Crystal Mt., WA, Feb. 18-19, 2019

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Crystal Mt., WA, Feb. 18-19, 2019

Postby Tony Crocker » Fri Feb 22, 2019 11:04 am

I flew to Seattle Sunday and drove Monday with Larry up to Crystal Mt., where we met Tseeb. Weather all 3 days in Washington was Great Gray North, so my only volcano views were on the Sunday flight. Mt. St. Helens:
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Mt. Rainier:
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Rainier is right in your face at the top of Crystal, but we never saw it.

I checked in with Larry when we got back from the Alps Feb. 4, and he said conditions were not good then. Decent Crystal skiing was all on the groomers and no one was skiing the all hardpacked off piste. But it has since snowed 4 feet, highlighted by a 2+ foot powder day Feb. 12 that Larry skied with Powderchaser Steve from Open Snow.

The new snow was well chopped over President’s weekend, but with Seattle’s record low temperatures the new snow has been low water content and skied very well. And with some refreshers the new snow was not packed down much except in the busiest places.
Temperatures both days were around 20F at the base and 15F up high. There was thick overcast with fog patches moving around the upper mountain. On Tuesday the next storm started with light snow around 11AM.

On Monday we warmed up on Ferk’s, then took the road from top of Rex to get to Paradise Bowl and the Northway chair, which did not exist on my prior in-season visits in 1993 and 2000. From Northway Larry led us along the ridgeline to Employee Housing, a 2,000 vertical fall line created by a massive avalanche taking out a swath of trees a few years ago. View down:
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Tseeb about to drop in:
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Most of Employee Housing is comparable to Jackson’s Hobacks but there are a couple of pitches a bit steeper. This is one of the runs that lures Powderchaser Steve to put Crystal on his powder day rotation along with Snowbird, Jackson and Squaw.

Larry is a powder princess like admin and his favorite part of Crystal is the Southback, which requires lengthy traversing to reach powder that remains very lightly tracked several days after a storm. It takes about half an hour to get to Silver Basin including couple of short bootpacks behind the Throne and Silver King, but he didn’t think it was worth doing that with the persistent fog up on that high traverse. So we took a lower and shorter traverse to the closer Avalanche Basin. Looking back up where we skied there:
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We went back up top on Rex and skied Snorting Elk Bowl.
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We then skied through Kelly’s Gap to the Alpine deli for lunch. Kelly’s was groomed which Larry says is infrequent but it was President’s Day. Crystal handled the crowd well. The top-to-bottom gondola had a 5 minute line but other lift lines were much shorter. There was moderate traffic on the easier groomers but plenty of room on Crystal’s abundant steeper groomers.
After lunch we started down Lucky Shot and got this decent view of Powder Bowl, which drops off the north side of Chair 6.
IMG_0752.JPG


We traversed right below Powder Bowl into tree scattered Bear Pits. View after we skied there:
IMG_0753.JPG


We rode Forest Queen, hoping to get up to Powder Bowl, but chair 6 was completely socked in when we got there, so we returned to Rex and skied Sunnyside. Sunnyside is direct south facing but even here the old subsurface was usually well buried by the last week’s snow.

We finished up on Gold Hill on Crystal’s east side, and some break in the clouds for an overview of Crystal’s central terrain.
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Ferk’s/Sunnyside are at left, gondola and Exterminator at center, and Employee Housing at far right.

Zoomed profile of Employee Housing:
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Larry and I skied 16,200 vertical; Tseeb had an extra top to bottom run before we arrived.

All 3 of us spent the night at Crystal’s Alpine Inn, great for the convenience but since a lot of Seattle area schools were out it was charging steep weekend rates.

On Tuesday we started up Rex and skied first into Green Valley. From there we took the road far skier’s left behind the Northway lift and traversed to the edge of the farthest Morning Glory Bowl. This area has been gladed to comfortable spacing and has a sustained steep fall line of close to 1,500 vertical.

