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Ski Patrol Crystal Mountain Washington

Weather or Not: Hoping for another “Miracle Saturday”

Posted in Conditions, Weather

For the past three weekends, Crystal Mountain has been blessed with miracles. Three Fridays in a row we’ve had rainy, soggy, extremely windy storms turn cold and calm just in time to lay down enough snow for a powder Saturday. The weather gods might be trying to tell us something here: they are still in charge, but they are ultimately benevolent. The way I see it, the weather gods love weekend skiers and riders. Or maybe it has more to do with Pacific storms circling around low pressure systems, but hey, a girl can dream.

Last week, the rain and wind came Friday and threatened to ruin the cold snow from earlier in the week. But again, the weather gods blessed us with a reprieve, and Saturday we woke to fresh snow and cold temps. Here’s a little video clip from last Friday when the wind was nuking at the top of Rainier Express. When the patrollers got on the chair, it was still fairly calm at the top. It quickly ramped up while we were on the lift. Needless to say, the lift quickly went on wind hold.

Today is Thursday and once again the rain has returned. Yesterday ended in a beautiful afternoon, but now it’s raining at the base and snowing (just barely) at the top. These are the days when we are glad to have the gondola. A dry ride up goes a long way to lengthen the ski day. Today is a day for the hearty souls born and bred in the PNW, who don’t mind a little rain (either that or we just don’t know any better).

The real question, however, is whether or not we will have another miracle Saturday. Will the weather gods, once again, bless us with a miracle?

This morning, I conferred with my most trusted source for weather: the magic 8 ball. I don’t know about you all, but whenever I have a high-stakes question of serious consequence, I head straight to this little black orb of wisdom. And guess what you guys? The signs point to yes!

My most trusted source for weather!

My most trusted source for weather!

While maybe not as accurate as the magic 8 ball, from time to time I still check in with the “professionals” in the weather forecasting biz. The weather gurus at UW Atmospheric Sciences department back up the magic 8 ball prediction, calling for a few inches of snow by Saturday morning and continuing throughout the day. The Sunday morning prediction is looking even better:

Snow Prediction

Monday looks to be a warm and wet day, with the long term models calling for more snow on Tuesday. We aren’t quite yet back into the earlier pattern where even when no snow was predicted, we’d still picked up a few inches every night as if those weather gods just couldn’t help themselves. But there are still good days ahead.

Only the magic 8 ball really knows.

I, for one, am hoping for a miracle.

Lift Line Maintenance: Making 6s

Posted in Random Stuff

On busy days at Crystal you might see ski patrollers doing “line maintenance” at the bottom of Forest Queen. Essentially we are trying to get groups of six onto each chair to help the line move faster. Forest Queen is an enormous chairlift with an uphill capacity of 3600 people per hour. That’s a lot of skiers and riders. But only if the chairs are full.

Forest_Queen_signOur job on these busy Saturdays is to fill up every chair so that the line moves faster. Period. And it’s harder than it might seem. Well, because math.

It can also be like herding cats. First of all, there’s the counting thing. After fifteen minutes of “making 6s”, there’s bound to be a clerical error or two. Then, there’s the “side balancing” thing. If the line is quite long on the Broadway side, but short on the Queens side, part of our job is to balance it by letting more groups from the long side go than the short side. What we don’t want to see is people careening around the downhill side of the line maze, winging around small kids in lessons and snowboarders strapping in at the top of Tinkerbell in order to get to the “short side” of the line. In essence, we try to get rid of the short side by letting the long side move more quickly.

Here’s a few other considerations you can all help us with during those long queues:

  • be patient – the line maintainers are doing their best
  • make groups when you enter the maze, don’t wait until you get to the front of the line to get organized
  • when you get to the front of the line, verbally communicate to the line maintenance person how many are in your group (sometimes people hold up a number on their fingers. You’d think this would be easy, but it isn’t. Just holler out the number in your group.)
  • avoid texting or talking on your cell phone while getting onto the chairlift
  • step aside while waiting for other members of your group so you don’t clog the line
  • understand that lifties and / or patrollers have a rhyme and reason for how they alternate sides, for either efficiency or balancing crowds
  • take off backpacks and pole straps before you enter the ramp to load the chair
  • “bottom to bottom”, “back to back” for everyone
  • smile and be thankful to your line maintenance crew (*wink*)

I enjoy doing line maintenance because it gives me a chance to see guests and have a brief conversation. So if I’m in the middle of “making 6s” on a busy Saturday, give me a high-five as you slide by, but (because of math) don’t expect any higher level thinking. A smile and a wave are the very best form of appreciation.

