Tag Archives: Skiing/Snowboarding

Weather or Not: Hoping for another “Miracle Saturday”

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For the past three weekends, Crystal Mountain has been blessed with miracles. Three Fridays in a row we’ve had rainy, soggy, extremely windy storms turn cold and calm just in time to lay down enough snow for a powder Saturday. The weather gods might be trying to tell us something here: they are still in charge, but they are ultimately benevolent. The way I see it, the weather gods love weekend skiers and riders. Or maybe it has more to do with Pacific storms circling around low pressure systems, but hey, a girl can dream.

Last week, the rain and wind came Friday and threatened to ruin the cold snow from earlier in the week. But again, the weather gods blessed us with a reprieve, and Saturday we woke to fresh snow and cold temps. Here’s a little video clip from last Friday when the wind was nuking at the top of Rainier Express. When the patrollers got on the chair, it was still fairly calm at the top. It quickly ramped up while we were on the lift. Needless to say, the lift quickly went on wind hold.

Today is Thursday and once again the rain has returned. Yesterday ended in a beautiful afternoon, but now it’s raining at the base and snowing (just barely) at the top. These are the days when we are glad to have the gondola. A dry ride up goes a long way to lengthen the ski day. Today is a day for the hearty souls born and bred in the PNW, who don’t mind a little rain (either that or we just don’t know any better).

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The mountain came out Wednesday afternoon

The real question, however, is whether or not we will have another miracle Saturday. Will the weather gods, once again, bless us with a miracle?

This morning, I conferred with my most trusted source for weather: the magic 8 ball. I don’t know about you all, but whenever I have a high-stakes question of serious consequence, I head straight to this little black orb of wisdom. And guess what you guys? The signs point to yes!

magic 8 ball

My most trusted source for weather!

While maybe not as accurate as the magic 8 ball, from time to time I still check in with the “professionals” in the weather forecasting biz. The weather gurus at UW Atmospheric Sciences department back up the magic 8 ball prediction, calling for a few inches of snow by Saturday morning and continuing throughout the day. The Sunday morning prediction is looking even better:

Snow Prediction

Monday looks to be a warm and wet day, with the long term models calling for more snow on Tuesday. We aren’t quite yet back into the earlier pattern where even when no snow was predicted, we’d still picked up a few inches every night as if those weather gods just couldn’t help themselves. But there are still good days ahead.

Only the magic 8 ball really knows.

I, for one, am hoping for a miracle.

 

Much More Snow in the Forecast

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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.

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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).

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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.

Crystal Mountain Opens Today

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The 2015-2016 ski season starts today at Crystal. After a damaging wind and rain storm earlier this week, we are now blessed with an upper mountain draped (and caked!) in a wind-packed base. A few inches of fluff fell in the past two days, so conditions are fast and fun. It sort of feels like the entire upper mountain has been groomed by the wind. This time of season a solid base is key, as it covers over the rocks and bushes.

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Green Valley Nov 20th, 2016

At this point, Green Valley and Snorting Elk are open. We hope to expand terrain as soon as we get a little more snow. Lucky Shot is very close, but the snow peters out to nil a few hundred feet below the bottom of Rainier Express. This make me want to shake my fist at the weather gods.

Looking ahead at the forecast, there’s a chance for a few inches of snow Monday night. I’m hoping for more than a few inches, because after that the forecast turns dry.

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Upper Mountain looking sweet

It’s still early in the season and we have plenty of winter storms ahead of us. For now, just getting back on my skis and carving turns in the snow is enough. Many of you readers are probably like me. In the midst of this crazy world, sliding on snow is the only thing that makes sense.

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Ski patrol caught on webcam after setting up the hill

Yesterday, I got to join my friends and co-workers setting up the hill–putting out rope lines and marking the creeks that are still running and generally getting the slopes ready for the crowds today. Carrying around heavy loads of bamboo and rope, I was reminded of how lucky I am to get to do this for my job.

Hope to see you all on the slopes.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Ski Season

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Crystal Mountain received a nice blanket of snow this weekend.

10" of new snow at Crystal

10″ of new snow at Crystal

Powder Bowl isn't looking too bad either

Powder Bowl isn’t looking to bad either

There’s about 8-12″ of snow in Green Valley, and its a nice dense base. One more storm like this and we can open the Gondola and Green Valley. The forecast for this weekend is calling for a few more systems starting on Friday. (The first system should be warm, which could actually help consolidate the base.) Here’s how the forecast discussion reads:

  A WEAK UPPER SHORTWAVE IN THE NORTHWEST FLOW WILL MOVE ACROSS THE 
  FORECAST AREA WEDNESDAY NIGHT...FOLLOWED BY ANOTHER WEAKER FEATURE 
  THURSDAY OR THURSDAY NIGHT. THE SHORTWAVES WILL PROBABLY SCATTER 
  SOME LIGHT SHOWERS ACROSS WESTERN WASHINGTON AT TIMES. THE SNOW 
  LEVEL WILL BE AROUND 3500 FT WEDNESDAY NIGHT AND RISE TO AROUND 
  4500 FT THURSDAY NIGHT...AND SHOWERS COULD BRING 2 TO 5 INCHES OF 
  NEW SNOW TO THE CASCADES FROM AROUND STEVENS PASS NORTHWARD. MCDONNAL 
   
  .LONG TERM...ANOTHER WEAK UPPER RIDGE WILL MOVE QUICKLY ACROSS 
  WESTERN WASHINGTON FRIDAY MORNING...THEN A COLD FRONT WILL DIG 
  SOUTHEAST ACROSS THE AREA FRIDAY NIGHT AND SATURDAY. A SECOND 
  FRONT WILL FOLLOW QUICKLY ON SUNDAY...WITH A FAIRLY DEEP UPPER 
  TROUGH DIGGING OVER THE REGION ON MONDAY. THE SNOW LEVEL WILL RISE 
  TO AROUND 6000 TO 7000 FT AHEAD OF THE FIRST FRONT...THEN FALL TO 
  AROUND 3500 FT ON SUNDAY AND MAYBE ALL THE WAY TO 2000 FT ON 
  MONDAY. MODELS AGREE WELL ON THIS SCENARIO OVERALL. MCDONNAL
Bottom of GV still needs a bit more snow.

