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!





Choosing Ski Goggles

26 12 2021
Ski goggles and lenses come in a variety of shapes and colors!

When it comes to enjoying snow sports, visibility, whether good or bad, can make or break your day! The ability to see changes in terrain, ice, bumps, rocks, other riders and trees, is especially important for skiers and snowboarders, who need to make instant changes in direction. They need to be able to see in bright light, dark, snowy weather, and even under the lights for night skiing. The goggles need to stay fog-free, and fit snug no matter the face. They also need to protect your eyes from harmful UV rays.

What about sunglasses? Sunglasses provide protection from UV rays but often do not keep wind completely out of your eyes. And no protection from the cold. If you’re like me, and you ski fast, wind may billow behind sunglasses and cause your eyes to water. Even worse, I used to wear contact lenses, and my watery eyes lifted the contacts completely off, and they blew off and stuck to the sunglasses! At the very least, choose 100% UV protected sunglasses and aerodynamic glasses.

A good fitting ski goggle keeps wind and snow out, and also helps with warmth. It will allow just enough venting to eliminate fogging.

Night Skiing and Very Dark, Snowy Days

At night, the lights, since they shine at a low angle on the slopes instead of overhead like the sun, create shadows that intensify the visibility of small changes in terrain and the bumps. Lenses that let in as much light as possible make for a better experience than those which cut out light. Clear lenses are ideal, and yellow lenses work well. Category 0 lenses let in 80% of the light.

On very snowy days, and in the fog, yellow, or rose bring visibility to flat light so that changes to terrain are more visible. These Category 1 lenses allow 43% of light to pass through.

Cloudy Days

These conditions call for Category 2 lenses, which let in 18% to 42% of light, depending on color. They could be blue, amber, or rose.

Bright, Sunny Days

On blue bird days, especially at higher altitudes, UV protection and eye strain protection are paramount. These are Category 3 lenses, which allow only 8% to 17% of light to pass through. They are often brown or gray. Often, these lenses are treated with 50% polarization to reduce glare.

Changing Lenses

Price will dictate the quality of lens, the ability to and ease of changing lenses, and how many lenses come with your goggles. Some goggles only come with one lens and additional lenses must be purchased separately. Then there are those that come with two lenses, but changing requires time consuming fiddling to complete the switch. To facilitate the switch, some offer “magnetic” lenses which quickly stick to the goggle frame and can be changed in a flash. For more money, there are photo-chromatic lenses which automatically change shade based upon available light.

Fit Is It

20 years ago, there were only two size of ski goggles: Adult and children. Today, there are choices for women, kids and some that fit flatter or thinner faces and noses. It’s all about comfort and sealing out the wind. Also, pick a goggle that works with your ski helmet, if you use one. There are even goggles that are made to fit over prescription glasses, and goggles with prescription lenses!

Price

Expect to pay $40 to $299 depending on features and quality. Rather than an afterthought in your ski kit, goggles should be a top priority!





The “Teton Convergence” in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park Region

11 03 2015

grand teton national park,xc,cross country

Bluebird day! Cross country skiing with April below the Tetons!

I just spent a week skiing and visiting friends in the stunning region around Grand Teton National Park. This was a confluence of friends from different parts of my life. Friends from Portland were there to ski. But Dave Adams lives there and is a friend who moved there from Portland. Ed Parigian, a Boston housemate living in Park City, Utah, drove up. And Mary Woolen, a college friend who I’ve not seen since 1984 also lives there. Whilst my Portland friends stayed in a condo in Teton Village at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Ed and I stayed with Dave Adams on the Idaho side in Tetonia, Idaho.

We alpine skied, cross-country skied, looked at moose and reveled in the views. So beautiful!

mt moran,jackson hole national park

Mt Moran

The craggy Teton Range dominates every view, with 13,777ft Grand Teton soaring above it all. In an unusual geologic action, the Teton Range soared whilst the valley below dropped. Park literature says the vertical drop from the top of Grand Teton to the original valley floor exceeds 25,000 feet! Today, you won’t see that. This is because glaciers from several ice ages scoured material from the peaks and deposited it on the valley below. In the valley, it’s completely flat except for a few glacial morianes. A moraine is a pile of rock left over from the snout of a glacier. They can be hundreds of feet high. If you think of a glacier as a 5,000-ft high conveyor belt with the end depositing rocks and boulders, you have a moraine building machine. As the glacier retreats, it builds that moraine. Today, the flat valley floor is about 6,000-ft below Grand Teton.

dornan's jackson hole

View from Dornan’s Bar. An apres ski beverage at Dornan’s is a must!

It is 12 hours of almost non-stop driving from Portland, OR to get there. I arrived at Dave’s house late Saturday and after a meal at a local pub fell dead asleep. Sunday I headed up to Grand Targhee Ski Resort to meet the Portland folks.

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The base at Grand Targhee!

It had not snowed for weeks, but at least the weather was good. I had a great time skiing with Valerie and Scott as well as meeting everyone for beers at happy hour. And, the views were great. But with no new snow, and $120 lift tickets at Jackson Hole, I made up my mind the conditions did not merit spending a fortune on alpine skiing that week. Instead, I decided to cross country ski – mostly with April!

grand targhee

Valerie, Scott, Lisa and myself.