Here’s a pro tip: whenever I see a group of 6 sliding into the turn, I almost always let them go ahead, even if I was planning on switching sides. It’s my way of saying thanks for making 6s.

Snow Grooming: Making Perfect Corduroy

Posted in Conditions

Of all the jobs at a ski area, grooming the slopes at night might be the best one. You get to sculpt the slopes into perfect strips of corduroy at night, then rip them up the next morning. Snow-cat operators know when the slopes are at their prime. When Bruce Engdahl, Crystal’s lead winch cat operator, is in line at the Gondola in the morning, you know it’s going to be a good day on the slopes.


Corduroy to Heaven

Henry Schink, Crystal’s Grooming Supervisor, says that “every night is a chance to make (the slopes) better.” Some nights are more challenging than others, however. On stormy nights, when the snowflakes hit his spotlight like that scene from Star Wars, just getting around the mountain becomes tricky. Those nights, Henry says, “you have to use the force.” You develop a close relationship to the trees, following them like handrails until you find a familiar landmark. In essence, you groom by feel. After a particularly busy day on the slopes, the cat crew knows they will have one or two curve balls that night. Around every corner might be a heavily skied area requiring an hour of cat maintenance to get it back in shape for the next day. Regardless of the snow conditions, these guys know their job is to rebuild the slopes so skiers and riders can enjoy them again the next day.

We ski patrollers rely on guys like Henry and Bruce to clean up the mountain, making our jobs exponentially easier. Every day the ski patrol puts in a list of grooming requests, from mucking out the bottom of lift terminals to filling in creeks to widening runs, and every night Henry, Bruce and the rest of their seven person crew try their best to knock down the moguls and rebuild the slopes.

Making perfect corduroy takes more than experienced operators. It also takes good machines. Crystal’s cats are all Pisten Bullys, and nearly all of them are 600s, the most powerful model. We use exclusively PB machines because with all the steep terrain and heavy snow at Crystal, we need the highest quality cats that are both robust and efficient. According to Mountain Manager Scott Bowen, PBs are the most durable cats on the market. We currently have 4 600 winch cats, 4 600 free cats, and a 200 maintenance cat. Each cat is equipped with the new alpenflex tiller with dumbo ears which allows for wider paths and immaculate grooming.


The Piston Bully Diesel Electric Hybrid 600 E+

Two of our free cats are the new PB 600E+, a diesel electric hybrid that uses 35% less fuel, which is a huge reduction in cost and emissions. Crystal was the first ski area in North America to order the 600E+ last year, and we got two. Now, Vail and Alta each bought the 600E+ and Whistler Backcomb is currently demoing one.

Snow-cats are miracle workers on the slopes. Each blade full of snow can push 6 cubic yards of snow. At 1200lb each yard, that’s 7200lb of snow with every push. That’s over 3 metric tons.

snowcat_night grooming

Bruce Engdahl hooked up in Green Valley on Christmas Day

Grooming the slopes is like snow farming. When it snows, cat operators fill in creeks and re-contour the slopes. During dry periods, cat operators farm snow by trimming thin strips off the grade or else pulling it from the edges of runs to rebuild the slopes. On Lucky Shot, where a winch cat is required, the main job is to push the snow at the bottom of each face back up on the slope. During the day, all the thousands of skiers and riders on this popular run move tons of snow downhill. Only with a big 600 winch cat and an experienced operator does Lucky Shot get rebuilt each night.

According to Scott Bowen, “we are blessed with amazing drivers.” It’s only with the skills of this talented crew and the big machines they chariot across the slopes do we end up with great skiing day after day.

Check out this video of grooming high angle slopes at Sugarloaf with a winch cat. And if you see Bruce in the line at the gondola this week, go ahead and give him a hug. We all owe these guys our gratitude.

3D Trail Map Coming to Crystal

Posted in Events and Activities, Random Stuff

Ever wanted to ski the hill like a local? Ever wished the tiny trail map in your pocket showed all the best runs at Crystal? Fatmap 3D trail mapping app lets you do just that. For every skier or rider who has tried to follow the new buddy they just met on the gondy into Left Angle Trees and lost their guide before Elk Pass, this app is for you. This trail map is also for those that know the mountain pretty well, but want to find all the nooks and crannies that locals allude to in the bar, but never quite explain how to find. For locals who already know everything there is to know about Crystal Mountain, this app will help you put your knowledge to the test.


