Tag Archives: crystal mountain

This is What Ski Patrollers Live For


Hard work is what ski patrolling is all about. Some might think that we’re in it for the skiing. And let’s be honest, skiing is a huge part of it. But if you want to really ski, I suggest simply getting a seasons pass.

Chappy in Southback

Rookie patroller Pat Chapelle finding his line in Silver Basin

But if you want to work hard, if you want earn some resilience, if you want to know how you react when the things go awry, then become a ski patroller.

This past month of December is a case in point.

early morning AC at Crystal Mountain

Patrollers humping powder on an early morning

The first week of December was kind of like a natural disaster up here. We had rain, wind, power outages, a closed access road and the complete loss of all communications. Oh, and the four horsemen of the apocalypse stopped by for a brief visit.

But then, mother nature flipped a switch and all that precipitation turned to snow. What had been merely a partial opening in Green Valley turned into an all-hands-on-deck-let’s-get-this-mountain-open-wall-to-wall frenzy. Suddenly we were opening from Northway to Southback and all points in between.

Avalanche control Crystal Mountain

Patroller tossing a shot on the Throne

Ski patrollers strung miles of rope lines, threw hundreds of caution boo along the slopes and drank copious amounts of coffee to keep up. Then it started to snow in earnest. In the month of December we received 9 feet of snow. Tower pads were quickly buried under this kind of dumpage.

AC crystal

Lacing shots “in the field” as the sun rises

Our biggest efforts have gone towards Avalanche Control. Ski patrollers start avalanches with explosives before the slopes open in order to mitigate the hazard. This means we wake up early–sometimes at 4 am to be up before first light, carry heavy loads in our packs up the ridges and make avalanches. Some might say this is the best part of the job. It’s also the most exhausting.

Breaking trail up the ridges can be the hardest part. Here’s a video of Miles Morris breaking trail up the King. If you ever wonder why it takes so long to get Southback open on a powder day, here’s a little glimpse. And to all those folks that ask if they can help us out South to get it open, 1) no and 2) you wouldn’t want to waste a powder day breaking trail up the ridge. While the one ski run at the end might feel worth it, I’d say you’re better off staying in area for the leftovers and let us do the heavy lifting.


Not to say that that one run at the end of a control route isn’t awesome. It’s actually the raison d’etre for many of us.

But there’s more to it than that. To be honest, our real reason for being is the hard work. We’re the happiest when things are hard.

The statue of liberty might say it a little differently, but I think Emma Lazarus wouldn’t mind my slight changing of her words:

Give us your challenging weather, your injured skiers yearning to breathe free. Give us your wretched storms, your fiery tempests. Send these, the RV dwellers, the families tempest-tossed to us. We lift our headlamps beside the powdery door.

We are still in the midst of a busy holiday season, thanks to all this snow. The forecast prediction now is for a few weeks of more settled weather, but I have a feeling the days of powder and avalanche control have just begun.

Much More Snow in the Forecast


My what a difference a couple of weeks makes. In late November we had begun to joke that perhaps our ski area had permanently shrunk to Green Valley. The snow had gotten thin near the bottom of the chair and our laughs were taking on a more grimaced nuance. Dry, chalky snow could still be found under the gondy line, and the warm inversion above the cold foggy city felt great.

Green_Valley_Nov 20

Green Valley November 20, 2015

But let’s be real. What we really want is snow. Not only do we want a solid base on the ground, we also need frequent top-offs. But if anyone had told me on November 30th what the next two weeks had in store, I would have laughed them off as crazy.

snow Dec 1

Flakes the size of 10-year-olds fell on December 1st

December slammed into the Pacific Northwest like a drunken Santa on the world’s stormiest sleigh. A week into the month the four horseman of the apocalypse were standing by to wash us all down the mountain in a biblical storm. The gale of December 8th was so violent the fiber optic line, along with the power lines that feed Greenwater and Crystal, washed into the river. We had no outside communication for two days (which, if you ask me, was actually kind of nice).

throne Dec 6

Miles breaking trail up the Throne in early December

The net result of that storm created great coverage up high, and quickly the snow started falling at the base too. Now, two weeks into the month we are open wall to wall. There’s over 53″ on the stake in Green Valley, which is above normal, and the forecast is calling for more snow.

Southback Dec 13

Southback filling in December 13, 2015

Much more snow.

72Hour Snow total

By next Tuesday we could have 30-40 more inches of snow

Cliff Mass is calling it “mountains of snow.” With three big snow-producing storms lined up in the Pacific, the forecast is calling for several feet of fresh snow over the next five days.

snowDec 10

This is what I’m talking about

It’s been years since the words feet and forecast have shared a sentence. Let that one sink in for a moment.

November and December are often our stormiest months, so this shouldn’t come as a complete shock. Perhaps its the weak winters of late that produce what I can only describe as a feeling of disbelief and awe. Part of me hesitates to even talk about the forecast lest I jinx it somehow.

