Crystal Mt. installed a top-to-bottom gondola about 5 years ago. This can be used as a transport lift to access their highest terrain pod in Green Valley. During the past 2 big years Green Valley has been open late season weekends, until July 16 last year and July 1 this year. This setup is a close analogy to Snowbird when the lower mountain has lost its snow and the tram is used for access to Little Cloud. Crystal has a few advantages though. Green Valley is a high speed quad that can handle everyone skiing the same lift. The last 2 times Snowbird was open in July the Little Cloud lines were horrendous, but starting next year Little Cloud will also be high speed. Crystal has a top of the gondola restaurant and sundeck that makes a nice apres spot, though Mt. Rainier was hidden from view this time.
Most importantly Seattle has a much bigger population base to support the late season weekends than Salt Lake does. Ambience at Crystal is similar to late season Snowbird in that there is minimal grooming and thus the attraction is almost exclusively to advanced skiers. Intermediates will be more comfortable at Mammoth or Bachelor.
Nonetheless in planning this trip I was skeptical of coming here. It was a 7 hour drive from Bend/Bachelor and Crystal’s maritime climate resulted in sloppy snow on my previous visits in Feb. 1993 and Apr. 2000. I thought there also might be limited WROD skiing, especially when Crystal cancelled plans to stay open one last time for the July 4 holiday. But Patrick was eager to see Crystal for the first time, and I said OK once I knew we would get both Friday and Saturday at Bachelor.
It was misty with off and on rain showers as we drove through Mt. Rainier National Park into Crystal Saturday evening. Sunday’s weather was supposed to improve but it was very foggy at Crystal’s base. We met a couple of locals Patrick had found on TGR and headed up the gondola about 9AM. Clouds were less dense and more scattered up higher and never impeded the skiing. The Green Valley chair runs from 5,850 – 6,800 feet but supports great variety of terrain. I didn’t remember it well from my previous visits as it’s less than ¼ of Crystal’s acreage, and in winter Crystal has quite a few long and steep runs reminiscent of those at Squaw Valley.
Overview of Green Valley:
Skier’s right of the lift in the first pic has a north-to-east tilt and was solidly covered. As you move skier’s left of the lift snow became thinner. Closer view along the midsection of the lift line.
There was a good mogul line along the lift. There were openings in that rock band beyond the lift that had melted out over the past 2-3 weeks.
Upper Ferk’s on the ridge under the gondola was the skier’s right boundary. I took the first 2 pics from the knoll (~2-3 minute walk) at center left.
Exterminator (comparable to West Face of KT-22) drops off the back of the knoll all the way to the base. From the knoll or a traverse below it we could ski north facing lines through these trees down to the Green Valley chair.
In the background you can see that the snow has dirt and some irregularities, but it was smoother in skier packed fall lines like this one. Fortunately the expert Crystal locals had smoothed out several interesting shots all over Green Valley. Most of these were closer to the lift. Patrick is here one row of trees skier’s right of the big mogul field.
One of his favorite runs twisted around some shrubbery lower down.
There were a couple more shorter lines in this general area under the lower part of the Green Valley lift.
Here we are on the bump run under the middle of the lift.
When skiing the bumps we noticed enough locals traversing over and beyond the rock band that we thought it was worth checking out.
We were pleased to find this entry into Elk Bowl.
Down below we looked back and saw higher entrances.
The return to Green Valley had narrow spots and traverses but only a small burned off section to cross.
So we went back there again and took a short bootpack up to a higher entry.
This was probably the best run of the day.
Shortly afterwards 3 locals came by and skimmed Elk Lake
The first skier at right actually made a turn in the pond while the second one pictured here straightlined as most of us would. The third skier lost his balance just before hitting the water.
We took one relatively easy run after that and I called it a day at 2:25PM with 17 runs and 15,100 vertical. I walked up to the restaurant for a nice lunch, turned around and saw no Patrick. He ran into another TGR contact who was just getting off the gondola and skied 4 more runs with him. We then met the other locals who had taken a sidecountry run into Northway and skinned back out. Chris was kind enough to mark up and give us a photocopy topo map of the Sunrise area on Mt. Rainier. This made it easy for us to analyze possible ski routes for Monday.
Based upon prior observations of terrain quality and numerous powder reports from Larry Schick I have always considered Crystal one of the top 10 ski areas in North America. So even with a very limited proportion of terrain open it was quite interesting skiing. But 2 weeks ago the Rainier Express lift was also running and there would have been more skiable lines in Green Valley as well. So my destination advice is similar to those coming to Mammoth. There will be much more terrain in May than in June/July. The trips at the very end of the season are best combined with other activities. FYI Crystal had 139% of normal snowfall in 2011-12, so my guess is that it will make it to July in no more than ¼ of seasons.
Season length: 21 months, Nov. 29, 2010 - July 2, 2012
Days in one year: 80 from Nov. 29, 2010 - Nov. 17, 2011
Season vertical: 1,318K in 2010-11
Season powder: 291K in 2011-12