Friday, March 17, 2017

Weekend at Crystal

Crystal Mountain.....the largest ski area in Washington State....known for it's steep, gnarly terrain and breathtaking mountain views.  For years I've wanted to come here.

Crystal Mountain base area

This season I tried to convince one of my friends to join me for a mid-February trip, but she was busy.  Then I decided why not go by myself?  Coincidentally, the weekend of choice also happened to land on my birthday, so I told the hubby this could be my gift.

Rainier Express lift

In the days leading up to my ski trip weekend, I watched the weather like a hawk.  Although the Cascade Mountains suffered a bout of rain all week, Saturday promised clearing skies.  That morning, I loaded my car and pointed it north, hoping for the best.

Mt. Rainier Gondola

Located in the Northeast corner of Mt. Rainier National Park, Crystal is a 4-hour drive from Portland (roughly the same distance as my fave Oregon ski area, Mt Bachelor)  Aside from some traffic through Olympia and Puyallup, it was a fairly uneventful trip.  I arrived at the resort with enough time to check into my hotel and drop off my skis to be waxed.  Then I chilled slopeside on the base area's large covered patio, listened to a good live band, people-watched, and enjoyed a cold Porter.  Aaahhh!

And the grand mountain herself!

Although I studied the resort's trail map that evening, the following morning I boarded the Chinook Express Lift with no concrete plan.  Luckily, I got buddied up with one of the resort's volunteer hosts, and he was more than happy to share recommendations.  Head swimming with information, I disembarked and decided to check out the Forest Queen Express.

Fancy restaurant on the mountaintop

Although today's weather was mild, a week of rain and overnight cold temperatures had frozen the snow into an icy crust.  I found the first few runs fast and challenging.  Luckily, most everything had been groomed.

Spectacular views everywhere!

One of my first impressions of Crystal - their runs were steep!  What's considered an intermediate (blue) run here would be classified a black diamond (expert) trail at my home hill.  Now I'm not one to shy from a gnarly slope, but the day's icy conditions (and the fact I was by myself) made me a bit more cautious.

Lots of people taking in the scenery

Riding single, I got paired up with lots of interesting people.  I learned very quickly asking my lift-mates "Where have you been skiing today?" brought a plethora of trail recommendations, snow condition reports, and valuable local advice.  Plus I enjoyed some great conversations.

After spending most of the morning exploring the terrain off of Forest Queen, I decided to broaden my horizons.  A man on the lift recommended riding the Rainier Express, which took you to the very summit.  He said the views on top were amazing.  So off I went!

Nice place to mountain-gaze

Although the forecast was for sunshine, skies remained overcast most of the morning.  By the time I disembarked from the Rainier Lift, things were just starting to clear.  And there on top, staring me in the face, was massive Mt. Rainier.  My oh my, what an incredible view!  

Cool cloud beside Rainier

A fancy restaurant was perched on the summit.  On one side of the building was a snowy patio area offering low-slung lounge chairs.  Chairs and people lined the edge, all taking in the amazing mountain panorama.  Snowy peaks stretched out in all directions.  It was totally breathtaking.

Apres-ski action

After soaking in the scenery (followed by copious photo-taking) I followed the crowd down Lucky Shot trail.  After a couple of laps on that and a super-steep black diamond run called "Middle Ferk," I could feel my tummy rumbling.  Time to break for lunch.

The Alpine Inn

Taking a long, winding cat track back to the base area, I skirted a steep slope with three tiny avalanches, and ended up barrelling down another steep bump run (but it was fun!).  After a bowl of chowder from the outside dining area, I hoofed it back to my room at the Alpine Inn to shed a layer and use the bathroom.  My hotel was a mere 200 yards from the lifts.  I've only ever booked slopeslide lodging once before and I must say, it was worth the extra bucks.

