Author Archives: Kim Kircher

About Kim Kircher

I'm a ski patroller and author, finding a new balance between my adventurous outdoor life and my writerly indoor one.

Colin Sutton Avalanche Fatality: A father seeks justice

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Jonathan Thompson penned a recent article about the death of Wolf Creek ski patroller Colin Sutton. It’s a fascinating read. Last year Colin was digging a snow profile pit in a backcountry area near Wolf Creek when he was swept away by an avalanche. He was on the clock and working without a permit outside of the ski area boundaries. Wolf Creek CEO Davey Pitcher has been charged with unauthorized use within a Forest Service area. OSHA charged the ski area $14,000 in connection with Sutton’s death. Colin’s father wants justice. Click on the link below to read the article in Pique Magazine.Johnathon Thompson_Ski Patroller Article

14th Annual Dirt Bag Ball: Super Hero Invasion

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We could use a few super heroes around here. I’m specifically thinking of Thor, who can summon the elements of a storm and travel through time. (If I were Thor, I’d take my Soul 7s back to 1970, conjure up a big storm and rip Southback all day long. Who’s with me?)

It’s time for the Annual Dirt Bag Ball and the theme this year is SUPER HEROES. The event is March 28th. Doors open at 8:30. Check out this post if you think you’ve got what it takes to be crowned at this year’s Ball.

Get your entry tickets and be sure to get a couple of raffle tickets as well. (I have some raffle tickets to sell, so hit me up!!)

Tickets available at RIGHT ANGLE SPORT SHOP, WAPITI WOOLIES and in the patrol room at the Summit House. In addition, you can email Lisa at lisamponcelet(at)gmail.com to purchase tickets. Good luck!!

14th Annual DBB

Top 10 Ways to Get Through a Low Snow Season

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Here we are in the second week of March and the ski season hasn’t really started yet. Sure, it’s Snowmageddon on the East Coast, but that doesn’t help us out here. In fact, we really don’t want to know about the seven feet of snow that fell in Boston in 25 minutes. Believe me. Instead, we have our own ways of coping with a low snow season. Here’s my top ten.

1. Stop Looking at the Forecast. This one might seem counterintuitive. I’m usually a fanatical keen follower of the weather forecast. I’ve even shared my tips on how to be there for a powder day. Days, weeks and probably months of my life have been spent squinting at the forecast models, hoping to predict when the next snow storm will hit Crystal Mountain. But the persistent high pressure is getting monotonous. It’s starting to feel like a bully–pushing all of our would-be snow into God-knows-where. Not looking at the forecast can be liberating. Besides, what with all the amateur forecast/winter enthusiasts out there, it would be impossible not to hear about a storm brewing. So give the forecast models a rest. You’ll feel better.

Looking for Winter in Big Sky, Montana

Looking for Winter in Big Sky, Montana

2. Avoid Jaded Locals. This one might be easier said than done, especially if you live at a ski area. You might even be the jaded local mumbling into his beer about the bullshit, crappy lack of snow. If this sounds like you, skip down to number five. If it’s not you, avoid this guy like rain. He will only bring you down.

3. Pray to Ullr. When it comes to snow, I believe wholeheartedly in putting your mental powers to good use. I’ve been wearing (and rubbing and praying to) my Ullr pendant for months now. Obviously, I’m not doing it right. Maybe if enough of us start praying to the Norse God of Skiing, we’ll make some headway together. Here’s a great source for a beautiful Ullr medallion.

Find your happy place

Find your happy place

4. Earn Your Turns. Not to be Captain Obvious here, but when you spend most of your day hiking, and only a short time skiing, you don’t need as much snow to have fun. Plus, the upper bowls and ridges in the Cascades actually have plenty of snow, you just have to hike up to get to it.

5. Don’t be a Debbie Downer. We all know about the lack of snow. You don’t have to remind us.

6. Be Grateful for What You Have. If you haven’t been sleeping under a rock for the past decade, you probably know that gratitude is the fast track to happiness. So get out there and make some turns on the meager snow in the mountains and sing Hallelujah from the ridge tops. Either that or cue the opening scene from the Sound of Music.

