Mt. Shasta and the art of skiing corn

Winter in Northern California can be hard to define. It could serve up a severe winter storm with cold, blustery deep snow; or you may be slipping into flip flops under bright sunshine after enjoying a pleasant ski tour. Both can be equally enjoyable and one of the highlights of living and playing in and around Mt. Shasta.

We are currently in our mid winter break and seeing dry conditions and above average temps. Although we’re enjoying the spring like weather, it’s hard not to question when we will see a return to winter and regular storm systems. In 2011, the last big el nino year, we had 18 consecutive days of mild, dry conditions. This current pattern is not unusual and there is serious talk of a very wet and wild March. So best to enjoy the sun, tune up your gear, and get ready for the next wave bound for California.

It’s been a pretty festive winter and lots of stoked skiers and boarders again in California. Mt. Shasta has been putting on a quite a show this year and local photographer and dedicated dawn patrol skier Mike Hupp has been mesmorizing us with his stunning photography.

Mike Hupp Dawn Patrol Imags

Mike Hupp Dawn Patrol Imags

We live for the winter storm advisories but if the sun decides to come out and the thermometer climbs up, we’ll take advantage of the break and explore the backcountry looking for corn snow rather than powder. We love powder and here is a great video of what ski mountaineering on Mt. Shasta looks like. Huge props to local student and future SMG guide Owen Stroud.

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It can be said that corn skiing ranks a close second to pure powder as skier’s favorite. It’s hard to argue about powder’s superiority but like many things lusted after; its opportunities are more limited and temporary on a 14,000’ Cascade volcano. What Mt. Shasta may lack in consistent powder days, we certainly make up for with what’s been described as “the best corn on the planet…”

Sean Malee surfs the magic carpet of perfect Mt. Shasta corn snow

Sean Malee surfs the magic carpet of perfect Mt. Shasta corn snow

If you’re unfamiliar; corn snow is the product of a high water content, melt-freeze cycled, snowpack. As the pack metamorphosizes, it consolidates into a singular, cohesive unit that freezes hard at night and the top 2-3 inches melts during the day to create a magic carpet surface that is pure fun to ski and board. Corn snow is often combined with a lower (not eliminated) avalanche hazard and milder temps. Couple this with cold drinks stashed in the snowberm at the trailhead and a pair of the above mentioned flip flops and that adds up to a pretty fine day in the backcountry.

Backcountry skiing Mt. Shasta, CA

Backcountry skiing Mt. Shasta, CA

With an El Nino like we are experiencing, there is no question there will be many prime corn skiing days this season on Mt. Shasta. We are currently well above normal for both snowpack and water content, so we’re confidant the climbing and skiing will be in the optimal range this year.

There is still plenty of winter remaining and if forecasts are true we could get back to wet weather possibly by next week. There will be a fun event March 5th as a film showing of Dream Line to support the Mt. Shasta Avalanche Center. Swedish Filmaker Bjarne Salen has recently relocated to Mt. Shasta and judging by his Instagram he is getting after it and enjoying his new backyard playground. Welcome Bjarne, we look forward to seeing the film!

Have a great holiday weekend and stay safe in the backcountry!


  1. Great films. Local or global. Yup, all together in a dream following our hearts, not our heads. Following our bliss!


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