Morning gondola ride

Then I hopped on the Mt Rainier gondola for a cushy ride back to the top.  I spent the afternoon exploring more trails both off the Rainier Express and Green Valley lifts.  Although the sun finally made an appearance, it wasn't enough solar power to soften the snow much, and by 3:00 the trails were beginning to ice back over.  Deciding my legs had had enough for one day (and wanting to save something for tomorrow) I decided it was time for beer-o-thirty.

Had the views all to myself

I enjoyed yet another good glass of Porter on the base area sundeck before heading back to my room for a shower.  The Alpine Inn offered both a nice German-themed restaurant and a casual bar and deli on the premises.  I chose a burger and beer in the bar, and both were quite tasty.  Before heading back to my room, I was tempted enough to grab one of the deli's  huge brownies for dessert (hey, it was my birthday!)

Looking down on Silver Queen

After a good night's rest, I was up and at 'em the next morning for more skiing.  The day dawned with clear skies and sunshine.  Perfect!

Good morning, Mt Rainier!

First thing I jumped on the gondola for another scenery-packed ride to the top.  Taking advantage of the morning light, I wasted no time capturing a few more mountain photos, especially of massive Mt Rainier. 

Looking towards Green Valley

Then it was back down Lucky Shot for a few laps.  The adjacent peak, Silver Queen, had a recent avalanche on one of it's slopes which was quite visible from above.  As a matter of fact, one of the trails went right by it's debris field.  Very sobering to stop and look uphill at the huge volume of snow that came crashing down!  Some of Crystal's slopes are so steep that inbounds avalanches are quite common.  As a matter of fact, an avalanche in March 2014 took out one of Crystal's chairlifts (luckily no one was hurt and the lift has since been replaced).

Lucky Shot run

The day's copious sunshine quickly turned icy groomed runs into wonderful soft snow.  Perfect for carving some turns!

Avalanche aftermath

I played all morning, alternating between Rainier Express and the Green Valley lifts.  Since it was a Monday, the slopes were practically deserted.  Sunshine, good snow, fabulous views, and no people.  Happy birthday to me!

Gondola car

Towards late morning, the winds picked up on top, and blew hard enough to shut down the gondola.  Luckily, it didn't affect the slopes much - just at the very top.  I had to batten down the hatches for the first couple of feet, but once I'd skied a short distance, the wind quickly died down.

Lots of photo ops for this mountain

For today's lunch, I decided to check out the Campbell Basin Lodge, an on-mountain cafeteria located atop of the Forest Queen lift.  A beautiful structure, it appeared to be quite new.  I loved the inside decor, with rustic log furniture and Warren Miller cartoons adorning its walls.  I especially liked the drawing titled "Northwest Skier" showing a man skiing on ice in a rain slicker.

Campbell Basin lodge

Although it was a fabulous day, I had to cut my afternoon short.  Not only fatigued from yesterday's full day of skiing, I had a long drive back to Portland and hoped to beat some of the traffic.

Warren Miller artwork

So what did I think of Crystal Mountain?  Loved the variety of trails, but the weekend's icy conditions kept me from trying some of the super steeps.  I'd love to come back on a powder day and explore more terrain.  But on the flip side, the sunny weather enabled me to enjoy the fabulous mountain panoramas Crystal is famous for - totally one of the better ski area views I've seen.

I thought the on-slope lodging was expensive for what you got.  I paid big bucks for a tiny single room.  And the Alpine Inn, although clean and cozy, was sort of run-down and noisy (my room was right next to the stairway - thump, thump, thump all night!)  Crystal being a remote location, is a 45 minute drive from the nearest town, and a two hour drive from Seattle.  Visitors can either spend their money on lodging, or spend time driving back and forth down a sometimes treacherous road.

I'll be back!

But I was thrilled to finally experience Crystal Mountain for myself.  A perfect way to spend my birthday weekend.  Two ski poles up - I'll be back!


  1. ...what a fabulous Birthday gift, I'm wishing you a belated Happy Birthday. When I was a skier back in the '60s I loved to go see Warren Miller and John Jay's ski movies when they can to town. Thanks for taking me along.

