Lassen Peak is well known for offering backcountry ski descents later in spring once the Lassen park road (Highway 89) is cleared of snow and connects through the park. This is the time skiers conveniently access Lassen Peak's summit via the summer trail. If, however, you want to ski Lassen Peak during winter or earlier in spring, there are less convenient options. On typical snow years, long approaches must be made from either Manzanita Lake or from the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center near the southwest entrance.
Every so often during winter, particularly during lean snow years, the park service keeps the northern portion of the park road open from Manzanita Lake to the Devastated Area, the area through which the lava path flowed during Lassen’s last major eruptions from 1914 through 1915. Although typically closed and covered in snow during winter, this 9-mile stretch does open intermittently depending on snow depth and weather conditions. It’s also often the first stretch of road to be plowed each spring.
When the park road to the Devastated Area is open you'll have backcountry skiing access to the mountain's broad northeast face, a phenomenal area of Lassen Peak. Multiple climbing routes and ski descents are accessible from the Devastated Area, located at 6,470 feet. Like all backcountry areas, the northeast face should be explored with caution and respect. There is plenty of exposed avalanche terrain and potential for storm and wind slabs or loose wet slides. But when conditions are stable, the northeast face holds some of the best descents in the park.
One of the more accessible descents drops off of a prominent shoulder about two-thirds of the way up Lassen’s north ridge. This shoulder levels off slightly at around 9,800 feet, and this is a well positioned drop-in point that accesses a beautiful northeast facing bowl. Steep terrain drops down from the shoulder for 1,500 feet and is followed by much more gradual and playful terrain leading back to tree line and down through the Devastated Area.
From the Devastated Area parking lot, access the north ridge by heading southwest through the forest toward Lassen Peak, veering right slightly to intercept the Lost Creek drainage. Continue up the drainage and follow low-angled gullies with the steep slopes of Crescent Crater rising to the right. Around 7,800 feet, head toward the saddle between the north ridge and Crescent Crater. Ascend the steep north ridge shoulder. Crampons and an ice ax can come in handy here, particularly earlier in the season, when the ridge can be firm and icy.
Upon gaining the shoulder, the first rocky outcropping encountered marks a good drop in point. If stability is at all in question, a safer option is to ski back down the north ridge. This is a good descent for yo-yo laps; if one is enough, ski back down to the parking lot returning the same way you came. On warmer spring days during corn-cycles, you'll want to get an early start to be skiing by late morning for the best snow.
Visit the Lassen Volcanic National Park road status page here for information on road access to the Devastated Area.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.