Chronicling the corduroy.
PNW Update
6 posts from 6 users
Updated 5 months ago
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5 months ago

Hi Everyone,

We just returned from a week in Washington State visiting the grandparents, and got to ski a little (although not as much as we had hoped / planned).  

My parents live north of Seattle (near Bellingham), so Mt Baker is our home mountain there.  Baker is pretty isolated (there’s really nothing near it), and usually gets some of the highest snowfall totals of any lift-served terrain in the world.  They got 844 inches last season (through April), and 866 the year before!

This year was a poor start to the season, but the week before Christmas generated some serious snow.  Unfortunately, Baker is a purist’s mountain, and has no ski school.  Further, we have Ikon passes, which meant we could follow Frank DeBerry to Crystal Mountain and ski for free.  Since we had our 4 year old with us (this is his 3rd season on skis, and he just turned 4!), we decided to try Crystal.

We skied December 23rd, which was in the middle of a big storm.  It rained most of the 3 hour drive to the mountain, turning to snow as we got up above 2500 ft.  The storm would go on to dump over a foot at crystal and two feet at Baker, but when we arrived, they had about 8 inches of fresh, and got another 4 during the day while we skied.  I enjoy storm skiing, and the knock against Washington is you’re almost never skiing under bluebird skies anyway.  Crystal was rapidly opening terrain, as they had gotten 30 inches earlier in the week, so were approaching 4 feet of snow in a little over 7 days.  

Crystal was a well-run mountain and had a great kid’s club for the litttle guy.  He was super excited to be heading back to ski school,  but it wasn’t cheap at nearly $200 for 5 hours (10-3, although you can drop off as early as 9am, they don’t start until 10).  This got me thinking about what a great deal Snowshoe’s kids world is at $129 for the lesson only.  Passes (including Ikon Passes) for preschoolers are dirt cheap, and we always do seasonal rentals (really just buying and reselling) through Alpine, so never need the lift ticket or daily rentals.  Snowshoe’s program is also 6 hours instead of 5…

After we dropped off the 4 y/o, we took the 8 y/o to her lesson.  Crystal’s kid’s club is only for 4-6, after that they do half day or full day group lessons for older children.  This isn’t cheap either (like $180), and the one problem is they don’t offer lunch; you have to pick your kid up at noon, feed them, then drop them back off at 1pm.  So $180 for 4 hours of lessons.   I’m pretty sure this was the price for lesson only (no rentals).  

Alterra still hasn’t fully integrated the technology behind the Ikon Pass, and we couldn’t go direct to slopes with it.  That said, they only make you go to guest services once, and give you a Crystal Season Pass when you show them your Ikon pass.  A bit of a hassle spending probably the first hour at the resort shuttling between various places to get everyone onto the slopes, but at least all the lines were short.  

When the adults (me, my wife, my sister, and my cousin’s wife, all mid-30’s) finally made it onto the slopes, we found non-existant lift lines, tons of fresh powder everywhere, and high speed lifts.  My cousin’s wife grew up skiing in the north-east, but hadn’t been on skis in 15 years.  She instantly found her groove, and was skiing blacks within the first 90 minutes.  All the fresh snow made everything ski much easier (the bumps were like pillows), and the cold temps kept the snow powdery rather than the heavy, wet snow the PNW is often known for.  

I’m not a huge fan of gondolas, and that was the only lift we ever saw a line on, so we stayed away from the Mt Ranier Gondola, instead opting for the Ranier Express HSQ, which drops off at the same spot anyway.  On a low visibility day with flat light, we had to keep close to the trees to be able to see much.  Fortunately, most of the resort is relatively low and within the tree line.  The top of the gondola is at 6900’, and the highest spot on the mountain just over 7k.  

Given that it was our first day out for the season, we had a skier with us who hadn’t skied in 15 years, and my sister did not make it out last season, we stayed primarily to blues and single blacks for the morning.  I found Forest Queen and Ranier Express to remind me somewhat of Blue Sky Basin at Vail.  The tree skiing was phenominal, and while it was early season, I never had an issue with thin cover.

My group wimped out pretty quickly after lunch, so I skied from 2-3:30 by myself, opting for harder terrain.  Chair 6 is a fixed group double heading up to some really aggressive terrain, with lots of in-bounds hiking opportunities.  It kind of reminded me of Lake Chutes.   Unfortunately, cover was very thin up above the tree line, and there were signs all over asking skiers to side step to avoid uncovering rocks.  Further, while the snow and terrain was great, the light was completely flat (even with hi yellow lenses), and I’m just not a big fan of skiing hyper aggressive lines when I can’t see.  

I ran out of time before I made it to Northway, as I wanted to ski with the kids a little post-lessons.  Northway is an entire area of the mountain that only has expert terrain, and my plan was to come back and ski it later in the week (after my muscles had recovered, but it didn’t work out that way).  

The day finished picking the kids up, and hearing them rave about how great the lessons were, and how much they wanted to come back the next day.  We skiied the bunny hill together as a family a few time, and the 4 y/o loved getting to ski like a big kid.  If the primary goal of the day was to promote skiing with my kids and relatives who have not been as motivated recently to get out on the slopes, it was mission accomplished!  

Unfortunately, the day, and the trip, ended on two sour notes.  First, my parent’s BMW suv (driven by my sister) was hit hard in the parking lot by someone who tried to take a curve way too fast (my sister was inside the car, but hadn’t pulled out of her spot yet).  No injuries, but probably a good $8k in damage, and took forever to sort out.   

Second, our plans to return were derailed when my wife got sick the next day.  She offered to stay home and have us go, but I didn’t want her to have to be alone over the holidays while everyone else had fun (she loves to ski), so we never made it back out.  

This is a video from Crystal’s Instagram to show conditions and terrain:

JimK - DCSki Columnist
5 months ago

Thanks for the report!  I always enjoy hearing about a ski area I have never visited.  Some hyper aggressive lines in that video.  

5 months ago

Great report, really enjoyed it.  I anticipate that in the future Crystal Mountian will only get better now that is a part of the Algeria ski Corp (think IKON Pass areas).  Not much chance to put their stamp on the place as the sale was not finalized until this fall.  The new COO at Crystal is Frank DeBerry, formerly the COO at Snowshoe WV!!!  He did a fantastic job as COO at Snowshoe, so as I said, things will only get better at Crystal in the future!!


aka The Colonel

5 months ago

Thanks for the report. We always loved to ski both Baker and Crystal.

The drive from Bellingham to Baker is fun. Rain forest (and no snow) almost the whole way to the hill . Green moss hanngs from the trees. Then you get to Baker and you drive thru  a canyon of 10 feet of snow on either side of the road.

My all time favorite road trip was a 5 day 5 mountain trip to Washington / BC. Day 1 was at Mission Ridge. Day 2 was at Baker. Day 3 was at Whsitler. Day 4 was at Stevens Pass. Day 5 was at Crystal. Looking back, there was as much driving as skiing.


I love quirky little ski areas. Mission Ridge is among the best of them. Since it is on the eastern side of the Cascades, the snow is direr and fluffier than the typical Cascade concrete found at the other areas.


5 months ago

Thanks for the report.  My brother raved about Crystal when he went there a few years ago.  He said it can be pricey and crowded on the weekends but stilled loved it.  I justed checked flights out of RDU…midweek $227 nonstop.  I thinik I’m going to have to plan a trip!  Just need to find some affordable lodging.  

5 months ago

Love love love Crystal Mountian. Big Mountian skiing close in. 

Great views and can get crazy snow!

Careful on the drive…got a $80 ticket in one of the village speed traps…ouch :(

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