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Ski Patrol Crystal Mountain Washington

Meet Your 2014 Dirtbag King and Queen

Posted in Skier/Snowboarder Stories

Nate Markquart and Tara Simpson rock the capes at the 13th Annual Dirtbag Ball


A couple of new royals have been crowned here at Crystal Mountain. Congratulations to Tara Simpson and Nate Markquart for becoming our  2014-2015 Dirtbag King and Queen. Some of you often ask, “what does it take to become royalty.” The short answer: it isn’t easy. Just take a look at all that Tara and Nate as examples.

Tara has skied at Crystal for 28 years, and most years she skis 120+ days every season. That’s more than some of us on the patrol! When the lifts close, she keeps skiing all year on the mountains and glaciers of the PNW. For five years in a row, she made turns all year (that’s skiing at least once every month of the year).

She lives full time in Greenwater with her husband Carl, who she regularly skis with at Crystal. She’s lost count of how many first chairs and first gondola cabins she’s been on. She has even worked her professional life into 40 hours on the weekends so that she can ski Monday through Thursday every week.

Tara says it best when she explains why, “My happiness and freedom is found in the mountains. It’s what fills me up.”

Nate Markquart has had a season’s pass at Crystal since 1998. He stays in his 1968 Airstream trailer with his wife Kate and their two labs. He’s also lived in the clubs, and in Steve Fratella’s trailer over the years, but finally purchased the trailer four seasons ago and they haven’t looked back.

Nate is known in B Lot as the host with the most. He and Kate regularly host dinners and after-ski parties at their cozy trailer complete with a wood stove. Nate is known all over the mountain as a generous and positive force.

While Nate has many favorite runs at Crystal, when the snow is light and powdery down to the road, he loves to ski Left Angle Trees. Even this season he had one great run in Left Angle that he claims made the entire season worthwhile.

Look for Nate and Tara next season in their Wapiti Woolies Dirtbag hats. Our members of the royal class often act as informal liaisons between patrol and the public. So feel free to reach out our King and Queen if you have any questions or concerns. They deserve your respect. These two are certainly the real deal. Welcome to the Dirtbag world you two.


Avalanche Skills Workshop

Posted in Avalanche Hazard, Events and Activities

Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol is offering a 2 hour introductory workshop on safe travel in avalanche terrain and deep snow safety. This course will cover basic concepts such as avalanches, weather forecasts, transceiver searches and strategic probing and shoveling. This class will be held outside. No gear is required for this workshop. The class has a minimum of 3 students and maximum of 8.

Date: April 13, 2014

Cost: Free

Registration: Call 360-663-3060 or stop by Ski Patrol

Our Curious Closures of Southback & Powder Bowl

Posted in Avalanche Hazard, Closures, Conditions, News

A few people have noticed that our closure of Powder Bowl–and of Southback from Queen’s Run–don’t really make sense in terms of our normal logic of opening and closing terrain.   Unusual circumstances call for unusual measures.  Allow me to explain…

First, for this to make sense you have to remember that in addition to being a beautiful expanse of nature, Crystal Mountain is also a business.  A business with a permit to operate in its own best interest by the Forest Service.  So while there may be sketchy backcountry gnar that I choose to teeter across on my day off to get to something good, that’s a lot different than a company such as ours offering its customers skiing in those same sketchy areas as part of their lift ticket purchase.  (That’s why lots of ski resorts have Permanently Closed Areas—You don’t necessarily die the moment you set foot in there, but the hazards are so extreme that closing the area to everyone is warranted!)  And we communicate the extent of responsibility our company is willing to assume by indicating which areas are “open” and which areas are “closed”, with signs.

Also for this to make sense, you need to know (if somehow you haven’t heard) that Chair 6 (High Campbell) got destroyed by an avalanche on March 10th.  So, we’re not doing avalanche control work in Southback anymore, and with the reduction in compaction created by less skier traffic, it’s even MORE “avalanche prone” than usual–similar to true backcountry. 

For the remainder of this season, Southback is CLOSED to lift-accessed skiing.  We’re treating it like the true backcountry, and ski-tourers are allowed to travel there under their own power from the Quicksilver trail.  (Not to be confused with the Quicksilver lift, which is closed for at least the rest of the season, and probably forever, if it gets replaced!)  But we’re PROHIBITING access from the Lake Elizabeth outrun onto Queen’s Run–and similar areas–to reduce “sucker tracks” that lure guests who might not be fully aware of the increased avalanche danger there, into short hikes into avalanche start & runout zones.

Powder Bowl is a little different.  We’ll evaluate the skiing, and open it when we think the skiing conditions and visibility will appeal to the average kind of customer who’s likely to hike up there, taking into account any avalanche danger Powder Bowl skiers might create for Lucky Shot skiers passing below.  There will probably be times that it will look pretty but the skiing sucks, and you won’t understand why it’s closed.  I hope you’ll trust that we’ll open it anytime it doesn’t seem unwise.  We put a lot of thought and discussion into these kinds of decisions, and prefer to have terrain open whenever operational concerns allow.

