Perhaps we should petition to change the calendars in the Northwest, moving winter’s end from the March 21st to mid-May, or June even, given the snow levels at Crystal remain plenty skiable as we move toward summer. To this end, the resort has made it official, extending the season with weekend skiing until at least May 28th. If you haven’t skied in your bikini lately, I highly recommend it.
Spring aprés romance blooms
As a (more) brash youth, I used to love California skiing in shorts, seduced by the spring sunshine and the opportunity to ski at a nice discounted lift ticket on the remaining snow. Besides my two decades of age, the big difference between skiing in the Sierras and the Cascades is that Crystal’s snow is so deep, our so-called “remaining” snow is deeper than other regions of the country experienced during their peak season this winter.
Spring skiing isn’t just about the snow, however. Aprés was made for the late season, when the sun remains high above The King and the Glacier Express patio feels more like Venice Beach than the Pacific Northwest. I can’t promise you’ll see Robert Wagner as I did during those vernal California ski days in the 90’s, but everyone feels like a celebrity under the sun’s bright light when cruising at Crystal in spring. www.FlowingStreamWriting.net @CraiSBower
Skiing and snowboarding at Crystal Mountain in March is a rite of spring in the Northwest. AS students, we cringed under the lion’s roar at this time of year, longest segment of the academic calendar without some kind of holiday. But as adults, these glorious 31 days of early spring produce the most and finest snow of the season. If ever there was a month ripe for playing hooky, it’s March. I’m just sayin’.
As a former educator, I simply can’t condone taking the kids out of school; you wouldn’t want to mess up their concentration. Perhaps I’m a little myopic due to the daily powder reports, but I believe the responsibility of skipping “class” should really rest on our shoulders and our shoulders alone. It’s simply the responsible thing to do.
The calls from Green Valley’s hallways proved too loud for me by the end of last week, so I scheduled my morning sitter for the kids, found a couple of culprits and dashed over to the mountain. Free of all responsibilities, we set off immediately for Northway, dropping into Snorting Elk Bowl for a warm up before pushing out Paradise Bowl and a couple of luscious runs through Penny Dawgs. At play in Northway, no one felt a hint of guilt within the deep snow fields that buried boards and skis to the knees and remained soft enough to cushion a couple of (karmic?) yard sales.
Digging snow out from our helmet air vents, we all agreed that we’d worked hard enough for a Summit House lunch. Satiated and with hours to go, I can state with authority that a day of hooky at Crystal sure beats the hell out of smoking behind the gas station.
Start forging that doctor’s note now. Fortunately, we’re in for a long, long month.
I don’t know about you, but I find it easier to wake up when someone else is flipping my pancakes, especially when my favorite meal of the day is prepared by the staff at Summit House. Place Mt. Rainier, adorned in rose colored hues of sunrise, directly out the window, and I almost forget to gobble up breakfast and catch a few early runs as part of the Fresh Tracks/Sunrise Breakfast weekend program. Truth is, there’s no better perch than this for basking in the first light of morning save perhaps encamped at the apex of that 14,410-foot volcano across the White River Valley.
Summit House remains one of the great recent success stories of Crystal, a former burger hut turned white tablecloth restaurant when the Rainier Gondola came online. If you haven’t eaten there for lunch or dinner, do so. The food is excellent, the location rivals any ski resort in the world and the prices are quite reasonable.
Like lunch’s “Latin Hot Pot for Two” (chipotle short ribs, lettuce, sour cream and tortilla), Fresh Tracks is a trend worth digesting, regardless of the weather. Sure, it’s a morning for the ages when a fresh foot of snow as fallen, but being the first person to scream down the newly pressed Lucky Shot or Green Valley corduroy is almost as enticing. Taking a few solitary laps will also help working off that short stack of pancakes, extra spoonful of potatoes and additional slice of bacon.
Breakfast at sunrise followed by fresh tracks. Can you think of a better reason to get out of bed?
