Adapting to change: Mt. Shasta Ski Park summer season

Barry Kaye
An Enduro mountain bike racer practices on the Mt. Shasta Ski Park course prior to the race held Saturday, June 2, 2018, which featured 47 contestants and served to kick off the Park's summer mountain biking season.

Riders at the Mt. Shasta Ski Park kicked off the summer mountain biking season Saturday with a race and a party.

The race featured 47 contestants in the first Shasta Vortex Enduro. Riders were timed on four separate sections of single track course. Lowest score wins.

The party broke out shortly after the band Sundown Poachers cranked out “Cashin’ Checks” on the lower deck. Beer flowed freely.

Especially deserving of an adult beverage were Marco Osborne, 26, of Truckee, and Janea Perry, 24, from Medford, Ore., who won the men’s and women’s pro divisions, respectively.

“Course was fun. Super loose,” Osborne said. “It’s an awesome place that has a lot of potential.”

Enduro mountain biking is a fairly recent phenomenon. Its roots are similar to European car rallies. The first recorded event was in France at Val D’Allos in 2003. The process is often as important as the actual race. Parking lots are filled with dogs, children and camaraderie. And lots of bikes.

Ski resorts are especially well-suited for Enduro events because chairlifts can shuttle riders up the mountain, making the most of a technical, downhill descent. Choosing the right bike is critical. Specialized models like a Scott Genius 700 retail for $10,000 and more. The general pre-race consensus was that a “long and slack” setup would do well on the Shasta course.

Building a destination mountain bike facility on Mt. Shasta is a special passion for Richard Coots, the Ski Park’s General Manager. Coots, 66, who has worked at the resort since it opened in 1985, is an avid tele skier, mountain biker, fly fisherman and trail builder.

Ski Park staff have so far carved out 25 miles of trails including hand-built features with names like “Pipe Dragon” and “Road Gap.” Think snowboarding terrain park for mountain bikers. Most of the lumber is milled onsite with a band saw in the parking lot.

It is all about surviving in an era of climate change. Three of the past five winters have been brutal for the ski industry in California.

“We can predict summer but we can’t predict winter,” Coots said. “We are going to have to adjust if we are going to stay.”

According to the Mountain Biking Association, the sport is steadily growing in popularity with an estimated 40 million riders.

That fact is not lost on Mt. Shasta residents who see mountain biking as a way to improve the local economy. A recent $420,000 grant from the McConnell Foundation will help connect the current Gateway trail system off Everitt Memorial Highway with the Nordic Center and eventually the Ski Park, according to John Harch with the Mount Shasta Trail Association.

Harch said mountain bikers are a particularly lucrative demographic. They often arrive with several expensive bikes and stay for more than one day.

“It really does bring people to town,” he said. “There is a lot of excitement.”

To be sure the Ski Park faces many challenges when it comes to trail building. Volcanic ash is not an ideal base. One wicked thunderstorm can wash away a heartbreaking amount of work.

A five-person trail crew is learning to adjust. Irrigation is critical. A recently constructed clay pit allows trail builders to export and then augment soil to retain moisture in areas like flow turns so they don’t get soft.

Inspiration also comes in many forms. The Ski Park’s “boneyard” – where old groomers and equipment are laid to rest – is a fertile hunting ground for new feature ideas.

Taylor Russell, the resort’s bike park manager, said hosting an officially sanctioned Enduro event where riders earn points with USA Cycling is a significant step forward. Russell, who also races, likes the idea of multiple timed runs over a variety of terrain. If Enduro were a ski race, contestants would be reaching for their All Mountain boards.

“Downhill is such a short amount of time. One mistake can ruin your whole run,” Russell said. “With Enduro you have the opportunity to correct mistakes.”

Back on the deck where the band is wrapping up its last set and bumps and bruises have been properly treated with ice and alcohol, several riders praised the race course and the overall event.

“I wasn’t expecting this many people to turn out,” said Greg Andreoli of Eureka, who camped in the parking lot the night before the race. “It (the race) was really fun and a little bit of everything.”