December 11, 2023

What's the Shasta Ascension Backcountry Race and why are people wearing costumes? Casey has answers.






Friends of the Mt. Shasta Avalanche Center (FMSAC) is our non-profit partner that we proudly donate 1% of our total revenue toward. For the last 10 years, they’ve held the wildly popular Shasta Ascension Backcountry Race at Mount Shasta Ski Park. Why does everyone love it? Most likely because it’s so frickin’ hard to compete in. But before we say anything else, we asked Casey Glaubman, the Executive Director at FMSAC to describe the race for the Journal and just like the event, he went above and beyond.  

These days, one of the fastest-growing segments in the outdoor industry is backcountry skiing and riding. Essentially, these maniacs strap special skis and bindings to their feet, hike uphill, then ski back down. All in the name of…fun? 

It’s fairly commonplace for folks to do this in an organized manner, in what have colloquially become known as SkiMo races. (short for ski mountaineering). And this year, right here in Mount Shasta, the Friends of the Mount Shasta Avalanche Center (FMSAC) will be hosting the 10th Annual Shasta Ascension Backcountry Race. 10 years of this craziness! So, how did it all come about, you ask? Well sit back, grab a beverage, and let me tell you a tale.

For years, the FMSAC has hosted the Snow Ball, a noisy, festive celebration complete with music, drinks, prizes, and of course a bunch of folks dancing around a fire paying homage to Ullr (in Norse mythology, good ol’ Ullr is considered to be a god associated with skiing). As great as the Snow Ball is (it’s a blast), the organizers wanted something for folks to do during the day. The idea of a backcountry ski race was born. Long-time FMSAC board member, and current board President Hanne Meyers, recalled that “people were kind of skeptical of the idea of the event as it was the first one in the Mount Shasta area, but I think because it was in support of the Avalanche Center, they were willing to give it a try.” And try they did. About 40 folks came out in support that first year.

That first season nearly all 40 racers dressed up in some sort of costume. Whether it was a silly ski onesie, or the classic Canadian Tuxedo, the atmosphere was extremely festive. Most SkiMo races these days feature throngs of spandex-clad athletes charging uphill in all their skintight glory. And while there is plenty of spandex to be seen at the Shasta Ascension Backcountry Race, the organizers have held true to that original ethos, even going so far as to have prizes for best costumes each season. We should note here that last season’s costume contest was won by a very festive banana. Yup, a skiing banana.

The Shasta Ascension Backcountry Race is held every year at the Mount Shasta Ski Park (minus one low-snow year that necessitated a relocation). Once again, thanks to our partners at the Mount Shasta Ski Park, we’ll be descending upon the slopes in hordes of costumed glory. Think this sounds like something you might be interested in? Registration just went live! You can check out all the info about the race, registration, and of course the course map so you can plan out your victory.

The track for the Ascension Race hasn’t changed much over the years. It starts out with a grueling uphill skin, followed by a harrowing descent that takes you out the back of the Ski Park, into what used to be the backcountry. With the addition last season of a new ski lift, that section now actually sees racers ascend under and near the newly installed ski lift. Organizers were a little concerned this would remove some of the “wild elements” that gives SkiMo racing its charm. But they needn’t have worried, as all it really did is give spectators another opportunity to heckle racers from high above, while simultaneously riding a chairlift and questioning the sanity of folks that choose to hike uphill…for fun.  

At the top of this second uphill, racers are greeted by a crowd of friendly, welcoming faces offering hot snacks off the grill, and adult beverages of your choice. Depending on how seriously you take the race, it’s either a great opportunity to stop and eat, or a chance to tell your growling stomach “not yet, just a little bit longer!” as you prepare for the next descent. 

The course then follows a track out around the outside of the Mount Shasta Ski Park, until you make your way to the bottom of the dreaded bootpack. It wouldn’t be a true SkiMo race without a bootpack thrown in there just to anger your already burning quads. (no, really, it’s actually a requirement to have one in there) Assuming your legs and lungs are still functioning at the top of the bootpack, it’s time to strap on your skis or board for one last, leg-burning descent down to the finish line where you’ll be greeted by hordes of adoring spectators.  

Once you’ve had a chance to recover, you can treat yourself to the beverage you turned down at the top because, trust me, you’ll have earned it. At this point you may or may not want to check out the leaderboard with all the times posted. I say you may or may not want to check, because it really depends on how your ego feels about getting crushed by a bunch of local 13-year-olds. How are they so fast!?!  

After you’ve got the beverage in hand and your ego firmly in check, take a moment to walk around the vendor village and see all the latest offerings from outdoor brands. As the Shasta Ascension Backcountry Race has grown, so has interest in the sport and attention from outdoor brands. It’s a great time to get your hands on some of the latest gear, and to try to convince yourself that if you can just shave a half pound of gear-weight off each foot, next year you’ll be on that podium!

Once the (snow-)dust has settled, it’s time to make your way over to the City Park for the annual Snow Ball. More food, drink, and dancing than you can shake a ski pole at. This season, you’ll be treated to the musical stylings of The Kings of Queen, delivering your favorite hits in all their mustachioed glory. There will be plenty of raffle prizes, and a fantastic Silent Auction where you can win the gear you need for a glorious return to next season’s Ascension Race. At the very least, you’ll be able to dance the night away with all the great folks you met throughout the course that day.

Podium dreams aside, isn’t the real treasure the friends we made along the skintrack? See you at the Ascension Race!

Whether you enter the race or stand by the sidelines cheering the ‘maniacs’ as they cross the finish line, now’s the time to book your stay at LOGE Mt. Shasta. We’re just a 15-minute drive to the Mount Shasta Ski Park. Plus, the earlier you book the better (and also cheaper, especially if you do it directly from our site or app).  

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