Tag Archives: Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol

14th Annual Dirt Bag Ball: Super Hero Invasion


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

Ski Areas: Lost and Found


Several years ago I read an article about all the little mom-and-pop ski areas now out of business. The article was written with a nod towards nostalgia, a sigh of whimsy and a little bit of angst. Is our sport dying, I wondered at the time.

Not according to the recent NSAA report on growth. Not according to recent record numbers of skier visits. But is skiing going the way of the local hardware store, getting swallowed by Home Depot and Lowes? Are all the small areas located near big population centers giving up the ghost? If so, what does that mean for the future of sliding on snow? Will it merely become one yearly trip to a big resort where all our needs are met, whether they be perfectly groomed pistes, pedicures or prime rib dinners? I think we need small ski areas–ones with slow chairs, low ticket prices and plenty of learn-t0-ski terrain.

While John and I spent that dark time in Minnesota at the Mayo Clinic, we decided one sunny July day, when he was feeling pretty good, to drove out to Steeplechase, a little mom-and-pop ski area in the middle of corn fields. The corn ended at the top of the ski area. The now-rusting bullwheels of four decent lifts sat motionless. Below that the slopes dove into a pretty steep ravine creating the 240 feet of vertical claimed on the now-defunct trail map. The ski area wouldn’t be opening the following winter due to increasing cost. It was a real shame.

With the surge in backcountry skiers, I imagine that some of the angst felt over lost ski areas might be dwindling. Free the old areas to those willing to earn their turns, they might say. While I love to backcountry ski as much as the next patroller, I also love ski areas. Real ones. With lifts and bathrooms, fireplaces and cool bars with shotskis hanging from the rafters.

Facilities are good for bc enthusiasts as well. Who doesn’t want a cold draft beer after skinning all day? After all, a warm Snorting Elk fire beats a warm beer pulled from the back of a Toyota pickup any day. Many ski areas in the West (Crystal Mountain most notably) offer the best of both worlds–nearby skinning opportunities starting from the plowed parking lot and close to the bathrooms.

Much to my recent pleasure, several almost-lost ski areas are being resurrected. I recently wrote about Manitoba, but that area doesn’t really count as almost-lost. It’s been closed for 40 years. I’m talking here about less than ten-year closed areas that almost died but didn’t. I’m talking about close calls and miraculous recoveries. I’m talking about Cinderella stories here.

Here are a few recent ones:

  • Maple Valley Ski Resort, Vermont: New Englanders are nostalgic for lost ski areas. In fact the New England Lost Ski Areas Project (click here for website) is a treasure trove of

    Maple Valley Ski Resort Trailmap

    information about bygone areas, small areas still in operation, and their crowning glory: lost areas now found. Maple Valley has been found. You can almost hear the hallelujahs being sung from the top of the 1017 foot vertical drop. With two double chairlifts and a T-Bar, as well as a base lodge and night lighting, this ski area is poised to open as a four-season resort. For more information, check out First Tracks!! online’s story here.

  • Little Switzerland, Wisconsin: Closed since 2007, this 200 foot vertical ski area plans to reopen next winter. Details are sketchy on this one, and the website isn’t live yet. But First Tracks!! broke the story last week. More details here.
  • Eagle Point Ski Resort, Beaver, Utah: What was once the defunct Elk Meadows Ski Area re-opened last year as Eagle Point Ski

    Eagle Point Trailmap

    Resort. When new investors first bought the closed ski area, they put forth a controversial plan to build a private resort with a Jack Nicklaus designed golf course. It didn’t go over well with the locals. So the investors changed course and built the more modest Eagle Point instead. Located in Southern Utah, the area has 4 lifts and 1,400 feet of vertical.  Check out there website here.

  • Hickory Ski Area, NY opened under new ownership last year, with 12o4 feet of vertical and surface-only lifts. Click here for the website.

These aren’t the only resurrections and close calls. And for every one listed here, dozens continue to rust and grow over, ashes to ashes. What do you think of the fate of mom-and-pops? Not just in skiing, but hardware stores, local grocers, butchers, coffee shops (don’t get me started on that one)? Should we let these aging oldies die off or join the chorus of cheers when they re-open, limp along and continue to offer that small, family-owned vibe that existed where most of us learned to ski?

