Lassen Peak is the southernmost volcano in the Cascade Range. The area around the peak was established as Lassen Volcanic National Park on August 9, 1916. In a stroke of luck, Mathias Supan was the owner of the southwest area of what eventually became Lassen Volcanic National Park as he used the minerals at modern-day Sulfer Works to sell as medicine. Once the park opened, his family put in a legal claim that they were allowed to gain control over the land and take advantage of a now popular destination. This small piece of land inside the park is what allowed a ski area to flourish over the course of 70+ years. After that in the 1920s, a ski area was established in the park’s southwest corner on the north-facing slopes of Brokeoff Mountain. Lake Helen, located inside the park, receives an average of 660 inches of snowfall per year, making it the snowiest place in Califonia and a no-brainer spot to establish a ski area.
In 1935, a rope tow and warming hut was added to upgrade the ski hill. Lassen Ski Area grew exponentially thanks to these new additions and the completion of Highway 36. Throughout the 1930s, this little ski area commonly hosted ski tournaments and jumping competitions, and even served as a place where Olympic athletes would get some time on snow. In 1952, the Supan’s land was sold to the National Park Service. In 1964, a two-story A-Frame ski chalet was built featuring a tall glass wall that gave visitors an expansive view of the ski hill.
In 1978, visitation to the area drastically increased after Mount Shasta Ski Bowl was forced to close after irreparable avalanche damage. Lassen Ski Area began to thrive under the advertising campaign “Ski a Volcano,” drawing in people from all across Northern California. In 1982, a triple chairlift dubbed “Bumpass Heaven” was installed at the top of the mountain, aptly named after the Bumpass Hell hydrothermal area that is only two miles northeast of the ski area. In the same year, the park gave the concessionaire a 20-year lease to continue operation, with the requirement to cease operations at the end of the lease. Unfortunately, this ultimatum signaled the end of an era, and visitation slowly declined along with snowfall becoming variable. Competition grew in the area, and in 1994 Lassen Ski Area stopped spinning its lifts for good. In 2005, the chalet was demolished and is now the site of the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center.
Today, the once-thriving ski area is slowly fading back into the natural landscape. Every winter season, thousands of visitors take to the park and use this area to ski, snowshoe, and sled. Lassen National Park is also one of the greatest hidden gems of the American West. Lassen Peak, Bumpass Hell, Sulfur Works, Cinder Cone, and Painted Dunes are all breathtaking places within the park. If you are ever in the area, I highly recommend stopping and exploring one of the most untouched and beautiful places in California.