Monday and Tuesday I cross-country skied in Grand Teton National Park. Monday Valerie, April and I went up above Moran Junction near Jackson Lake and skied southward past Mt. Moran toward Grand Teton.

cross country skiing,grand teton national park Although I have cross country skied for years, I still consider myself a novice. It always seems I need to get used to it all over again. Of course you can “walk fast” in cross country gear. But there definitely is a rhythm you pick up – and when you get it, you can ski along fast and efficient for a long time. This day I finally got the rhythm after 90 minutes. The breathtaking views made me forget I was tiring.

Valerie and April at lunch

Valerie and April at lunch

Cross country skiing elevates your body temperature quickly, and we all found ourselves dropping layers. But it was still cold. When we stopped for lunch we had to add layers all over again, only to peel them off.

grand teton national park ansel adams

Famous Ansel Adams view

On the return we stopped by to see view of the bend in the Snake River made immortal when photographed by Ansel Adams. Gorgeous!

jenny lake trail,cross country skiing,grand teton national park

April along the Jenny Lake Trail

Tuesday April and I tackled the Jenny Lake trail. It’s mostly easy and flat with the Tetons right on top of you the whole time. The trail is well groomed – it’s actually a road in the summer. One side is for traditional cross country gear. The other is for skate skiing, snow shoeing and pets.

The rest of the crew tackled Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. This mountain is HARD. I have skied it several times. It has taken lives. It has areas with long cliffs, and on foggy days it’s possible to accidentally find one.

Lisa is Jackson Hole's newest victim!

Lisa is Jackson Hole’s newest victim!

And on this day, it claimed one of us! Lisa had been dealing with a problem knee cross country skiing Sunday at Grand Targhee, and took Monday off to rest. On the 3rd run Tuesday at Jackson Hole, the mountain struck just as a predator picks upon the frail. Somehow coming off a bump her leg broke just at the knee! She was done for the trip. The ski resort was very accommodating, refunding her three-day lift ticket. She even received a hand written note at home from the ski patrol! I admired her good attitude about everything.

Earlier in the day, April and I met up with Mary Woolen – a college friend I hadn’t seen since 1984! It was so nice to meet up again! I want to visit again next time I’m there.

Rod and Mary

Rod and Mary

The Teton region is famous for its wildlife. Bison, wolf, bighorn sheep, elk, bald eagle, moose, coyote and more are all here. We saw thousands of elk wintering out in the valley. And traveling to the cross country trails, we saw a bunch of moose! moose

They are unmistakeable and are incredibly big, standing 9 feet tall. When they want to, they can move swiftly!

Ed, Rod, Dave

Ed, Rod, Dave

Wednesday Ed was to arrive from Park City. So Thursday and Friday Dave, Ed and I visited and did some cross country skiing. We tried a different less-groomed trail near Jenny Lake, and also a really pretty railroad converted to trail over on the Idaho side. 2015-02-19 16.03.46

Snowfield and sky, Tetonia, Idaho.

Snowfield and sky, Tetonia, Idaho.

Another ex-Portlander is Ed’s very cute border collie Turbo! He joined us for our skiing.Turbo!

It was a good week and I made the best of the old snow by mostly cross country skiing. And so great to visit with long-lost friends Ed, Dave and Mary Woolen!

I’m going back.





Class Reunion! Mount Hood Meadows Powder Skiing with a College friend!

16 03 2014

IMG_0933During the recent 80″ powder snow dump on Mount Hood, Oregon, I met with Katy Brown, a college friend I’d not seen in 30 years, and we had an epic day at Mount Hood Meadows!

Back in early February 2014, my good friend from college, Katy Brown, sent word she’d be coming to the Portland, Oregon area checking out colleges for her son, and they’d be staying in Government Camp on Mount Hood to ski for a few days. Wow! I had not seen Katy in 30 years, although we’d kept up via Facebook. This could be great if we could do a reunion on the ski slopes!

IMG_0931

This was the easy part. Later on, it was a complete whiteout. Road=sky=side of road.

What would happen was beyond our dreams – almost too much! Let’s just say it made for memories! We made plans to meet February 20th at Mount Hood Meadows for a day on the slopes. Little did we know that a giant storm would blow in, dumping 80″ of dry powder plus some significant wind, making for insane conditions, not only challenging driving!

As February 19th approached, the snow piled up and Katy sent word from Government Camp, where they stayed, that the snow is “out of control up here!” Winds of over 40mph were reported at Mount Hood Meadows. She lives in Boston. She marveled at the giant snow blowing machines we use to clear the highways!

No matter what, I was going up there to meet Katy after 30 years! I have a 2013 Ford Escape with Michelin Ice-X studless snow tires, and I was confident I’d make it no problem. The morning of February 20th I headed up, but I made sure I brought my snow shovel and ice melter with me. Up on Mount Hood, on highway 35, there were super heavy duty snow clearing machines on the road, slowing the traffic to 5mph. It was so slow that a bus following a road grader lost traction and became stuck in a snow bank. Myself and maybe 8 other vehicles got round it, but the next two miles were crazy. With 40mph winds and snow blowing, it became hard to tell where the road was and the snow bank was. I passed 5 or 6 cars stuck before I finally got to the ski area. Success! I got to Mount Hood Meadows. But it was like Antarctica in the parking lot. Opening the car door let loose a maelstrom of violence! 4x4s were spinning their wheels. The cargo box on my roof was frozen, and I had to use de-icer to unfreeze the lock to get at my equipment.

