Mt. Shasta Ski Park freezes high school alpine race season

Bill Choy
Mount Shasta Herald
Mount Shasta High School's Brice Harkness during a Alpine race event at Mt. Shasta Ski Park in February, 2021.

After what they allege to be reckless behavior and two collisions on Sunday, Mt. Shasta Ski Park officials decided abruptly Sunday night to end the 2021 High School Alpine race season at the park, much to the chagrin of the athletes, their coaches and their families.

The season's fourth and final race event was supposed to happen Monday – instead, some North State athletes staged a sit-in to protest the premature end to their season. Competing high schools include Mount Shasta, Enterprise, Foothill, Red Bluff, Shasta, and U-Prep. 

Athletes from some North State high schools stage a "sit-in" at the Mt. Shasta Ski Park on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021 to protest the sudden end to their Alpine race season.

Geoff Harkness – the head ski-snowboard coach at Mount Shasta High School – said none of his team members were at the sit-in to his knowledge and that none of the incidents that took place Sunday involved MSHS Bears or their families.  

“It makes me sad ... I really feel bad for them, especially our seniors. They all have worked so hard this year," Harkness said.  

Paul Schwartz, Division Coordinator for North Division Alpine and the snowboard coach at Redding's Shasta High School said the ski park "suddenly decided to not allow us to do any more racing. ... We are so disappointed for our high school students as they are not able to complete their season, and in my opinion, through no fault of their own."  

'It's a serious liability issue for us'

Mt. Shasta Ski Park general manager Richard Coots said he had no choice but to end the season early because the safety of the ski park's guests is paramount. Coots said there were "numerous reports" from the ski patrol about high school skiers and snowboarders being unsafe and reckless while practicing on Sunday. The athletes did not pay heed to countless warnings, he added.

There were other incidents earlier in the month, Coots said, but Sunday was by far the worst. “It's a serious liability issue for us," he added.

Schwartz said he and others worked hard behind the scenes to coordinate a season so everyone could be as safe as possible. Overall, people followed the rules, he said, but a few people did not.

Schwartz said he was advised of three main incidents that prompted the ski park to call off Monday's race. The first involved a Shasta High School athlete who was not wearing a mask while on a ski lift. When he was told by a ski park employee to wear a mask, a nearby parent got visibly upset and berated the employee.   

The other two incidents involved collisions – one between a snowboarder and a coach from another school who was skiing, and a second involving a snowboarder and a parent skiing, said Schwartz.  

Schwartz admitted that some parents did not adhere to the ski park's request that they not attend ski meets.

The rules clearly stated parents were not allowed at races due to safety protocol, said Coots.

Mt. Shasta Ski Park

Coots said there were several times during races and practices when athletes had to be reminded to wear their masks. He said during Sunday's incident, both the athlete and the parent were rude to ski park staff. Schwartz contends that athletes were unfairly fairly singled out and Sunday's incident was out of frustration; he was told there were 10 to 15 other people around who were also not wearing masks.

“They knew better but they still did not follow the rules,” Coots countered. "It is unfortunate that everyone involved has to suffer for these actions, I get that."

Coots said it was frustrating over the course of the season that parents, coaches and race officials allowed athletes to continue their poor behavior. In his industry, collisions like the two on Sunday are fairly unusual, Coots said, and it's rare to have two on the same day. Incidents like these are taken seriously at ski parks throughout the country since they can open up the potential for lawsuits.

Schwartz said that the high school snowboarders were not trying to be reckless. He said they were both female snowboarders of moderate skill level and both collisions were accidents. Schwartz said there are always coaches and officials present during both meets and practices, and none of them were contacted about possible recklessness or infractions until the final race was called off Sunday evening. He said when the collisions happened, they quickly attended to the situation.  

Schwartz said that it was frustrating to be given just 16 hours' notice about the cancellation. 

While he understands the ski park's reasoning, Harkness said said it's unfortunate the actions of a few people affected the nearly 100 athletes and their families.  

Zach Hoskins, a senior Mount Shasta High School skier said he and his teammates followed all the rules and took following the ski park's protocols seriously.

“It’s pretty disappointing,” Hoskins said, especially since Monday's race was supposed to be the final race of his high school career.

A season that almost wasn't

Coots said the ski park had a strict COVID-19 policy which clearly stated that a ski season would not take place until Siskiyou County entered the red tier of the state's Blueprint for a Safer Economy. Although the county remains in the most restrictive purple tier, alpine racing officials and the ski-snowboard teams pleaded with the ski park to reconsider.

Knowing that a season would be beneficial for the students, the ski park eventually relented and agreed to four races this season, under the provision that athletes, coaches and parents adhered to their safety guidelines.

While alpine officials requested six races, Schwartz said Coots would only consider four races, which they eventually agreed upon.  

Coots said on Monday he planned to talk to the principal of each school to fully explain the ski park's reasoning for cancelling the season early.