When the forecasters are talking about mountains of snow, I think we can trust that, at the very least, we are going to have a very white Christmas.

3D Trail Map Coming to Crystal


Ever wanted to ski the hill like a local? Ever wished the tiny trail map in your pocket showed all the best runs at Crystal? Fatmap 3D trail mapping app lets you do just that. For every skier or rider who has tried to follow the new buddy they just met on the gondy into Left Angle Trees and lost their guide before Elk Pass, this app is for you. This trail map is also for those that know the mountain pretty well, but want to find all the nooks and crannies that locals allude to in the bar, but never quite explain how to find. For locals who already know everything there is to know about Crystal Mountain, this app will help you put your knowledge to the test.

FATMAP-Mobile-3D-Ski-Maps-SocialDo I sound like a marketer? Maybe. But I know what I’m talking about because I wrote all the trail descriptions and (painstakingly) digitized the amazing satellite imagery used for these maps. (For those wondering why I’ve been absent from posting, this project has been a big part of that.)

Here’s how it works in a nutshell. You load the app on your phone. The free version shows all the marked runs plus the “points of interest” like restaurants and ski patrol locations (obviously the most interesting point of all *grin*). Just click on one of the marked runs and you will get a description of the trail. Click the “fly over” button and the view zooms to the top of the run then begins to fly over the run as if you were paragliding above it. It also follows you via GPS, so you can always figure out where you are.

FM_PR_July15_Grey_1-Device_ZMT-Wide-LRGFor a few bucks more you get the pro version, which includes all the unmarked (and often hard to find) runs at the ski area. This is the real beauty of this trail map. Ever wondered how to find Damn Fine Forest? Just click on the list of freeride names and voila! You will find this this honey of a stash as well as how to access it. Never knew where S-Bend Chute is? Well now you can.

Fatmap started offering this amazing app last season in Europe. It’s just now coming on line in North America. This is the wave of the future in negotiating your favorite ski area. It’s also the very best tool in your kit for impressing the bar flies in the Snorting Elk, or that good looking guy or gal who’ve been hoping to chat up. Just pull out your phone and show him or her the app. You’ll have him/her at “loading”.

In addition to Crystal, they’re also launching a version of Whistler, Alta/Snowbird, Aspen, Big Sky, Jackson Hole, Squaw, and a bunch of others great resorts.

So check it out.


What Kind of Winter Are We Going to Have?


Someone asked me last weekend if I knew what kind of weather we were going to have this winter at Crystal. It’s timely because I was just thinking about how nifty it would be if I could predict the weather. Well, let’s be real here. I want to do more than predict weather. Any weather forecaster could do that. I want to control the weather.

While I haven’t yet mastered weather control, I have found some historical data that might be interesting to you skiers and riders obsessing/fretting/anxious about the season to come.

NOAA is predicting a very strong El Niño for the 2015-16 winter season. It’s easy to worry over this, especially since El Niño’s tend to mean dryer and warmer conditions in the PNW. But we’ve only been through two very strong El Niños in the past hundred years or so and those years weren’t so bad at Crystal.

In 1982-83 was a very strong El Niño event. Crystal reported about average snowfall that season. This was back when the weather plot was behind the Alpine Inn, where the tree canopy may have interfered. We had an active avalanche cycle in 82-83, with a slide that started in Kempers breaking timber all the way down to Highway 410.

1997-98 might be a little easier for locals to remember at Crystal. It was the daddy of all El Niños (which, by the way is spanish for “the niño”). It was the year of Chris Farley’s infamous skit on SNL.

During that season, Crystal ended up with about average snowfall. According to Tony Crocker at bestsnow.net, we were actually ahead. He has a pretty cool month-by-month analysis that you might want to check out. In a nutshell, we started strong at Crystal, had some spring-like conditions in mid-March, then ended in April with enough snow to get to about average depths.

El Niños tend to be pretty unpredictable. There are other factors besides ENSO at play as well. The folks at Atmospheric and Environmental Research consider the snowpack in Siberia in October as a good indication of the severity of winter in North America.

And then there’s the Old Farmer’s Almanac, which you may have heard is predicting a severe winter in many parts of N. America. The OFA uses a secret formula for long-term weather prediction that they keep hidden in a black box. So you know it’s got to be accurate.

The Old Farmer's Almanac predicts a good winter for PNW skiers and riders.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts a good winter for PNW skiers and riders. Which is nice.

One last consideration is the winter in Chile. There’s a “totally scientific” belief at Crystal that the Chilean winters are a prediction of the upcoming winter in the Cascades. The Andes are buried in snow right now. So we’ve got that going for us, too.

So what kind of winter are we going to have at Crystal? One thing I know for sure is that we will have weather, and plenty of it.

Crystal Opens Tomorrow


It’s time to do my happy dance. Crystal Mountain opens tomorrow. I’m pretty sure this is directly related to the frozen spoon I slept with under my pillow on Friday night. I went to sleep with no precip at Crystal and woke to a foot of new snow. Obviously this is due to my super scientific snow forecasting abilities. *grin*

With this new foot of snow, plus the leftovers from last week’s storm (that was rained upon on Tuesday), we have just enough. It’s been a thin start weather-wise so far, and for now we will be opening Green Valley only.

