Reviewed by Laura Ogden
Dec 04, 2008
78 miles northeast of Seattle and sloppy transforms into steep, deep, and dry at Stevens Pass
Mt. Baker holds the record for the most snowfall in a single season in the United States, a whopping 1,140 inches.
Quick Tip: Alpental, one of four base areas that make up the Summit at Snoqualmie, is traditionally closed on Mondays. Go on a Tuesday to maximize your odds of getting fresh tracks and minimize the potential for crowds coming up from Seattle.
Crystal Mountain is Washington’s largest ski area, with 2,600 acres, but it oozes the low-key vibe the Pacific Northwest is known for—no fancy bells and whistles, no heated quads—and diehard locals who don’t mind skiing in the rain. Though it does boast a few sophisticated perks, like the new bottom-to-top Mt. Rainier gondola and the Summit House restaurant’s gourmet grub. The Northway lift offers the best steep skiing on the mountain, and if you’re up for a bootpack, head to the sidecountry off Silver King (take your avy gear). Thanks to 612 inches of snow last winter, Crystal was one of the country’s last resorts to close when it shuttered on July 16.
Start Here: Make your first run down the Frontside, the area underneath Rainier Express lift, regardless of the conditions.
Quick Tip: Arrive early—Seattleites drink lots of coffee and will be lining up for first chair well before it opens at 9:00 am.
Must Hit: Ski off the top of Silver King Peak, a short hike from Chair 6 into South Backcountry. Patrol throws bombs and opens the terrain through gates, but wear your avy gear anyway. Head back into Avalanche Basin or off the south side into Silver Basin.
The Stash: Access Horseshoe Chutes from the Northway Lift. They offer steep and tight heart-in-your-throat excitement.
Powder Day: The first run on a powder day is always under Rainier Express lift. Off the top of the chair plunge straight down slashing 40-degree pow back to the lift.
Three Days Later: Powder Bowl offers a wide-open sustained steep pitch great for pow, and for smooth, chalky snow in between storms. If you want to hike, The King is a good bet as well.
Park and Pipe: Crystal Mountain culture does not embrace wearing neon pants around the knees. There is no park or pipe, and no jib scene. Head for the natural hits if you’re craving air.
Backcountry Access: Crystal is mecca for terrain. The Northway Lift accesses the resort’s sidecountry. There is no grooming, but there is avalanche control. Past this is North Backcountry, accessible through designated gates, which has no control work (read: wear your beacon, pack, and shovel).
Weather: Weather at Crystal is a moot point. Basically, wear Gore-Tex at all times, layer until you can’t layer anymore, and have an open mind. When it finally goes blue, you’ll be blown away by the view of Mount Rainier, which you can see on a clear day.
Après: To watch your favorite team on the plasma screen, head upstairs in the base lodge to The Bullwheel, where you need two hands to lift the nachos platter. They also have 15 beers on tap, including many local microbrews, like Manny's Pale Ale.
Fuel: The Cascade Grill in the base area lodge has hardy breakfast options. A local favorite is the BELTCH (bacon, egg, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and ham), which is big enough to split. For lunch, head to the Campbell Basin Lodge for the chicken teriyaki bowl. The Summit House Bistro offers splurges like potato-crusted halibut and Swiss fondue.
Up All Night: The Snorting Elk Cellar in the basement of the Alpine Inn has live music on the weekends. They clear out the tables and people dance all night in their skiboots. In between songs drink Guinness and eat pizza.
Digs: The Silver Skis Condos has an outdoor, heated pool. If you’re on a budget, try the Alpine Inn. Learn more about lodging at www.staycrystal.com.