Tag Archives: Crystal Mountain Ski Area

Skier’s Thumb: The world’s most common ski injury?


Corinne taught me how to ski with an injured hand, and how to be nice to people when they offer stupid advice.

According to everyone I talked to during aprés ski hour on the patio yesterday, Skier’s Thumb is the world’s most common ski injury. Skier’s Thumb is when you fall onto your outstretched hand and forget to let go of your ski pole. It’s when you shake yourself off as your brother-in-law gathers your fallen equipment from the slope above you and you think to yourself, “Whoa. That hurt. But I’m okay. I think everything’s okay. No broken bones. Oh, but my thumb hurts like Hell,” and you shake it a few times Grease Lightning style, hoping no one sees those tears behind your goggle lenses. But then you take off your glove and realize that the thumb joint is unstable and you ask yourself, “Do I even use this thumb?” and for an hour you actually convince yourself that thumbs are totally overrated.

If Skier’s Thumb is the world’s most common ski injury then I guess I’m doing pretty good. I made it almost 40 years of skiing before I finally did it to myself. Last Friday, I was skiing Middle Ferk’s with John, Scott and my brother-in-law Steve, and I fell hard. But I’m a tough gal and I laughed it off–even after I noticed that I couldn’t touch my thumb to my forefinger without sending spikes of hot iron down my wrist into my arm. A little thumb jam wasn’t going to keep me from a day of skiing, even if I did have to just hold my right pole under my arm like a purse.

In fact I was reminded of skiing with my friend Corinne in Verbier. She was recovering from a broken hand and skiing without ski poles. I told her to just, “pretend like you had poles” and she kindly told me that my “sage” advice truly helped her. She’s a very kind person.

After an x-ray and an MRI and an exam from the world’s best hand surgeon, I’ve been diagnosed with a full ligament tear, aka skier’s thumb aka gamekeeper’s thumb. So tomorrow I have surgery and will be on pain meds for a few days, so I can’t entirely take responsibility for anything that I post between now and say Friday. I might not post anything, or it could be drunken ramblings or could even be poetic, semi-lucid truisms. Probably not, but you never know. One can always hope.

Fortunately I have the world’s best mom and she promised to come over and help me button my pants and dry my hair for the next few days. Not that my husband couldn’t do all that, but he doesn’t have much practice in hair drying, nor can he manage those tiny hair bungees to tie my locks back into a ponytail.

Paul Melby, Rest in Peace


A Tribute to Paul

It has been a year since Paul Melby disappeared at Crystal. As I spoke to his mother this weekend at a memorial party held in Melby’s honor at the patrol shack on Campbell after sweep, I realized how elusive life can be sometimes.

Too often I’ve held my breath lately, trying to stave off that ominous feeling that’s becoming all too common. Oh no not again. Last year, when Paul went missing, when we couldn’t find him and knew he must be here, right here, I could feel it right under my breast bone. It starts as a tickle and grows into a heavy anvil resting on my chest.

On Saturday, as a large group of Paul’s friends, family, ski patrollers and those that searched for him celebrated his life, that heavy feeling in my chest subsided. I think Paul would have been surprised by how he touched so many others. He was always a bit of a loner, humble and okay with whatever label others found for him.

When Paul was on the ski patrol, he must have found the Brittany Spears stickers that adorned his locker by happenstance. He covered his locker with them (or perhaps someone else did it). But when we teased him about it, he just smiled and shrugged. It was no big deal one way or the other if we thought he adored the teen idol. As his locker neighbor, I was convinced he loved the young Brittany.

So when I talked to Paul’s mom, Bonnie, on Saturday I mentioned Brittany Spears and his apparent devotion to her. Bonnie set me straight. Paul’s computer had tens of thousands of songs on it, and she had recently given it to a friend of Paul’s. Bonnie had gone through the list of music.

There wasn’t one Brittany Spears song in the bunch.

I have to admit; I was a little relieved. Not that a devotion to the young Brittany wasn’t endearing, but the more recent Brittany is a pretty tarnished idol. Paul had probably just found a packet of stickers and covered his locker with them on a lark.

