Northern California is known worldwide as having legendary ski areas. From Mount Shasta to Tahoe down to the Mammoth area, skiing is ingrained in the culture of NorCal.
While places like Tahoe and Mammoth are known to receive heavy amounts of snowfall every year, the high-elevation mountains of Lassen typically win the award for most snow accumulation every winter. The area now sits inside a National Park, barring fancy ski companies from profiting off the snowy slopes, but that wasn’t always the case. In fact, for 70 years in the 1900’s, there was a popular ski area in Lassen.
In the late 1800’s, the southwest area of Lassen was owned by Mathias B. Supan, who used the minerals at modern-day Sulphur Works to sell as medicine at Brooks Drug Store in Red Bluff. When the National Park Service established the park in 1916, Supan’s family members filed a legal claim and were able to gain control Mathias’s land to profit off this now popular tourist destination. This small plot of private land in the brand-new National Park would allow a rare ski resort to flourish in the area for decades.
To meet the demands of local ski junkies in the 1920’s, the Supans opened a small ski area near what is now the southwest entrance of the park. In 1935, with the newly completed Highway 36 providing easy access to Lassen, they added a rope tow and warming hut to improve the growing ski hill. The site became popular for skiers throughout the west coast, with the Lassen Ski Club hosting ski tournaments and jumping competitions throughout the 1930’s. It was even the site where Olympic athletes would train before the Winter Games.
In 1952, the park acquired the Supan’s land for $48,950 in a then controversial deal. While the Park Service now had the land to create a nearly undeveloped outdoor destination, they made a unique decision to issue a permit to the Lassen National Park Company (the park’s concessionaire) to operate a winter sports facility. In 1956, a two-person chairlift to the top of the hill was constructed – dubbed Bumpass Heaven – creating a frenzy of locals who flocked to Lassen to ski.
In 1964, an A-frame ski chalet was built near the chair lift, creating a bona-fide ski resort within a National Park, one of the most unique sporting programs in the country. The Lassen Ski Area began to thrive with advertisements donning “Ski a Volcano” being seen throughout the state. With the Mount Shasta Ski Bowl opening a two-person chair lift in 1959, both of NorCal’s active volcanos had thriving ski operations for decades.
In 1982, the park granted the concessionaire a 20-year lease to continue to operate the ski area, with the stipulation that skiing would end in the park when the lease ended. In 1985, the Mt. Shasta Ski Park was constructed following a massive avalanche that destroyed the Old Ski Bowl. Due to the new competition and a few years of poor snowfall, the Lassen Ski Bowl experience significant financial losses in the early 1990’s.
In 1993, the concessionaire backed out of its lease and closed the Lassen Ski Area for good. This monumental decision set up the modern-day Lassen Volcanic National Park, which remains one of the most undeveloped parks in the country. In 2003, the old ski chalet was torn down and replaced by the Kohm-Yah-Mah-Nee Visitor Center, which still stands in its place today.
While there’s no longer a ski resort in Lassen, the area is still a destination for hardcore ski junkies who split board or snowshoe to the top of their desired runs. It’s a backcountry haven that limits heavy tourist traffic in the winter.
The Lassen area has seen plenty of historical events since the early 1900’s, including its establishment of a National Park and, of course, its volcanic eruption in 1914. The Lassen Ski Area remains an important story in that history.
Northern California’s Outdoor Digital Newsmagazine