7. Start a New Project. I’ll admit it. I’ve been neglecting this blog lately. Without fresh snow to talk about, it’s hard to maintain my enthusiasm (see Number 2). But I have a good excuse. I’ve been working on a novel. Every morning I look out the window at the sky. Nothing says I’ll just stay in and write 2,000 words today like drizzle on old snow.

8. Find a New Sport. Maybe this is the 43 pound tabby cat in the room. I’m not saying you should stop sliding on snow. But maybe this is the season to try a different variety. If you’re a skier, give snowboarding a try. Or snow skating (a snowy version of skateboarding, and it’s pretty sweet, and very difficult). Or mountain climbing. Or speed riding. Or skydiving. Reinvigorate those dopamine receptors by pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone.

9. Burn Your Skis. When in doubt, you can always have a raging bonfire, a keg of beer and burn some boards. Just don’t breathe any those nasty toxins.

Not a bad little spot to get away from it all. Nendaz, Switzerland.

Not a bad little spot to get away from it all. Nendaz, Switzerland.

10. Go In Search of Winter. Tried and true, this escape-hatch technique is a personal favorite. Hop on a plane, load up the camper/Subaru/Tacoma, or hitch up the trailer. It’s time to call upon those long-lost friends with a couch near some snowy hills.

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Ski Woodies

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Don’t worry dear readers. I know it’s a low snow season. I’m perfectly and painfully aware of the meager snow depths in the mountains. I’m not going to try to convince you otherwise. Instead, I wanted to share with you how some of us at Crystal are managing. According to John, when the going gets to tough, the tough get woodies. (I mean wooden skis of course, get your mind out of the gutter.)

Nothing a good boot fitter can't handle

Nothing a good boot fitter can’t handle

Last week a customer offered a pair of beautiful wooden skis in exchange for a lift ticket. John took one look at those skis and said, “you got a deal.” Fortunately for John, he just happened to also have some leather boots that fit into said wooden skis. After a quick hot wax in the shop, John went straight up the gondola. Just because those skis had been sitting above someone’s mantle for the past fifty years didn’t mean he needed to start out slow. What could go wrong?

Old meets new on the Mount Rainier Gondola

Old meets new on the Mount Rainier Gondola

John dropped right into Green Valley and made it look easy. While those woodies track well, they sure don’t like to turn. Although, it may have been the leather boots. John says he wants to take the woodies for another spin today. So you might see him out there once it softens up.

On another note, the forecast is holding some promise in the coming week. Our best day for snow looks like Monday, With low snow levels, we should pick up a few inches of snow. It stays cold through Tuesday, so we can make snow near the base area. If you’re just not feeling the low snow this season, and you’re a Crystal pass holder, you can go ski at any of the other resorts for free. Check it out here.

When Winter Storms are Like an Abusive Relationship

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This winter, the weather in the Cascades is like an abusive relationship. You keep thinking that the next storm will be better, that it will bring more snow, that the rain is a thing of the past, that things will change.

There have been moments of greatness this season. In between wet storms, we’ve enjoyed some beautiful days. While the valleys have been blanketed with cold clouds, Crystal Mountain has enjoyed warm sun. On these days, all the rain is forgiven. You remind yourself that today is a new day. You tell yourself that every winter season has its ups and downs. You convince yourself that even Japan has bad years (and you try to swallow that large seed of doubt deep into the sugary snow lining your own psyche.) Because even abusive seasons have their good days.

Mt. Rainier view from Crystal Mountain January 16th

Mt. Rainier view from Crystal Mountain January 16th

Yesterday was a legitimate powder day. The snow was a bit dense, but it was plentiful up high, and it finally covered over rocks on the summit ridge above Green Valley. Skiers and riders forgot for a few hours about the season’s stinginess. They ignored the curses that started in late November and have echoed through the Cascades. Down with Pineapples!! Damn El Niño!! Things were turning around, and yesterday was perfect. All was forgiven.

But, when you’re involved with an abusive winter season, things change fast. One minute you’re on top of the world and the next you’re in the gutter. This morning its a mix of rain and snow at the base of Crystal. You call it “chunky rain,” or perhaps “liquid snow” might be a better description. While it falls from the sky looking very much like snow, it falls hard and wet. And it hurts. The upper mountain is currently on wind hold.