Crystal Mountain, Sunday November 30 2014

Crystal Mountain, Sunday November 30 2014

The skiing in Green Valley is good. It’s a light and fluffy foot of new over about 4-6″ of frozen slush. The past few days, many skiers and boarders have been hiking up and taking laps. But there’s still some untracked lines to be had. There’s also a few rocks mixed in there too.

Green Valley

Green Valley

Looking ahead, the weather forecast doesn’t look that promising in the short term. So hopefully the snow we have now lasts until we get a little bit more snow–perhaps later in the week or next weekend. (By the way, if you’re playing along, now is the time to put your spoon in the freezer, so it’s ready for the next stormlette. Just sleep with it under your pillow when you need a snow day. Which is going to be very soon. So if you could all help out, we’d really appreciate it. Thanks.)

It's another blown edge for Paul H.

It’s another blown edge for Paul H.

Until then, I recommend taking it a little easy. The season is long and you don’t want to get hurt on the first day. Fellow patroller, Paul Harrington, tore out his edge today. To be fair, his edge was a little shaky to start with. But there are still some rocks out there, so bring your rock skis.

Here's a closeup of that blown edge. Nasty.

Here’s a closeup of that blown edge. Nasty.

On that note, let’s all have a good time out there tomorrow. Be safe.

It’s Hard to Be Patient When You’re Waiting for the Ski Season to Start


A Prelude to Winter

Waiting for snow is hard. It’s especially difficult at the beginning of the season. November can be a bit like Christmas–either full of good tidings and warm family moments or wrought with awkward gyrations brought on by that one crazy family member that chooses to literally rain on your snowy parade.

Better make up the hide-a-bed, because it looks like that rainy relative is swooping into town tonight. But I digress. Let’s first take a look at the bright side.

Smiles from Reid Pitman

Smiles from Reid Pitman on Sunday


Conditions Update

Yesterday morning A Lot at Crystal was nearly half full with eager skiers and riders who skinned to the top to take part in the snow. It was a little heavy–those with fat skis and snowboards had the biggest smiles on their faces–and a little wind-effected. The ridge at the top of Green Valley was scoured down to the rocks. The valley itself was filled with two to three feet of cream cheese topped by a few inches of confectioner’s sugar. In other words, the conditions were classic PNW snow and perfect base-building material.

It’s times like these when I wish we didn’t have such a thing as a weather forecast. Because if you’ve taken a close look at it lately, you’ll understand why Crystal isn’t open yet. It’s because of the forecast.

Because Rain

The Forecast looks like a rain sandwich

The Forecast looks like a rain sandwich

Here’s a snippet from the text forecast:


You know what, NOAA forecasters? No one wants your bad news. Why do you have to go and rain on our parade? Here we were having visions of snowy sugar plums dancing in our heads and you go and give us this?? Why couldn’t you have just kept this one to yourselves for a change?

Crystal’s Modus Operandi

Crystal Mountain is usually pretty aggressive getting the slopes open. We understand the pent-up demand and bursting enthusiasm this time of year, and we are willing to roll the dice on a forecast. Most ski areas wait until their snowpack is a sure thing before opening. We are one of the few areas willing to skate on thin ice, so to speak.

So why isn’t Crystal opening today? We have to wait and see about this rain. While it’s difficult to wait on snow this time of year, I’m hear to tell you. It’s even harder waiting on the rain.

Tiana, Stacy and Brianna getting deep in Green Valley

Tiana, Stacy and Brianna getting deep in Green Valley Sunday

John wrote up an update on the website about his thought process. It’s a little window into his mindset, and a good dose of his mountain voice. It’s worth a read. In short, we are bashing down the snow with our cats, hoping to retain as much as we can through this big melt. If we don’t lose it all, and if Mt. Rainier blocks some of that rain (which it very often does), we could still open by the weekend. To quote John, “it’s day to day.”

While we wait to see what this next round of storms will bring, here’s a really cool video of snowflakes forming.

I’m a Sucker for a Snowstorm

Not a bad lunch spot.

Not a bad lunch spot.

I’m like a moth to the flame. When it snows, I can’t help myself. I have to go towards those flakes like my life depends on it.

I woke this morning to a fresh snowfall. This time I debated on whether or not to bring my skis. From my apartment at the base of Crystal, the peaks looked pretty salt and peppery this morning, pretty chocolate-chippy (to quote Tom Winter). So I decided not to bring my skis.

Maybe I made the wrong decision, because I could have made about ten legitimate turns today. They’d have been hop turns, trying-to-stay-light-on-my-feet turns, praying that I didn’t hook a tip under something awful and immovable. But I brought my camera instead. Which was nice since the sun was out. With all that fresh snow (a compacted 7-9″ inches at the top of Green Valley) it was legit bluebird.