However there are a couple of cliff bands which Larry did not feel comfortable navigating in variable visibility. So we skied Glory Days along the skier’s right edge. Tseeb got this pic of me there.
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Regrouping:
6584TonyCLarry.JPG


From here we did move farther left to Pucker Gulch for less tracked snow, where there were a couple of choke points we had to sideslip through.
IMG_0763.JPG


We moved back though Green Valley, then moved to Forest Queen to take another shot at Powder Bowl. Vis wasn’t great when we got up there but after a few minutes there was a break. I dropped in and skied as continuously as possible to take advantage of the light. As I got to the bottom the fog closed in again, so no pictures.

We all skied to the base, where Larry headed home.

Tseeb and I rode the gondola to the top and finished the day on Exterminator, another sustained 2,000+ vertical fall line favored by Powderchaser Steve.

Tseeb and I finished with 17,700 vertical and got on the road by 2:30PM. The incoming storm was supposed to be big and we wanted to beat both traffic and accumulating snow on the road.
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Re: Crystal Mt., WA, Feb. 18-19, 2019

Postby Tony Crocker » Tue Feb 26, 2019 1:03 pm

sbooker wrote:Tony C's report of Crystal Mt surprised me a bit. I don't know why but I didn't have it pegged to have the steep terrain that it obviously does.

Crystal is probably top 5 in North America for expert terrain. The obvious 4 IMHO (no order implied) are Alta/Snowbird, Whistler/Blackcomb, Jackson Hole and Squaw Valley (there are others as tough in average challenge, but they are smaller). When I first skied Crystal in 1993 my impression is that it was a smaller version of Squaw. But that was before the Northway lift was installed. Northway is 1,833 vertical, consistently steep and quite expansive as Larry demonstrated by taking us to see its far north Morning Glory Bowl. So in total I would say Crystal now rivals Jackson in scale.

Powderchaser Steve is a snob about terrain as well as powder. He wants untracked long steep runs of preferably 2,000+ vertical. The areas on his regular rotation are Jackson, Squaw, Snowbird and Crystal. Since he flies in on short notice for the powder, logistics at Whistler are more difficult. Larry has advised Steve to spend a day with Extremely Canadian to learn the terrain at Whistler.

The tougher the mountain, the more sensitive it is to less than ideal snow conditions. In Crystal's case the issue is marine humidity that can eventually degrade surfaces and make off piste skiing unpleasant. By altitude/latitude snow preservation at Crystal should be similar to Squaw, but those who have skied a lot at both say Tahoe preserves snow better. For overall reliability there's a good case for saying Crystal is more reliable than Squaw as it doesn't have the latter's extreme snowfall volatility/drought incidence.

Larry said no one was skiing ungroomed at Crystal in late January/early February. My 1993 visit was in early February and Crystal had heavy spring conditions the day after I had been skiing 80% packed powder at Mt. Bachelor. Larry says we skied Crystal this time under very favorable circumstances. It was similar to our Euro trip in that the snow was good at all exposures and at base area elevation.

For locals like Larry and flexible fanatics like Steve, Crystal is an elite area for powder skiing.
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Ski Records
Season length: 21 months, Nov. 29, 2010 - July 2, 2012
Days in one year: 80 from Nov. 29, 2010 - Nov. 17, 2011
Season vertical: 1,610K in 2016-17
Season powder: 291K in 2011-12
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Re: Crystal Mt., WA, Feb. 18-19, 2019

Postby jamesdeluxe » Tue Feb 26, 2019 1:24 pm

From the Mt Ashland thread:
Tony Crocker wrote:Crystal is probably top 5 in North America for expert terrain. The obvious 4 IMHO (no order implied) are Alta/Snowbird, Whistler/Blackcomb, Jackson Hole and Squaw Valley (there are others as tough in average challenge, but they are smaller). When I first skied Crystal in 1993 my impression is that it was a smaller version of Squaw.