I was the lucky one. Katy was behind, and got stuck in the mess behind the bus/road grader. But theyIMG_0941 eventually made it! Yay! We recognized each other right away. After getting comfy in our ski outfits and Katy’s rental gear we headed out.

It was crazy snowing and blowing! It was blowing over 50mph on the upper slopes at Mount Hood Meadows so I took Katy over to Hood River Meadows, a lower elevation area, and we were rewarded with a mile of uncrowded, powdery runs!

Katy negotiates a secret spot!

Katy negotiates a secret stash spot!

Since I am intimately familiar with the ski area, I encouraged Katy to get into some tree skiing in areas I knew she could handle and she loved it! So all afternoon, we had a treat in store for Katy. Run after run of un-tracked powder. IMG_0937

What a day. Katy’s son Will was out there, too, and he said it was the best riding he has ever done in his life!

For me, living in Portland, it sure was good. But we get these storms several times a year. I think I’m taking them for granted! We gathered back at Government Camp a their rented condominium, at The Grand Lodges.  Very nice place!

I hope Katy’s son Will goes to school around here. That way I get to visit Katy every winter!





Fluffy Powder Skiing at Mount Hood Ski Bowl Oregon!

10 03 2014

ImageRecently, a cold storm blew through the Mt. Hood Oregon region, dumping 80″ of powder in three days. We don’t usually receive Colorado-dry powder – it happens once or twice each winter. This 2013 – 2014 season has been particularly cruel. A warm, dry December and January left Mount Hood Ski Bowl closed, and Mount Hood Meadows only partially open.

Then a blockbuster storm moved in, with non stop snow for days on end. Mount Hood Ski Bowl is known amongst ski aficionados as having the best terrain on Mount Hood, but unfortunately it lies at a lower elevation, meaning snow conditions are generally not as good as at higher elevation Timberline or Mount Hood Meadows.

I was able to hit Mount Hood Ski Bowl on opening on one of these days. It was so pretty. When I arrived in the base area, there was plenty of snow. Fill in your tracks snow.

I was able to get the first chair up that day. I think it may be the first time in my life I was the first person at a ski area. It was worth it! Run after run of untracked snow all to myself!

On this day, it was perfect for anyone wanting to ski powder snow for the first time.

ImageThe Mount Hood Ski Bowl staff had groomed everything to perfection for powder ski students! So, you are nervous about the steep and deep? Well, they had everything for you. They had a cat track groomed. They had runs groomed with 4″ new on top. They had groomed runs with 8″ new on top. And there were other runs with 14″ untracked, fluffy snow!

ImageThis is not Cascade Concrete. We are talking about the kind of snow that if you pick a handful up, you can blow it right off your palm.

So, you ask, how does one ski in the deep? Let’s say you are proficient on packed snow. There, you put more pressure on your downhill ski when turning. And you pick up momentum even when traversing. In powder, if you ski with uneven balance, one ski will dive to the bottom and the other stay on top! And if you traverse too much you will slow down and can’t turn. New powder skiers can be seen frustrated, in the snow, goggles all fogged up.

But the reality is that powder skiing is actually easier than hard packed snow skiing! But you need to understand how to do it. So, think about it. If the snow is deeper than your boot tops, it’s going to slow you down, right? Well, the slower you go, the harder it is to turn. So you have to do something to counteract this. My suggestion is point your skis straight down the slope to get momentum. Secondly, you don’t want one ski to submarine while the other is on top. So now you have to try skiing with both skis relatively evenly balanced, kind of like a platform to “surf” the deep snow. You do not need to lean back. How to turn? This is the secret. Have you seen porpoises in the ocean? Notice how they surface and turn on the surface? That is what you want to do! Think of the deep snow as a spring. When you go across the snow, you are on the surface, and when you slow down you sink. You turn your skis when you are on the surface, and traverse when they are deeper. So, this is how you ski deep powder.

Point your skis down hill. As you gain momentum, tip your feet up. When your skis are on the top of the snow, turn left! Then you will sink. You will cross the slope again, rise, and when you are on the surface, turn again, right! And sink. And so forth. This is called porpoising. Once you learn how to use the deep snow to slow your momentum, and turn on the surface, you will be golden!

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And you can leave tracks like these! Have fun, and remember, it takes a few times to get it right. But you will succeed! You will get it! Believe me, power, deep snow, is easier than hard pack!





Snow Returns to the Cascades!

24 02 2011

This is what I have been waiting for!

Hello everyone! After three weeks of drought and warmth and loss of snow, La Nina has returned, bestowing dry powder upon the Cascades! LET IT SNOW!

Enjoy this video – taken from the Upper Bowl at Mount Hood Ski Bowl!

More to come!