Current conditions

Posted in Conditions, Photo of the Day

Groomers have been doing a great job this week which makes for a great start to the day. Northway is open daily with north facing aspects continuing to stay dry and chalky, while other aspects soften throughout the morning. Powder bowl ONLY is open to hiking–when conditions allow–for skiing/riding.


The Eulogy

Posted in Skier/Snowboarder Stories


On March 10, 2014, we lost a dear friend a bit before its time. High Campbell was always there for us skiers and riders on a pow day. That fixed grip double taught many to be a better rider, with its Hollywood lines, Powder Bowl, and the gate out South. It taught us patience. It taught us to be open minded and reach out to new people. And gave a new meaning to the word: Single! High Campbell held onto its identity even in the days of high speed and six packs. It was iconic, with its green coat of paint and center bar.  Chair 6, as some friends referred to it, was more than just a chair, it was a part of the family. Tragically, it was taken from us too soon. High Campbell, you may be replaced, but you will never be forgotten. Thanks for always being our friend on a powder day!

“When is 6 going to open?”

Avalanche Skills Workshop

Posted in Avalanche Hazard, Conditions, Events and Activities, Weather

Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol will be hosting a FREE 2 hr workshop on safe travel in avalanche terrain and deep snow safety. The workshop will cover basic concepts such as avalanches, weather forecasts, transceivers searches, and strategic probing and shoveling. All skill levels are welcome! No gear is required for this workshop and it will be held outside. The class has a minimum of 3 students and maximum of 8. If you are interested stop by ski patrol in the base area or call 360-663-3060.

Date: March 22, 2014

Cost: Free

Registration: Call 360-663-3060

What Does it Feel Like to Demolish a Lift?

Posted in Avalanche Hazard, Closures, Conditions

“What were your immediate thoughts when you realized the avalanche was so big?”

That’s a question I heard a lot yesterday.

A 25 lb explosive charge set off this avalanche on the Throne and demolished Chair 6 at Crystal.

A 25 lb explosive charge set off this avalanche on the Throne and demolished Chair 6 at Crystal.

On Monday I was on the avalanche control team that demolished the High Campbell Chairlift (aka Chair 6). We knew there was a potential for a big slide. Other slopes had slid to the ground in the past 24 hours. The skier’s right side of Powder Bowl had produced a full-depth avalanche and left a 10 foot crown. The Employee Housing slide path produced another big one. The snowpack was saturated with over 3 inches of rain. A weak depth hoar layer still lurked at the ground.

The right skid of Powder Bowl slid to the ground Monday morning before the slopes opened.

The right skid of Powder Bowl slid to the ground Monday morning before the slopes opened.

But we didn’t know it was going to go this big.

Sure, we made sure no one was below. We lowered our 25 lb. explosive well after hours. We worried that our results could be big. But I never thought we’d destroy the lift.

The bottom terminal was knocked off the bull wheel. The lift shack was demolished.

The bottom terminal was knocked off the bull wheel. The lift shack was demolished.

The bottom terminal was knocked off the bull wheel. The lift shack was demolished.

Talking to the old time patrollers who managed these slopes decades ago, nothing of this size has ever slid before. Maybe back in the pre-Crystal, pre-skier-compacted days this kind of thing happened. But not since Crystal has operated at a ski area.

So what did it feel like to let loose such a big slide?


Seeing a big avalanche up close is an awesome thing. There’s nothing like it. As soon as the shot went off, my route partners and I ( we were a team of three women that my husband now calls the Three Shivas) knew it was big. We approached the ridge and looked down. The avalanche was just separating from the slope and noisily tearing down the mountain. At first all I heard was a low whoosh. Then a deep rumble. Next I heard the terrible sound of trees snapping. Finally I heard the sound of twisting metal.

Checking out the Avalanche Moments after we started it.

Checking out the Avalanche Moments after we started it

The visibility was poor so we only had the noise to go on. And it was horrifying.

The Three Shiva Destroyers: Megan, Kim, and Michelle.

The Three Shiva Destroyers: Megan, Kim, and Michelle.

Outside of our boundaries large natural avalanches have been happening. When we decided to use explosives on The Throne, we all knew the consequences. But it was much better to destroy a lift when it was closed than to risk an avalanche when it was opened and occupied. We didn’t have a choice. Upper management knew the risk too, and my husband was all in. We had to do this thing.

As I mentioned in an earlier post this week, watching an avalanche is awesome, in the sense of massive and awe-inspiring. Seeing the aftermath yesterday with our first clear skies in weeks was horrifying.

Throne Avalanche seen from the Heli

Throne Avalanche seen from the Heli

All day yesterday we continued to test the slopes with large explosives. We dropped charges from a helicopter and hung them on trams. But we got virtually no results. Does that mean the slopes are now safe?

It means I slept better last night. The snowpack is adjusting to its load. We aren’t out of the woods yet. If we get a big rain event, this could happen again.

Throne Avalanche aerial view.

