California Forum

Drawing the Palm Springs crowd north with milder winters

If the winters continue to be mild, the Mount Shasta Ski Park might have to fill the void in winter sports with year-round activities.
If the winters continue to be mild, the Mount Shasta Ski Park might have to fill the void in winter sports with year-round activities. Sacramento Bee file

I love the small Northern California town where I’ve lived for the past two decades: the charming historic architecture of its downtown, its setting in a river canyon surrounded by forested hillsides.

What I don’t like are its winters. I was born and raised in Sacramento, where we’d see a snowflake every 10 years. After my first experience up here in the north state with first-stage frostbite, I started wearing two pairs of gloves and four pairs of socks under my snow boots.

Older folks like myself tend to suffer the most from harsh, bitter-cold winters, due to our slowing circulation. And we’re not too crazy about the fender benders, and worse, that can occur on slick streets. So when those pension checks start arriving, it’s not unusual for some folks to move to warmer climes, like Palm Springs.

But what if Palm Springs moves up here? Lately, our winters have been unusually mild, with little snow and ice. As I write this, in early April, we’re getting our first few inches of snow, all we’ve had for the entire season.

So instead of renting a U-Haul and heading to warmer climes, I can stay right here and plant tomatoes in spring instead of early summer. It’s not difficult to imagine the Mount Shasta area becoming a farming region in future decades, with tomatoes and melons edging out cattle and alfalfa.

As far as this former Valley boy is concerned, the climate can keep on warming. But it’s not going to be so easy for the region as a whole.

Take the example of the town just 10 miles north of Dunsmuir: Mount Shasta, at the base of the mountain. Until recently, folks there felt pretty smug, thinking they’d solved the economic difficulties posed by the decline of the timber industry and the closure of the town’s lumber mills. Recreation, centered on climbing, skiing and snowboarding on the mountain, had created a thriving downtown business community that includes sporting goods stores, restaurants and motels.

But the Mount Shasta Ski Park has been able to open only for a few days these past two seasons, and that’s been a severe blow to the many businesses that depend on winter recreation, as well as to the ski park’s 300 seasonal employees.

They might take a lesson from the Tahoe region, whose ski resorts are facing similar challenges and have moved aggressively to fill the void in winter sports with year-round activities that include mountain biking, elevated toboggan rides and yoga classes.

The Mount Shasta Ski Park is looking at similar options but seems to need a fresh infusion of cash to make them happen.

But here’s another idea, one that would make climate change work to our advantage. We could reverse the loss of seniors to warmer climes with a marketing campaign I’ll call “Palm Springs North.” Brochures and websites would display photos of golden-agers sitting under beach umbrellas and sipping cool drinks, with Mount Shasta looming majestically in the background, its slopes bare of snow – which is exactly how it has looked the past two summers.

But, on second thought, perhaps it would be wiser to skip all that hype and just let things take their natural course. A lot of people will naturally prefer serenity and scenic beauty over crime and noise and traffic congestion – if they don’t at the same time have to cope with frozen fingers and icy roads.

We don’t want to be too successful attracting people up here, after all, to the point where we’re living in the place we left behind, with its noise, crime, traffic congestion, etc.

As for me, well, as my snow boots gather dust in the corner, I’m looking forward to my first bite of that juicy homegrown tomato – in June, not August.

Tim Holt is a longtime journalist and the editor of the quarterly North State Review.