  2. Happy Birthday to you is right! What spectacular scenery, especially of Mt. Rainier!

  3. That looks like a great ski area and a really fun couple of days.

  4. Looks like the perfect way to spend your Bday, especially exploring someplace new!

  5. Happy Birthday to you, Linda!!! And your photos are absolutely gorgeous! I love winter, as you know, and it does me good to see that, instead of complaining about winter, you are enjoying and celebrating it! I just love all these photos with the snow! Thank you so much for sharing.

  6. Happy Birthday. What a great gift. Thanks for sharing your beautiful pictures- Mary Lou

  7. Stunning views and that second day looked amazing - looks like you had the entire resort to yourself. Staying slope-side is always great if you can find the right spot. Nothing better than skiing door to door and I hate carrying skis. Trying to convince my buddies to head to west coast US for some skiing but they don't like the idea of the long flights from the UK

  8. Love all those gorgeous mountain view. Rainier is awesome but I'm totally impressed by the lenticular clouds you captured, both the small one on the top of the peak and the one in the sky. I never see lenticular clouds here.

  9. PS Glad you had a wonderful birthday .

  10. Totally sensational way to spend your birthday. Wonderful to enjoy the magnificent views with you.

    1. Know you are enjoying the beautiful snowy scenes, and hoping you are having a great snow season. Happy birthday late!

  11. Happy (belated) birthday! What a wonderful treat for you!

  12. Magnificas estas belas montanhas e uma boa estância de Inverno.
    Um abraço e bom Domingo.

    Dedais de Francisco e Idalisa

  13. Hello, happy belated birthday. It looks like an awesome birthday trip too. I loved the views of the mountains. Gorgeous collection of photos. Have a happy day and new week ahead!

  14. I'm so glad you got to Crystal Mountain, and that you had a blast! I haven't skied there in years, so my knowledge is old. But you can't beat the views from the top, if lucky enough to be there on a clear day. I envy you your closeness to Mt. Bachelor... it was always my favorite place to ski. Happy birthday!

  15. I wish we had gondolas! Actually, we do have them, but they only put them on in the summer.

  16. Looks like it was a glorious birthday!

  17. Some fantastic looking mountains you have over there. A great birthday treat normally happens when you plan it yourself:)

  18. Beautiful photos - where in Washington.?

    1. Hi John - Crystal is near the NE corner of Mt Rainier National Park, about 40 miles SE of the town of Enumclaw.

  19. Well Happy belated Birthday to you! You really are amazing. I would never take off on a trip like that by myself. It sure sounds like you had a wonderful time despite the crusty conditions. Mt. Rainer is beautiful! Our youngest son hiked it years ago. Glad you got to fulfill a wish on your bucket list.

  20. Crystal! Hiked above and across the highway from it on the PCT. Looks like a nice birthday!

  21. A belated birthday. I find the views amazing. I wonder if I would have done this alone? Probably not, but something else, maybe. I'm glad you did....mountains are a treat for the eyes.

  22. Happy birthday, Linda! What a wonderful way to spend a birthday doing what you love! Your photos made me feel like I was there with you. Such glorious views! Ski in and out accommodations are always expensive but I'm sure it was worth it for you since you were only there two days. I heard on the news this evening that Colorado's mountains received good snowfall this winter but many places are beginning to melt--a month early and very alarming. We need another cold front to bring cold and snow.

    PS: My nephew climbed to the summit of Mt Rainier a few years ago. It was not his favorite climb, as he said the trail up was very crowded and inexperienced climbers slowed everyone down.

  23. Hi! Happy birthday to you! It looks a paradise for skiers being in Crystal Mountain skiing area.I think going to the skiing area is best gift for you. I enjoyed your photos very much. Thanks for sharing.

  24. Those clouds beside Mt. Rainier are great. What a place.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  25. Belated Happy Birthday! You had some incredible views for your weekend! :)


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