Throne Avalanche aerial view

We are contracting our terrain at Crystal. What is open has been deemed safe. Don’t duck any ropes and respect all closures. Now isn’t the time for backcountry skiing either. Let’s remember who’s calling the shots here, it’s Mother Nature.

Here’s some footage of the Throne avalanche and it’s aftermath. This video is courtesy of patroller Andy Harrington.


Crystal Mountain Avalanche Control

Posted in Avalanche Hazard, Conditions

Seeing a big avalanche in person can kind of change your perspective. In many ways I wish that I could take skiers and riders along with me when I do avalanche control so they can hear the sound of a roaring slide, listen to trees break and watch the destructive force of a big slide. Because once you’ve seen a slope fail, the entire snowpack come crashing down through trees and scraping the surface clean, you will never want to duck a rope again. Below is a video of the avalanche on Sunday March 9th at Crystal Mountain in the slide path known as Employee Housing.

With all the rain on Saturday and continued warm temperatures on Sunday, the avalanche hazard spiked in the Cascades. At Crystal, the patrol closed avalanche prone slopes and used explosives to set off some big slides. In Bear Pits a large slide wrapped around from Shot 1 and ran along the rope line that runs above Downhill. The crown was about 6 feet deep and took out timber.

Slidepath known as "Employee Housing" at Crystal

Slidepath known as “Employee Housing” at Crystal went big on Sunday March 9th

I posted a photo on Facebook of another avalanche in the slide path known as “Employee Housing”. One of the comments gave me pause. It said, “Unfortunately, I’ve seen people ducking ropes to get back there when it’s closed.”

This is a problem.

We don’t close slopes for our own good. We close terrain for a number of reasons. Most importantly, we keep avalanche prone slopes closed during high hazard. We close terrain when we are using explosives to start avalanches. Today was one of those days.

Fortunately no one ducked the ropes in either Employee Housing or the two other domains we controlled on Sunday (Bear Pits and Rock Face).

Bear Pits avalanche that wrapped around and took out part of the rope line.

Bear Pits avalanche that wrapped around and took out part of the rope line.

You might think that ducking a rope to ski or ride just on the other side of the ropes is okay. Kind of a gray area. Again, that’s not the case. The Bear Pits results prove that. So did the Employee Housing slide.

The moral of the story is this: avalanche hazard is high right now. Don’t duck ropes. Be careful in the backbountry. Give mother nature the respect she’s due.

Six Foot Crown in Bear Pits

Meet the Patrol’s Newest Member

Posted in News, Personal

Training one dog takes patience along with dedication and hours of hard work for both handler and dog. There are some of us who have been here long enough to have trained more than one Avalanche Rescue Dog. Lynn and Paul Baugher are two of those people.  Over the seasons, they have trained three such dogs. Along with their current certified dog Newman they are taking on the patrol’s newest member: Wilson!  He’s a 6.5 week old yellow lab who will be joining us sometime in the coming week.


The importance of good friends on a powder day

Posted in Avalanche Hazard, Conditions, Weather

Live to ski another pow day.

No friends on a powder day is proving itself to be more and more outdated. With fatter and fatter skis on our feet, we seek out every last stash. We crave one more smooth turn, one more face shot, and one more soft landing. The risks are inherent and we try to mitigate them the best we can. But there are pockets and tree wells. And that’s where your buddy comes in. Who will pull you out if no one sees you go in?

We talk about skiing with a buddy on deep days, but what does that actually mean? It starts with having meeting places in case you get separated. That could be at the bottom of the run or the bottom of a specific lift. This is good practice for all days. On deep days, we like to take this one step further: always keep your partner in sight. Have slower skiers go first and the stronger skiers go last. Stop in safe places along the way to re-group. The best places to safely stop include visible spots on higher ground away from tree wells. I bring up tree wells because they are just as big of a culprit as avalanches in taking skiers. Tree wells are defined as a void that forms around the base of a tree, usually loose snow around it. Pro Patrollers around the country spend many early mornings mitigating inbound avalanche hazards. However, there is nothing we can do to mitigate the dangers of tree wells. Our best bet as skiers is avoidance. They do mark themselves well with a tree, but accidents happen. So keep each other in site. Time and time again I hear stories of skiers and snowboarders alike finding themselves head first in a tree well and their ski buddy being right there to pull them out.

Last December on one of those epic powder days, Crystal skiers stopped to help another skier who was buried by an avalanche on the trail I-5. They probed in likely spots and eventually found her in a tree well downhill of where she was last seen. The rescuers were comprised of your average powder day skier.  And they did everything right. They called ski patrol immediately to alert us to the situation and their exact location. They attempted a beacon search and began a rough but productive probe line, probing in possible areas she could have been buried. In the end, they found her. Most importantly, she was okay. These friends weren’t necessarily the friends she came skiing with, but like-minded individuals that accept the risks together.

So perhaps there is something to friends on a powder day. There are many of us that owe our next powder day to our friends’ actions. As a community, let’s work together to ski another day. And we will get there by building good friends.

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