Assuming it's true, I wonder if keeping that much expert terrain on the down low is a conscious choice by their marketing people because they're concerned about pushing casual/family skiers away? Didn't Jackson Hole try to rebrand itself decades ago (unsuccessfully) as something like "The Gentle Giant"?
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Re: Crystal Mt., WA, Feb. 18-19, 2019

Postby Tony Crocker » Tue Feb 26, 2019 1:54 pm

jamesdeluxe wrote:Assuming it's true, I wonder if keeping that much expert terrain on the down low is a conscious choice by their marketing people because they're concerned about pushing casual/family skiers away?

Crystal is mainly a local drive-up area, distance similar to Big Bear from most of SoCal. My observation is that the Northwest overall has the most competent skiers, and no doubt the topography and snow of the Cascade areas explain a lot of that. So no, in local marketing I don't think you can spin an area successfully as being different from what it really is as you can with a destination resort.

But it will be interesting to see what Alterra does with Crystal. According to Larry it's on Forest Service land with just a few retro 1960's vintage hotel rooms on long term lease contracts. So he doesn't see how there can be a real estate play. Crystal does have plans to put lifts up the east side of its valley, which would further add to its scale. Grooming at Crystal was good, a bit similar to Jackson in that it has good fall lines but they are steeper than many areas and sun exposed, though of course Crystal doesn't get much sun midwinter.

Jackson is a contender for the best ski area marketing program over the past 20 years. I have read Jackson may do over 700K skier visits this season (another Ikon controversy with the locals as at AltaBird). That would be double the level of 20 years ago when overall US skier visits are up about 10%.
http://bestsnow.net
Ski Records
Season length: 21 months, Nov. 29, 2010 - July 2, 2012
Days in one year: 80 from Nov. 29, 2010 - Nov. 17, 2011
Season vertical: 1,610K in 2016-17
Season powder: 291K in 2011-12
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Re: Crystal Mt., WA, Feb. 18-19, 2019

Postby Sbooker » Tue Feb 26, 2019 7:28 pm

jamesdeluxe wrote:From the Mt Ashland thread:
Tony Crocker wrote:Crystal is probably top 5 in North America for expert terrain. The obvious 4 IMHO (no order implied) are Alta/Snowbird, Whistler/Blackcomb, Jackson Hole and Squaw Valley (there are others as tough in average challenge, but they are smaller). When I first skied Crystal in 1993 my impression is that it was a smaller version of Squaw.

Assuming it's true, I wonder if keeping that much expert terrain on the down low is a conscious choice by their marketing people because they're concerned about pushing casual/family skiers away? Didn't Jackson Hole try to rebrand itself decades ago (unsuccessfully) as something like "The Gentle Giant"?


In my uneducated and humble view Jackson (and Snowbird for that matter) have an undeserved reputation for being less than suitable for intermediates. There's miles of medium pitch wide slopes at Jackson and a fair bit around the Gadzoom and Gad 2 area at Snowbird. The bonus is as an intermediate you've got plenty of terrain away from those wide steeper blues that can get you a little out of your comfort zone without being all out expert stuff.
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Re: Crystal Mt., WA, Feb. 18-19, 2019

Postby Tony Crocker » Tue Feb 26, 2019 7:40 pm

I agree about Jackson's wide open groomers, with the caveat they are all sun exposed so you better pay attention to when in the day you ski them from mid-February onwards. Crystal as I noted above I think is in the ballpark with Jackson for intermediates.

Snowbird's groomers are better than they used to be but they still tend to get bumpy late in the day. Most terminal intermediate groomer only skiers enjoy Alta more.