8″ at bottom of GV

The bottom of Green Valley still needs a bit more snow. But currently it’s snowing lightly, and every little bit helps. What we need now is one of those big November snowfalls where it dumps 2 feet in 24 hours. (A girl can hope!)

Even if that doesn’t happen, since the crews this summer mowed down all the trees and brush in Green Valley and pretty much everywhere else on the main runs, it won’t take much to get open.

Let’s all start doing our snow dances (and ice-cube-flushing and frozen-spoon-under-the-pillow-sleeping) and get this season started!

Storm Tracks, Powder Highs and Digging Lows

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The Pacific Northwest has enjoyed wild weather these past ten days. For a while there, the fire hose of the jet stream pointed right at us, bringing enough snow to open Crystal Mountain as well as the other ski areas in the state. We started with a skiff of snow that fell in October and never really left. Followed by cold, dry temperatures, that early snow sat on the ground and rotted out. A shallow snowpack is a weak snowpack, and when it finally snowed a few feet, enough to open the ski resort, we patrollers worried about the bond to that old layer. With widespread whoomfing and unnerving cracking, the snowpack waited for a heavy load to fail.

Giving Thanks on "White Friday" for the 12" of New Snow

That load arrived last week when we were hit with the Four W’s (wild, wet, windy and wacky). In 48 hours, a thick blanket of wind-packed 36″ of snow fell Monday and Tuesday, then turned to rain. Where skiers compacted the snowpack over the previous weekend, the slides were minimal. Elsewhere, not so much.

Bear Pits and Brand X both lost most of the season’s snow. It started snowing again on Thanksgiving and by Friday, we were back in action, enjoying our second powder high (following Bluebird Sunday) of the season.

Just before it turned to rain

When low pressure systems churn off the coast, moving further south as they approach, they often “dig” into the tropical moisture, and pull that warm air around in their track, bringing rain.

Whenever you hear forecasters calling for a “digging low” beware of warm moisture. This kind of pattern brings a best-of-times/worst-of-times scenario in which one day the mountains are blanketed in light, fresh powder, and the next day the temperature spikes, the wind picks up and everyone’s spirits are dampened.

This is why I love my job

Herein lies the lesson. When it’s powder, ski it. This is why I love my job. Not only do I get to throw explosives onto powdery slopes and watch the weather with the zeal of forecaster, I also learn to appreciate the smaller moments. When Ingrid Backstrom stopped to help me string a rope to close off a rocky section in Northway, I had to smile. I watched her ski away with my husband and friends as I clove hitched the orange and black rope to sticks of bamboo. But that’s okay. I’d gotten my turns in earlier. As I later explained to one of the new patrollers, our job isn’t so much about skiing ourselves as it is about providing that experience to others. Certainly we enjoy our fair share of turns. But it’s not just about the skiing. Joy and inspiration can come at any moment–even when the low digs too far, or friends ski powder while you set up a ropeline. All I have to do is look around me and I find it.

As for the weather forecast, things are setting down. A ridge of high pressure will build across Western Washington, bringing warm and dry days ahead. By Thursday, we expect low clouds in the valleys and clear, warm days in the mountains. Spring skiing anyone?

Foot of New Snow This Morning

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Like I said. Today will be the best day of the week to ski at Crystal. High Campbell Chair and Northway will both be open. See you up here.

The Four Ws Revisited

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Ice-encased tree

With Thanksgiving arriving tomorrow, I’m feeling very grateful that the rain turned back to snow this morning. The weather has been pretty wild in the past 48 hours, and tomorrow another weaker system is forecast to bring more snow. If I were a betting woman, I’d put my money on Friday as the best day of the week to ski.

Today was definitely not it. While it didn’t rain all the way to the top, the conditions today redefined “Cascade Concrete;” it was thick and gluey and wet. I took a photo of a tree encased in water-ice and snow. Thankfully, after the temperature dropped, we picked up about 5″ of lighter, more skiable snow. This was on top of about 36″ of wind-blasted snow that fell (flew, blew) yesterday. Snowboarders had it much easier today.

Last night the wind blew over 100mph, but didn’t cause too much damage. It’s amazing how hardy the trees are in the mountains. A few limbs and bits of moss littered the slopes this morning, but for the most part, the landscape withstood hurricane force winds and didn’t seem much the worse for wear.

I just love the resilience and adversity of the mountains. It makes me feel stronger and more humble all at once. I’m thrilled to see the storms lining up in the Pacific. Winter is certainly here, and La Nina will do her bidding.

Tomorrow afternoon’s system should bring in another 8′ and Friday is supposed to offer a break between systems. It could be crowded, so get here early. For those of you not planning on a big turkey dinner with the fam, the slopes should be uncrowded and the snow should start falling in the afternoon. The day could end well.

See you all on the slopes.