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Crystal Mountain’s Northway Lift

Storms in the Pacific Northwest hamper visibility. So get some depth perception in the rocky chutes and protected tree runs accessed by Crystal Mountain’s Northway lift. Before the resort installed the 1,870-vertical-foot fixed-grip lift in 2007, this zone was a backcountry stash for locals. Now the chair helps disperse skier traffic and has increased Crystal’s lift-served terrain by 62 percent.
By Mark Lesh
posted: 01/27/2010
Crystal Mountain Northway Lift
Photo by: Ian Coble

 1) Niagara’s
Niagara’s is a wide-open powder field where you can arc 35-degree, fall-line turns. From the top of the Northway lift, head left and cruise the groomed ridge on Upper Otto Bahn. Go through Gate 7 at Spook Hill, then through Gate 9. From there, pass the cross-loaded funnels to enter Niagara’s and let your boards run.

 2) O-Meadows
To access O-Meadows, a 30- to 40-degree pitch through enormous trees, head out Gate 7 to Gate 10 and Gun Tower Ridge. Follow the ridge north about 40 yards past the old gun tower, then drop skier’s right into the tight trees. Don’t worry—they’ll soon open up into a gladed paradise. Niagara’s and O-Meadows don’t return to the Northway lift, so catch the cattrack back to the base area.

 3) Teddy Bear Chute
The Horseshoe Cliffs are cleaved by short chutes that run out into a wide apron. Teddy Bear Chute is the second line to the right past Gate 6. The five-foot-wide entrance requires a quick 10-foot straightline into a hard right-hand turn. Past the crux, it’s smooth and easy into the apron below. Ski Otto Bahn back to the Northway lift.

 4) Finger Chutes
Head right off the Northway lift through Gate 2 and bear right to the top of the chutes. They are a series of wide 30- to 40-degree lanes that spill into lower Northway Bowl. Blaze back to the lift on Upper Northway and repeat.

 5) Glory Days
Every lift has its hero run, the kind you can dominate from top to bottom in full sight of chairlift spectators. For the Northway lift, that run is Glory Days. Pennydawgs, a series of small cliffs, is on skier’s right. Head right off the chair and tuck to the top of Morning Glory Bowl. Hug the trees to your right and head fall-line over the knoll. Throw your biggest spread eagle. Everyone’s watching.

 6) Pucker’s Gulch
Just before the rollover to Glory Days, traverse left a couple hundred feet. You’ll descend into Pucker’s Gulch, a 35-degree, 50-foot-wide gully that sees very little traffic. When it benches out, pick your way through the trees back to the Northway trail.

CRYSTAL MOUNTAIN: AT A GLANCE

Summit elevation: 7,012 feet
Base elevation:
3,912 feet
Total vertical drop:
3,100 feet
Skiable acres:
2,600
Website:
skicrystal.com

Before Crystal installed the Northway lift, it ran a shuttle that picked up skiers who ventured out the gates. The bus no longer operates, so if you have the knowledge and partners to go into the backcountry, set up your own shuttle.

It snows more in the Northwest than almost anywhere in the country, but it also rains. Check the freezing levels if you’re planning a trip to Crystal, and be prepared to battle the rain with foul-weather gear.

Crystal sits on the boundary of Mount Rainier National Park, a backcountry and ski-mountaineering playground. Book a guided backcountry tour with the International Mountain Guides (mountainguides.com).

For a burger and beer, swing by the Snorting Elk Cellar, in the basement of the Alpine Inn at the base of Crystal. It’s a Bavarian-style rathskeller with a little deli in the back, ski flicks on the TV, and old-school ski gear on the walls.

Comments (1) Write a comment

Nice little article and descriptions of the Northway area however, I'd like to point something out that even Crystal Mtn still neglects to change.

The vertical drop isn't 3,100 anymore nor was it to begin with. I'm basing this off of "skiable vert in a single run". Top of the King is 7,012 ft, which is correct, but you can only ski to the Base at 4,400 ft. The bottom of Northway run at 3,912 ft has been labled "permanently" closed by the patrol since the opening of the Northway Chair. You could never access the 3,100 vert via King to Lower Northway.

Anyhow, my point is Crystal’s skiable vert is only 2,612 ft. from the top of the King to the Base. If you consider the 410 side via "Little Richards" you'll be looking at more of 3,300+ vert to the road. If you hit it in the right "Spring Time" window and have a skateboard, you'll be skiing/boarding 3,300 vert and adding a 3 mile downhill skate with an additional couple hundred vertical feet on top of it all.

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