When Paul would answer the radio as a ski patroller, he would always respond, “Go for Melby”, as if he was a third party relaying the message. Even when we told him to just respond as himself, he continued to “go” for Melby. Sometimes when I’m out skiing I imagine myself “going” a few turns for him, and this makes me feel better.

This tree marks Paul's final resting place and the new official run at Crystal: Melby's

Paul Melby will always be a bit of an enigma to me. He was a man so loved and who touched so many lives, but he never seemed to fully realize that. Paul did not seek accolades; he didn’t even seem concerned if he was fully understood.

Paul sought the freedom of skiing. He loved the mountains and was devoted to Crystal. I recall our last conversation together. We stood at the top of the Gondola, and he dropped his skis on the snow. He told me his new job was keeping him from skiing as much as he liked. We discussed the upcoming forecast and the hope for fresh snow. We admitted that the conditions that day were “just okay” but “better than nothing”. He said he’d rather be skiing any day than not skiing, regardless of conditions. When he left, I smiled. It was a good reminder to be grateful.

Paul had a connection with animals, and he especially loved the Avalanche Rescue Dogs. His family has generously donated The Paul Melby Memorial Fund to Crystal Mountain’s Avalanche Dog Program. That money will be used for education and further training for the dogs and their handlers and is greatly appreciated.

Paul is deeply missed. He was one of us–a patroller, a ski bum, a Crystal local. He taught me a thing or two about gratitude and not sweating the small stuff. Rest in Peace my friend.

There will now be a new run at Crystal called “Melby’s” and will be printed on the new trail maps we just ordered. Melby’s is named for Paul’s final resting place, between Upper Bull and Middle Ferk’s.

Should You Keep Your Joy to Yourself?


This is the moment to feel joy

As I stood at my locker the other day after skiing, a fellow ski patroller said to me, “So I hear you’ve been skiing powder?” He paused while I nodded. Before I could continue he said, “I don’t want to hear about it.”

I smiled and nodded. “Okay.” I turned back towards my locker, switched off my avalanche beacon and stored it next to my radio.

“I mean,” he said. “I know where you’ve been.”

I shifted around. “I thought you didn’t want to hear about it.”

He smiled and admitted that he kind of did want to know about skiing in Japan, and had heard that I’d recently been to Big Sky.

“I drove up to Cypress yesterday for a book signing and got back at midnight,” I told him, unclipping my helmet. “I didn’t even bring my skis.” I hung my head a little hoping to invoke a little pity. “I had to drink one of those 5 Hour Energy things I picked up at a gas station just to stay awake.”

Life is fleeting

“But you were in Japan.” He said flatly.


“And?” He smirked. It was killing him.

“And it was awesome.”

“I thought so.” Satisfied, he turned away.

Hiding your joy is funny business. Sometimes it seems the right thing to do. Whenever I tell another patroller about a recent trip, I emphasize the travel time and the pain-in-the-neck parts of it. I remind them that John and I actually flew for two days in order to ski for two days in Japan. Most people wouldn’t do that. It’s not all face shots and glory, I say.

But it was awesome? They want to know. And I tell them, yes, it was awesome. Some people don’t want the details; they just want to keep the flame burning on their own desire.

People wonder if writing a book is that way. I’m hesitant to say that yes, sharing my story is incredibly validating. I rarely mention that becoming an author has always been on my list of best-case-scenarios. That it is something I’ve dreamed about, imagining my book out there in the world. Instead, I tell them that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. It’s hard to keep putting yourself out there (which is true), waving your book in the air like an idiot, hoping someone will buy a copy.

I tell people that it’s a heck of a lot easier to sell lift tickets than books. People feel guilty about books they don’t read. To buy a book and let it sit unread on the shelf brings some people great angst. I half joke and tell them they don’t have to read it, they just have to buy it. I talk about remainders until I notice their eyes glass over.

Yesterday I skied powder at Crystal. It was a surprising day–one where the “Real Feel”™ of the 3 inches of reported new snow was more like 10 inches. I hiked the King and found untouched snow in Silver Basin. After my first turn in, I realized I wasn’t smiling. I was thinking about how much time I had before I needed to be somewhere else.

