Crystal Mountain, WA – The Real Deal!

29 12 2021
First time!

I’ve lived in Portland, OR, since late 1992, and Mount Hood is my neighborhood mountain. I’ve always wanted to ski at Crystal Mountain, which I’d heard was larger and more rewarding for advanced skiers than the resorts on Mt. Hood. But several planned trips were cancelled due to rain. It’s about the same driving hours as Mt. Bachelor, OR. For the 2021-2022 season I purchased an IKON Pass, and it’s good for 4 days at Crystal, so I headed up in mid-December to check it out. As it was early season both for conditions and my ski fitness level, I intended to just check it out, not get overly ambitious and then injure myself.

Everything worked out great! The snow conditions were powdery and dry, it snowed all day, and the wind was dead calm. I spent the evening prior in Enumclaw, and headed up starting before 8:00 a.m. Note: The drive prior to Enumclaw is frustratingly stop and go as it passes through a number of suburban malls. But the view of Mt. Rainier is spectacular!

Enumclaw is a poverty of breakfast spots. I drove all around town and found myself exasperated. Thoroughly hangry, I settled on McDonald’s. Then, at the very edge of town on Hwy 410, the road to Crystal, I spied Charlie’s Cafe, which otherwise would have been my salvation! Next time!

The initial phase of the drive to Crystal, on SE Enumclaw-Chinook Pass Rd., isn’t all that pretty. It has equal amounts forest, mountain views, and unsightly clearcuts.

Further along, the forest closes in, and the road winds along the beautiful White River. It was snowing, still, and the flakes piles up on pine boughs and deciduous branches. Bridges were all covered in sugar.

Crystal is nestled in a narrow valley and there is only a two-lane road accessing it. I was skiing on a Monday, but I could only imagine the crush of Seattle skiers on weekends.

The serendipity of the ride was interrupted toward the last turn off which brings one to Crystal Mountain Boulevard. Traffic was halted due to an unknown hazard ahead. In this valley, I had no cell phone reception, so the only news came from drivers headed back my way. After about 30 minutes, word arrived about an SUV overturned on the access road.

It seemed like the morning was getting late, but in fact it wasn’t even 8:45 yet. Lots time to get turns in!

After all the excitement I reached Lot B. As it’s in a narrow valley, parking lots are stretched out along the bottom. Numerous shuttles ferry guests back and froth from the base to the lots. Quite a number of RVs overnighted. Some dressed for the holidays!

My IKON Pass is supposed to be valid at over 40 resorts worldwide. I just had to verify at the lift ticket window that this thing is real. YES! It does work! So it was off to the lifts. Crystal tops out at 7,012 ft. It has a sh*t ton of in bounds skiing that would be outback elsewhere, including the lift-serviced Northway Area, which the trail map says is “All avalanche prone.”

Crystal has a Gondola, which is a fast way to get from the base area to the main mountain. I didn’t take it, still avoiding un-masked rides in close quarters during Covid.

I spent my day between the Chinook Express, Forest Queen Express, and Rainier Express lifts. It was such a terrific day with an embarrassment of powder snow! 1,000 giggles all around. The trails have terrific fall lines and there are lots of bowls and tree skiing! I’m definitely heading back to explore more.

The snowy drive out of the valley was to die for! But back toward Enumclaw, it was all rain. I will return to Crystal later this winter for sure!


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