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New lifts, base lodges, dining options, and other skier amenities are all welcome additions at resorts across the country, but a towering tribute to the Virgin Mary? Not so much. Mt. Shasta Ski Park, a 635-acre ski area located in Northern California at the foot of the iconic fourteener, just shared plans to build a 20-foot-high statue of the Virgin Mary at the top of Douglas Butte, which is one of the resort’s four lift-served summits.
Why? According to the statement shared on December 10 on the resort’s Instagram page, the statue had been a passion project of the Merlos, the Ski Park’s owners. Ray Merlo died in 2020, and his wife, Robin, decided to move ahead with the plan in his honor.
“The installation of this statue is very important to our owner as this was a shared goal with her late husband and business partner, Ray Merlo,” the statement read. “They have dedicated their resources to improving the Ski Park over the last few years and in the words of Robin Merlo, this statue is a promise fulfilled and a true representation of the dedication to family that we all value so much here at the Ski Park.”
While Shasta maintains that the statue isn’t meant to promote any one religion, but rather “honor the beauty and spiritual power of the mountain we all love so much,” Shasta’s dedicated ski community feels otherwise, sounding off in now-deleted comments on the above Instagram post.
However, Internet ire will always find a way, and community members left their thoughts on Shasta’s previous posts instead.
“Honoring the spirituality of the mountain could and should be more inclusive than a 20-foot statue of Mary, especially given the stated goal of ‘not focusing on one religion.’” commented one level-headed Instagram user. “Please consider a different approach that fosters belonging for everyone.”
Others were less diplomatic. “Maybe erect a statue showing respect to the native folks killed by religion who were there long before y’all owned the mountain.” Mt. Shasta Ski Park is built on the flanks of the volcano of the same name, and was originally home to at least four indigenous tribes, including the Shasta, the Modoc, the Wintu, and the Ajumawi/Atsuwegi people.
As of now, the plan is to build the statue’s platform this winter, then add the Virgin herself over the summer. But locals are hoping it doesn’t get that far, circulating a Change.org petition to collect 500 signatures in an attempt to get Shasta’s owners to abandon the idea. According to the petition, the U.S. Forest Service, which owns the upper slopes of Shasta and leases them back to the Merlos, has also been looped in.
“The ski park is not just an outdoor space; it’s our community’s gathering spot. It is where we teach our children to ski and where we meet with friends and family during the winter months,” the petition reads, “The religious icon currently under construction threatens to alienate members of our diverse community who do not share the same religious beliefs. Local gathering places, whether private or not, should remain neutral spaces that promote inclusivity and respect for all visitors.”
Or, as another concise Instagram user put it: “Virgin Mary at a ski resort makes no sense, keep religion out of skiing.”