I stopped.

Someone was skiing the chute to my left, and I caught glimpses of his blue jacket and silver helmet. The sun poked through the clouds and glistened on the trees to my right. I could hear only the wind and the soft beating of my heart. My blood softened a little, and I let myself melt a little into my surroundings.

I pushed on. This time I smiled big, letting the cold air freeze my teeth. I made wide arcs across the chute, certain the rocky ribs were covered in snow, and picked up speed. At the bottom another skier waited in the trees and I swooped past him, smiling and breathing loudly, taking large gulps of the snowy air.

As I skated out the long cat track, I kept on smiling. I noticed the way my legs pushed and my triceps worked and took joy in the movement of my body. I reminded myself that someday I would no longer be able to do this. Our best moments, like all moments, are temporary.

It’s no good trying to hide your joy. Life changes in an instant. This moment right here might be your last chance for joy. I say revel in it.

What do you say?

Get the Girls Out


SheJumps.org announces GET THE GIRLS OUT, a campaign to bring the community of female skiers and snowboarders together on mountains across the country, if not the world, for one day. On February 11, 2012 women all over the country will be encouraged to utilize the resource of the SheJumps community to celebrate their love for the mountain lifestyle by taking the mountain by storm with new and old friends in a safe and supportive atmosphere. Once per month for the remainder of the ski and snowboard season, SheJumps Chapters across the United States will be hosting informal gatherings on the slopes, both with and without costumes, to GET THE GIRLS OUT and grow the community of women in the outdoors! You don’t have to be a member of SheJumps to join in. This is a great way to meet new friends too.

Check here for participating locations. This page is updated often. Even though it’s not listed yet, I do know that a Get The Girls Out day will be happening at Crystal. Meet Megan Michelson and Ainsley Close at the base of the Gondola this Saturday at 9am.

Unfortunately I will be at Brighton for a book signing, so I will miss the Crystal day. This is unfortunate because I have a killer costume bin that’s just itching for a day on the slopes. All you ladies will have to represent.

For those of you interested in meeting up, use the comment form below to contact Ainsley and let her know you want to join in the fun. Even if you’re not able to attend, please share this post with others who might be interested.

Weekly High-Five Report: Crystal Skiers


It can get windy around here

Northwest skiers are pretty hardcore. The past several days have brought challenging weather conditions to Western Washington and still the skiers came up to brave the elements. Seems we just can’t get enough. On Sunday, before Rex and the Gondola temporarily went on wind hold, I stood at the top of Green Valley in 70mph winds and watched the skiers glide by in droves. Northway had just opened and epic powder awaited. But first they had to ski through a hurricane to get there.

Sunday was one of those days that skiers dream of. The morning started early with First Tracks Breakfast, where I hooked up with Ingrid, Tiana and Kerry–other ski professionals that also had the day off. We lapped Green Valley and Memorial Forest until Northway opened, then dropped into Paradise and enjoyed the deep, untracked snow.

Girls just wanna ski pow

At one point I looked around at the hoards of skiers all wearing high-tech clothing, helmets and goggles, moving through hurricane force winds to get at the powder. Later Ingrid, who skis all over the world, declared Crystal skiers as the most hardcore she’s ever come across. Other skiers, she claims, are spoiled. Here, we’re just really into it. I have to agree. These people are dedicated.

And I understand why. We have it pretty good here. The weather can be brutal, but when it’s on, there’s no place like Crystal.

So here’s to all those folks plying the windy vortex this weekend, their smiles turned to stony ice, their whoops swallowed by the wind. Bravo guys. Because when Ingrid Backstrom says you rock, then well, you pretty much do.

Highway 410 Update


UPDATE: WSDOT will open Highway 410 today at 4pm. Phew.

As of 5:30 am Highway 410 is still closed due to trees down near Mud Mountain Dam. Crews plan on re-evaluating at first light this morning. With current temperatures of 34ºF and raining lightly in Enumclaw, the ice on the trees should melt quickly. For the latest on the road conditions, check the WSDOT website. They’ve been updating it every hour this morning.