Its supposed to warm up today and the snow level will continue to creep toward the summit and beyond. You’ve seen this pattern before–a glorious foot of snow followed by a mean inch of rain and then ending in an apologetic few inches of snow. Like a bouquet of roses after a particularly mean argument, those few inches smell all the sweeter for their scarcity.

We've learned to rely on grooming this season

We’ve learned to rely on grooming this season

Tomorrow it’s looking like we might get a foot of snow after tonight’s deluge–a particularly welcome apology after such a rude gesture.

My fingers are crossed. Yours should be too. This season we all might be getting abused by a mean winter suitor, but we should must what we can get. If the snow levels drop to predicted levels by Sunday morning, we could be in for a pow storm day tomorrow.

We can always hope.

Crystal Opens Wall to Wall (Almost)

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It has been quite a while since Crystal Mountain was open “wall to wall.” Last season our entire ski area terrain only opened for about a month from early February to March 10th. (In case you’re new here, March 10th was that fateful day when an avalanche–that my team mates and I set off during avalanche control–destroyed Chair 6.)

Sunny groomer day on Friday

Sunny groomer day on Friday with the new Chair 6 in the background 

Yesterday, only a week after the snow started to accumulate on our slopes, we opened pretty much wall to wall. From Southback to Northway, great snow now covers our slopes. Saturday was a pow storm day and Sunday was a legitimate face-shot type of day. The hard coral reef-like chunder from the quick little rain we got on Christmas Eve is completely buried now. At least I didn’t feel it anyway. I’m sure there are still a few hard bits under all this snow, but you’d have to look hard to find them.

Evelyn getting after it on Saturday

Evelyn getting after it on Saturday

Cars are buried in the parking lot. The RV lot is full, and the crowds have returned. Yesterday was our busiest day of the season so far, but the lines weren’t even that bad. When the snow is this good, people tend to spread out. As one guy on the lift yesterday said, “everyone is doing their thing.”

The new Chair 6 opened to excited skiers and riders on Christmas Eve. The first chair honors went to Dan Howell and Kyle Miller. Way to go guys!

Dan Howell and Kyle Miller get ready for the first ride on the new Chair 6

Dan Howell and Kyle Miller get ready for the first ride on the new Chair 6

There’s still a few pockets of terrain closed. Kelly’s Gap will open today. Niagra’s will remain closed due to low snow. Brand X and Penny Dawgs will most likely open soon pending more assessment. The chutes at the bottom are still pretty bare of snow, so we’ll see.

Kevin doing avalanche control on Boxcar

Kevin doing avalanche control on Boxcar

Southback is especially good and deep. The new ride on Chair 6 is fast and comfortable. The top is still a bit tight–we hope to widen the off-load area next summer. A few rocks are poking out at the top, so be careful getting off the ridge.

Hiking the Throne on Friday

Hiking the Throne on Friday

Otherwise, its been a great holiday season so far and we are all feeling blessed by this great snow.

Let’s Get This Ski Season Started, Shall We?

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It’s a Christmas miracle. Or maybe our anti-pineapple campaign did the trick. Or perhaps all of the snow dances and frozen spoons and ice cubes flushed down the toilet helped too. Thanks to all who did their part,  Crystal will open tomorrow for skiing and riding. We will start out with the Gondola and Green Valley Chair, then hope to add more terrain, including Forest Queen, Rainier Express and the new Chair 6 this week. Check the website for more details.

Crystal base area Saturday morning.

Crystal base area Saturday morning

The conditions are actually pretty good. According to the telemetry, as well as eye-witness accounts, the upper mountain did fairly well out of this latest storm. We picked up about 16″ of snow Friday night and Saturday morning (according to people who skied Saturday). It briefly went above freezing at the top Saturday night, and only rained .18″ during those three hours. The rest of the time it was snowing up in Green Valley.

Snow stake at the bottom of Chair 6 as of Sunday morning

Snow stake at the bottom of Chair 6 as of Sunday morning

At the base, it snowed about 12″ before it warmed , and we got another 1″ or so of rain. But the good news, is that we still came out ahead of where we were before it all started. At 10 am Sunday morning, it is still raining at the base and snowing at the bottom of Forest Queen.

My guess is that anything above 5,000 feet will ski well. It should be smooth and supportive and a lot of fun.

So what do you say? Let’s get this ski season started, shall we?