in my life, so I have no ‘bucket list.’ I always made time for the things I like, and I have traveled a lot. So, I will just probably ski more, bike more, climb more, and golf more. I am going to stay in Mt. Shasta. This is a magical spot. Nothing outstrips what we have in this community.”
When asked if he had anything he has learned from this health crisis, Leif said, “Go play! And, get an annual checkup with blood tests. Also, I am forever grateful for this kind, supportive community.”