Squaw I still think is poor for intermediates. The primary intermediate area with good snow conditions is Shirley Lake which is only 700 vertical and to no surprise usually congested.
http://bestsnow.net
Ski Records
Season length: 21 months, Nov. 29, 2010 - July 2, 2012
Days in one year: 80 from Nov. 29, 2010 - Nov. 17, 2011
Season vertical: 1,610K in 2016-17
Season powder: 291K in 2011-12
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Re: Crystal Mt., WA, Feb. 18-19, 2019

Postby Sbooker » Tue Feb 26, 2019 9:14 pm

Tony Crocker wrote:I agree about Jackson's wide open groomers, with the caveat they are all sun exposed so you better pay attention to when in the day you ski them from mid-February onwards. Crystal as I noted above I think is in the ballpark with Jackson for intermediates.

Snowbird's groomers are better than they used to be but they still tend to get bumpy late in the day. Most terminal intermediate groomer only skiers enjoy Alta more.

Squaw I still think is poor for intermediates. The primary intermediate area with good snow conditions is Shirley Lake which is only 700 vertical and to no surprise usually congested.


Terminal intermediate is a good term and one I might adopt to describe myself.
I can confirm that my terminal intermediate wife tolerates a day at Snowbird but loves a day at Alta. She is particularly fond of the Supreme area blues as it often has, in our experience anyway, less skiers than the Sugarloaf and Collins areas.
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Re: Crystal Mt., WA, Feb. 18-19, 2019

Postby Tony Crocker » Tue Feb 26, 2019 11:01 pm

i do not define sbooker as a terminal intermediate. Terminal intermediates generally have no interest in skiing ungroomed runs and wouldn't be caught dead on something like Drop Out 3, where I skied with sbooker in January 2018.

I try to stay away from gradations of ski ability, but the comment
tolerates a day at Snowbird but loves a day at Alta

really hits the nail on the head for a lot of intermediates.
http://bestsnow.net
Ski Records
Season length: 21 months, Nov. 29, 2010 - July 2, 2012
Days in one year: 80 from Nov. 29, 2010 - Nov. 17, 2011
Season vertical: 1,610K in 2016-17
Season powder: 291K in 2011-12
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Re: Crystal Mt., WA, Feb. 18-19, 2019

Postby Sbooker » Wed Feb 27, 2019 1:54 am

^^^
Living in Queensland means we are limited to days on snow each year to about 15 or so. That will probably result in me remaining pretty average despite a willingness to at least try to improve. Myself and Kylie intend to do a couple of lessons at Snowbird next year in early March. We may even bump into some other skiers who might push us out of our comfort zone.

If being willing to ski ungroomed snow is a definition of not being terminal intermediates then my children are definitely not that.
"Can we ski somewhere they haven't flattened all the snow ?" That 's a regular request.
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Re: Crystal Mt., WA, Feb. 18-19, 2019

Postby baldyskier » Wed Feb 27, 2019 9:09 am

Sbooker wrote:^
"Can we ski somewhere they haven't flattened all the snow ?" That 's a regular request.

Sounds like my request on powder days about an hour after terrain is opened at Snowbird or Alta... ("They" being the hordes on boards and/or fat skis).
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Re: Crystal Mt., WA, Feb. 18-19, 2019

Postby kingslug » Wed Feb 27, 2019 10:53 am

Jackson has a very good ski school. Apres Vous area is good for intermediates. I think JH has something for everyone...and lots of snow lately.
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Re: Crystal Mt., WA, Feb. 18-19, 2019

Postby Tony Crocker » Wed Feb 27, 2019 9:50 pm

sbooker wrote:Myself and Kylie intend to do a couple of lessons at Snowbird next year in early March. We may even bump into some other skiers who might push us out of our comfort zone.

FYI our Snowbird timeshare week in 2020 will be March 7-14.
http://bestsnow.net
Ski Records
Season length: 21 months, Nov. 29, 2010 - July 2, 2012
Days in one year: 80 from Nov. 29, 2010 - Nov. 17, 2011
Season vertical: 1,610K in 2016-17
Season powder: 291K in 2011-12
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