Tag Archives: Skiing

A Very Lucky Ski Season Comes to an End


One of the luckiest ski seasons in history ended at Crystal this past weekend. Lucky because of the fortunate timing of our weather events. Usually when it rains here we shrug our collective shoulders in disgust. We wonder why our ski areas can’t be 1000′ higher. We envy the cold temps of the Rockies and marvel at the light snow of the Wasatch. We know that with just a bit of luck, we could have the best skiing in the world. But alas, this is the Pacific Northwest–home of Cascade concrete and plastic-bag wearing locals and the birthplace of Gore-tex. We don’t expect perfect snow.


The King getting filled in

But then we have a season like this one. We anticipated an El Niño; our imaginations were primed for groomers. Narrow-under-foot ski sales were up. Goggles sales were down. Everyone was picking out a good pair of sunglasses. And dusting off their foul weather gear.

We never knew that this season the stars would align for us. The ocean currents would fall into sync and we would get very, very lucky.


Not a bad spot for a morning meeting

That’s not to say it didn’t rain this season. It rained like crazy. And that’s where we got lucky. It rained on Wednesdays. (I know this because Wednesdays are my day off.) In fact it rained eight Wednesdays in a row (I was counting). But each subsequent Friday, right before the weekend crowds arrived, it snowed deep and light and repaired the rain-soaked slopes with a glorious quilt of powder. Every Saturday for two months was a powder day.

As most of you know, when conditions at Crystal are good there’s no ski area like it. By March, the north-facing slopes were filled in like I haven’t seen in over a decade. Pinball resembled a fairway, just a slight undulation where normally a deep, narrow gash splits the north face of the King. At its prime this season, the upper mountain held over 10 feet of snow in places.


Middle Ferk’s groomed to perfection

As winter turned the spring, the weather continued to cooperate. The last three weekends were legitimate spring conditions. The corn developed into large isothermal grains, creating slush bombs along the frontside and into Middle Ferk’s. The cat crew groomed these bumps every night back into corduroy, and the snow bar at the Summit House was a huge hit. We all came away with awesome goggle tans and bruised livers. The past few weeks were one long party, and the final closing was a little sad.

Now it looks like next season might be a La Niña, which means colder and wetter than usual. What do you all say? Isn’t it time for two lucky seasons in a row?


Peter Dale getting some well-deserved powder

As the Most Interesting Skier in the World would say, stay powder-hungry my friends.

Best Unmarked Lines at Crystal on Fatmap



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.

What a Year of “Meh” Taught Me


Last weekend, Crystal Mountain closed for the season. While its always a little sad to see it all end, this season my heart wasn’t nearly as heavy as usual. This time it was almost a relief.

Bill Steel Cartoon

Dreaming of Snow. Cartoon by Bill Steel

In a word, this season was “weird.”

But it wasn’t just the snow–or lack thereof–that was weird for me. On a personal level, it’s been a difficult year and a half. After my father passed away last year, fate or circumstance or maybe just my own personal luck went rogue. In the past several months, my husband’s mother passed away, our house was broken into (and the few remaining physical memories of my father were taken), and our best friends got a divorce.

Not one to shy away from adversity, I’ve tried taking these challenges head on. But really, it’s been an exercise in letting go. Just let go. That’s such a cliche though, right? Anyone who’s been through a string of hard times knows what I’m talking about. When the chips are down, the last thing you want to do is relinquish the emotional baggage that you’re clinging to for dear life.

That’s the beauty of getting older, I suppose. Experience (and when I say experience, what I’m really saying is loss) teaches us what truly matters. My father’s stolen watch, or the heart-shaped necklace that he gave me on my 30th birthday, will not bring him back. Nor will my husband’s grandfather’s antique fly reels bring him closer to his ancestor. Our memories and our experiences are what cleave us to one another. Objects are just things–just mementos imbued with meaning. Emotions can be glued to any old object.

Same for our hopes. We can pin them on snowfall or weather or that elusive powder run we dream about all summer and chase all winter. They can be dashed against the gravel on a season like this when the lower half of the mountain was so bare that grass starting sprouting in March.

Sometimes you just want to bury your head in your hands

Sometimes you just want to bury your head in your hands

Or we can connect to the chances we are given. A stingy snow season taught me to enjoy even the runs I would have considered merely “meh” a few years ago. Since so much of who we are depends on the stories we tell ourselves, I’m choosing to rewrite history. Instead of the past year and a half being the worst ever, I’ve chosen to see it as an opportunity. Thanks to that home invasion, I have fewer possessions weighing me down. With fewer snow storms, I never took a single turn for granted. Now that I’ve experienced the fragility of life and relationships, I’m living my own life with more purpose and attention.

Many readers have asked why I haven’t been posting as much. In part, it might be that I’ve been preoccupied with these life lessons. Mostly however, I’m working on another book, which is hoarding much of my writing mojo. The novel about a ski area will soon be with my agent, and I’ll keep y’all posted on its progress.

Top 10 Ways to Get Through a Low Snow Season


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


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.

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


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?