Search for Missing Skier Will Resume at Crystal


The snowpack at Crystal is starting to melt. Total snow in Green Valley is 122 inches as of this morning, which means that the search for Paul Melby will resume soon. Paul disappeared on March 1st at Crystal Mountain while skiing alone. He was last seen at 2:30pm skiing Rabbit Ears underneath Chair 6. There was 100 inches of snow on the ground. It is presumed he fell into a tree well. I’ve written more about this here and here.

Search Details

Sat. & Sun. June 25 & 26: Main thrust of search, when volunteers are needed. We are expecting to reach target snow melt by June 25th and will be looking for volunteers to help with the search.

Those willing to help must be:

  • expert level skiers or snowboarders able to handle expert terrain as second nature, so attention can be paid to thorough searching, not on maneuvering/surviving on skis.
  • have and be able to use skins, snowshoes or other means of ascending, and “expert level” traversing definitely WILL be required.
  • able to stay outside–possibly all day–with ample opportunities for rest. Food, drink, bathrooms and sunscreen may not be easily accessible so come prepared–but travel light; “10 essentials” type packs may hinder progress through tight trees.
  • each team of 2 should have a cell-phone. Verizon service preferred, AT&T OK, others may need to rely on text messaging. Radio’s may be available for those without phones, but we may want the ability to converse privately, too.

This is an official Missing Person search conducted with the approval of the Sheriff’s Office, not an opportunity for free skiing. Searchers will be assigned areas to search, and will be required to report back with details of the location of terrain searched and density of tracks in the area.

Lifts will be used and searching will be done in areas not open to searcher’s friends/family or the general public.

Those of you willing to search can leave a comment here, email me personally or call Patrol Dispatch at 360-663-3060. Let’s find Melby and bring him home to his family.

A Brief High Pressure


I’m up early this morning for avalanche control. Yesterday, the snow blew sideways, at times spiking up to 70 mph on the summit and eventually shut down the upper mountain. On days like that, its best to hunker down, keep your chin tucked into your collar and snap your powder skirt tight.

It snowed another 4 inches after the lift closed.

And then, just like that, a brief high pressure builds and the stars come out. Overnight the temperature dropped to 14 at the summit, the winds to 20. Today is the lull between storms. Hopefully some of you are already feeling it–that first twinge in your throat (and sometimes in your quads) that means you’re “coming down with something”. That something isn’t the croupe-like bug going around–it’s powder fever.

See you out there!

Gondola Rescue Practice


With the Mt. Rainier Gondola on wind hold yesterday, patrollers practiced our new ZipRescue system which allows us to evacuate the cabins in the very unlikely event of a emergency. With multiple backup systems and engines–not to mention a crack team of lift mechanics–the chances of the new Gondola ever needing to be evacuated are quite small. And since I believe in that strange phenomenon I call “preparation karma”, I figure that the better trained we are, the less likely we will ever need to use our skills.

Since patrollers can only train on the Gondola when it isn’t running, most of our practice has been after hours. Like the postal service, we’ve evacuated the chairs in rain, snow, sleet, hail, and now–wind!. Even at Tower 4, where yesterday I climbed up to attach my ZipRescue to the haul rope, the wind threatened to blow us off the gantry. But at least we had plenty of daylight. I just wish I brought another jacket!

Much like ziplining, the ZipRescue system is quite fun. The rescuer attaches him or herself to the haul rope (aka lift cable) and lowers down to the cabin. From there, the rescuer opens the cabin door, sets up a belay and lowers the stranded passengers to the ground. Afterwards, the rescuer ascends back up to the haul rope and zips down to the next car.

Thanks to the wind yesterday, several patrollers had the chance to train with the ZipRescue, which makes the chance of a real evacuation–as long as you buy into the “preparation karma” theory–that much less likely.

All photos taken by Evan Wang. Thanks Evan!

Future Ski Patroller


Today my step-daughter, Evelyn, shadowed me on the hill. She says she wants to be a ski patroller someday, and who am I to discourage her? Evelyn enjoys even the most mundane of ski patrol skills: cleaning rope lines. “Hey look Kim, a rope line. Can we go clean it?”

“Sure,” I tell her. “But didn’t we already clean that one this morning?”

Today, she got an even greater pleasure–we buried her in a hole for the dogs. Christina and I put her in a snow cave, shoveled in the entrance and let Newman search for her. He found her in two minutes.

When I asked her how it was, she said it was “Awesome”, and Newman’s handler, Lynn, was quite proud. Looks like I have a new shadow.