Storm of the Century


If you’re anything like me, when you find a weather forecast that you like, you stick with it. Tracking this week’s snow storms has been an exercise in finger-crossing. (And today was another stormy day with fresh tracks filling in each run.) Whenever the local news stations start catching phrases like, “Storm of the Century,” “Record-breaking Snow Headed This Way,” “Carry Emergency Supplies,” we all get a little nervous up here in the mountains.

We aren’t worried that we’ll get too much snow, or that the snowplows won’t be able to keep up. That rarely happens. We worry that all the hype will jinx it.

A Pacific storm track is much like an unmanned fire hose flopping like an inch worm on Redbull. It might point North, it might aim South, but we know we’re all going to get sprayed. Right now, the models favor the Southern Cascades for Wednesday. NWAC is calling for 1.5-2 inches of water in the form of snow at Crystal (which could be upwards of 24 inches) by Thursday morning at 4am. While the freezing level for the Central Cascades will stay very low, it will rise in the Southern Cascades, drawing a distinct boundary between the arctic air and the warm front bringing the moisture.

The forecast I’m sticking with (see below) says Crystal will stay cold but get the moisture. So far, the forecast is on track. See Crystal’s telemetry for the latest totals. And prepare for the onslaught. Wednesday could be the POWDER DAY OF THE CENTURY. But I hate to say I told you so.

Crystal's 5 Day Outlook



Weekly High-Five Report: Random Acts of Kindness on the King


Topping out on the King

At the start of every season, we patrollers carry emergency equipment to the top of the King (Crystal’s Southback peak), tie it to a tree and hope no one ever needs it. The toboggan is propped on its end in plain view, along with a backboard, sled pack and several probe poles as a constant reminder that this is dangerous business out here. While Southback isn’t true backcountry, much of the adjacent terrain is, and when rescue is possible, it could be long and even costly.

Last weekend was busy for ski patrollers, and the King’s toboggan got more use in one weekend than it normally does in an entire season. The weekend started with a backside rescue in Crystal Lake’s Basin, when a skier didn’t arrive home that evening. Several patrollers scoured the boundary that night, finally finding the missing and injured skier early Saturday morning far off the backside of the ski area. The sled at the top of the King was used to bring him out the heavily-treed drainage to the closed highway below.

It takes a village

The weather and wind didn’t allow us to bring the toboggan back up on Saturday. Only an hour after South had reopened Sunday morning, even before we’d had the chance to hike all that equipment back to the top, we received a cell phone call–a skier was injured on the North side of the King, and the only way to get to her was up and over.

Seven of us headed towards the King, each carrying a piece of the bulky and heavy equipment, listening for radio updates from the first patroller on the scene. Two patrollers battled with the toboggan, each carrying a part of it up the 1st and 2nd steps of the hike. In order to be more efficient, patroller Paul left his skis beside the trail, figuring he’d come back for them once the sled reached the top.

At one point on the hike, with a mental clock ticking in my head, wondering about the condition of our patient, a skier looked at Shannon and I with–dare I say it–a look of awe. He said he was impressed by how quickly we were getting the equipment out there. I nodded and continued on.

I suspect it is to this man that my weekly high-five goes to. Because someone, I’m not sure who, picked up Paul’s pair of skis and carried them to the top of the King. When Paul arrived at the top with the toboggan, his skis did as well, and he was able to bring the sled to the injured skier more quickly.

Shannon posted a note on Facebook, applauding the “unknown skier”:

Yesterday’s serious injury on the North side of the king required at least 7 patrollers to hike from chair 6 and arrive on scene with backboard, oxygen, belay equipment and a sled. The two patrollers with the sled, in their haste, left a pair of skis at the base of the hike to be retrieved after the sled made it to the summit…
Cheers to the unknown skier that pitched in and hiked those skis to the summit for us. That’s why we all love Crystal.

So here’s a shout-out to the “unknown skier” that helped out on Sunday. Bravo man. Thanks for pitching in. So, if you want to be like the unknown skier and start spreading kindness around, please do. Then the whole world would be a better place.

Oh, and later that day, the toboggan made it back to the top of the King, thanks to patroller Rich. Let’s hope it stays there.