Prep Time: Two weeks
Time Off Work: Three days
When to Go: March–June
New age spiritualists have gathered in the shadows of Mount Shasta's 14,162-foot peak since the Harmonic Convergence of '87, but the crystal-toting masses ain't got nothing on the legions of ski mountaineers who covet the lower 48's most authentic-yet-accessible big-mountain experience. Summiting and schussing Shasta on your own demands evolved skiing and mountaineering skills; barring that, hire the capable folks at Shasta Mountain Guides, a group of local climbers and skiers who've been carving into Shasta's snowpack for nearly 30 years. They will also guide you away from crowds and into the locals' favorite run, Hot Tune, a 7,000-foot route that traces a sun-softened throat of forgiving corn snow between the Hotlum and Wintun Glaciers. "On Hot Tune, you can ski from within 20 yards of the summit," says Rich Meyer, who's spent the past decade leading clients to the summit. "And the snow is probably the best on the mountain." For most, it's a weekend affair, with a predawn summit push after a day of uphill skiing. Less ambitious ski mountaineers might want to hike the popular Avalanche Gulch route to Lake Helen, at about 10,000 feet, then take the skins off your skis for a rolling 3,500-foot descent over glacial moraines. It's about a four-hour round-trip on what Meyer describes as "a sweet cruising run that's not too sketchy for intermediates and not too tame for experts."
Start Today: Learn crampon and ice ax technique. Those with more time could add a skills course on Shasta to begin their trip. Work your legs. Add low-weight, high-rep squats and lunges to your workout. The 7,000-foot descent of Hot Tune will turn even the strongest quads to jelly. For climbing fitness, set the stairclimber to fast-pace, small-step mode.
Don't Leave Home Without: Advil. "People think altitude won't be a problem in the lower 48," says Meyer. "But most of my clients deal with some acute mountain sickness. Advil will help with the headaches."
More Info: Shasta Mountain Guides' offers single and multi-day ski and snowboard ascents, as well as backcountry skiing (shastaguides.com).
MJ Insider: Frozen morning snow can thwart traditional climbing skins. Use ski crampons, which provide ice-busting traction and keep your skis on your feet instead of your back. Tune your skis. That means sharp edges, fresh wax, and a careful inspection of all binding parts for cracked plastic and loose screws. This isn't like at your favorite resort where you can duck inside for a hot whiskey while the ski tech sorts you out.