It’s early February and families all over Washington are gearing up for mid-winter break, aka “ski week,” when we pile into the car and drive off for a week of skiing bliss, as sacred a tradition as the summer sojourn to the grandparents. Unfortunately, many of the state’s school systems plan to abolish midwinter break in 2013, in an effort to match national testing schedules. But don’t panic, I just spent a long weekend at Crystal Mountain with my two boys plus another family and couldn’t have been happier. Suddenly, those back-to-back three-day weekends aren’t looking so bad.
Crystal looks different when you stay over for the weekend. We linger longer at the Bullwheel, make time for the Snorting Elk and don’t worry when the sun descends behind High Campbell, our journey home requiring no more than careful steps across the snow to our hotel room. But staying on mountain really shines when you have the kids in tow. Gone is the early “wakeup, out the door” drill, the bane of every ‘tween or teen.
Kids also ski harder with more sleep, the back-to-back days also engender a certain ownership. Kids bond swiftly when sharing the ski hill for a few days, exemplified by our gaggle, four kids ages 7 to 11, who announced they were going to scoot up Gold Hills for a few more runs, as we parents settled into sunny après on the deck.
Decktop view in Crystal Mountain sunshine
So if you still consider a weekend spent at Crystal a glorified “staycation,” book some rooms this season and see how the mountain changes. Your kids will thank you for it, if you can ever get them off the hill!
The kids’ gear is strewn everywhere. The house needs cleaning. “Can we just relax today?” “It’s supposed to rain at Crystal.” There are so many excuses to skip a day of skiing and remain home, but no excuse resonates like the threat of bad weather. And no weather term puts fear in the skier like “inversion,” when lower elevations and cool and temperatures swell above. This was how I was feeling a couple of weeks ago when starting out for Crystal. Friends had already bailed, and if I wasn’t locked into a commitment to drive a good friend and her son I may have done the same. Will I never learn?
The sunrise (see image) driving to the resort was the first sign that we might not be skiing in rain as predicted, the gorgeous flag of vibrant hues wrapping the Mountain. On slope, the sky remained dry, a few flakes sauntered down and the sun popped out for awhile, revealing Rainier and Adams. The warm temperatures softened the snow just right and the I-word stayed away until late in the afternoon, within an hour of last runs.
Of course all this inversion talk is so old news as I write, when the powder alert announced cool temps and another 5 inches of fresh stuff, i.e. POWDER! And while it’s too early to declare the 2011 sequel is showing in the NW theater again, signs are looking up for a great season.
As for finding excuses to skip a ski day? Consider them as full of holes as the weather report.
As the holidaze comes to an end, I’m still dreaming. December 25th may have passed, but I resolve in 2012 to dream big, so how ‘bout (queue the orchestra) dreaming of a white six months. Six months, you say? Wasn’t that you skiing seven months ago under the rockets red glare on July 4th?! So why not dream big again this year. But let’s ignore fresh tracks in June for a moment, and concentrate on January, because the weather forecast looks very sweet indeed for Crystal Mountain.
As you can see from the photograph, Crystal remains front and center in my house throughout the holiday, when my growing boys invariably unwrap new ski boots, the texts, tweets and Facebook messages invariably ask who’s heading to the hill and when, and I wonder if my absence during the frenzied wrapping/baking days would be noticed by anyone or, to be honest, my wife, should I chose to practice carving the turkey or ham by carving a few turns in the Green Valley. I would have been crazy not to trade blade for ski edge this Thanksgiving, when another early snow dump had people buzzing about “Wicked Crazy Snow Year – The Sequel.”
But now it’s January, the snow is flying and the texts and posts are already screaming about the great skiing and snowboarding at Crystal. Our toy Crystal gondola may be stowed in newspaper awaiting its cable over the village come next December but no problem, because I’m planning to make the real Mt. Rainier Gondola my second home for a few months.
So stay tuned. I’m psyched to use this blog as a forum to profile some of the characters who devote their lives to making Crystal our Cascades playground, share some tales from the slopes, and pass along insights and highlights celebrating why Crystal Mountain is a dream of a ski area.