Do I sound like a marketer? Maybe. But I know what I’m talking about because I wrote all the trail descriptions and (painstakingly) digitized the amazing satellite imagery used for these maps. (For those wondering why I’ve been absent from posting, this project has been a big part of that.)

Here’s how it works in a nutshell. You load the app on your phone. The free version shows all the marked runs plus the “points of interest” like restaurants and ski patrol locations (obviously the most interesting point of all *grin*). Just click on one of the marked runs and you will get a description of the trail. Click the “fly over” button and the view zooms to the top of the run then begins to fly over the run as if you were paragliding above it. It also follows you via GPS, so you can always figure out where you are.


For a few bucks more you get the pro version, which includes all the unmarked (and often hard to find) runs at the ski area. This is the real beauty of this trail map. Ever wondered how to find Damn Fine Forest? Just click on the list of freeride names and voila! You will find this this honey of a stash as well as how to access it. Never knew where S-Bend Chute is? Well now you can.

Fatmap started offering this amazing app last season in Europe. It’s just now coming on line in North America. This is the wave of the future in negotiating your favorite ski area. It’s also the very best tool in your kit for impressing the bar flies in the Snorting Elk, or that good looking guy or gal who’ve been hoping to chat up. Just pull out your phone and show him or her the app. You’ll have him/her at “loading”.

In addition to Crystal, they’re also launching a version of Whistler, Alta/Snowbird, Aspen, Big Sky, Jackson Hole, Squaw, and a bunch of others great resorts.

So check it out.


What Are You Missing?

Posted in Photo of the Day
Patrollers looking at valley fog

Patrollers looking at valley fog

Today we had two inches of new snow over a firm surface with what I would call some of the best skiing to date this season. Looking forward to lower freezing levels and more snow over the next few days. If you don’t take the opportunity to come check out the slopes you won’t know what you are missing.

Josh Wirta, Local Inspiration For All of Us

Posted in Personal, story

Greenwater local, Josh Wirta, grew up skiing at Crystal. Josh is a Freeride Skier and TGR Co-Lab Finalist. Josh was diagnosed with bone cancer in April 2014.

Two weeks ago I came across Josh out skiing with his dad, Mark. I rode the chair with him and heard him talk about the day and how much enjoyment he was having being back on the slopes for the second time this season. We unloaded the chair, and Josh never even paused as he skated over the edge. A few seconds later he was out of sight at the bottom of the bowl. He didn’t look to have missed a beat.

In my early years at Crystal on patrol, I would ride the Rainier Lift and watch Josh as a little boy ski the front side with his father Mark, over and over and over. The first chair in the morning to the last chair in the afternoon, Josh and Mark were there.  It didn’t matter what the the conditions were. It could have been rain, sun, or if we were lucky, an epic powder day. As we all know time flies. Before you know it, 20 years have slid by.

Many skiers and snowboarders consider this to have been a poor ski season. And if you look at the numbers, it was. But then, when you see a guy like Josh having such a good time, it’s important to remember that any day in the mountains is better than none. In the eyes of a guy battling cancer who’s just living each day as it comes, those moments in the mountains (even on a so-called poor season) are all the more sweet. Sometimes, it takes someone like Josh who is out grabbing life and enjoying what he loves to realize life is good and to enjoy every moment.



Closing Day at Crystal Mountain

Posted in Conditions, Events and Activities, Photo of the Day

The 2014/15 ski season ended Sunday. While it may have been a tough season, it finished on a high note. We had a great turnout at Crystal, and everyone left with big smiles, red faces and memories that will last a lifetime. Many skiers and riders dressed in costumes, sporting tuts, wigs and even a seersucker suit. FullSizeRender

Fortunately, many skiers and riders were also wearing bikinis. When Crystal Management decided at 1:30 pm to hold the Bikini Downhill, tweets went out and contestants arrived. As always, you had to show skin to win.

Hugh Gren in the starting gate

Hugh Gren in the starting gate

One snowboarder scissored his jeans into cutoffs, stripped off his shirt and went head to head against another equally scantily clad skier.


Instant Cutoffs

Stacy Steel and Caleb Cole each took home a 2015/16 season pass. Congratulations you two! No road rash and fun times by all.

Stacy Steel showing off the guns

Stacy Steel showing off the guns

Thanks again to everyone who came out Sunday! Also, a big shout out to everyone who continued to ski and ride this season, truly demonstrating the love of the sport. Even though the snow was skinny this season, the fun and passion still reigned.


I love this impromptu costume


112 days and still going

Posted in Conditions, Personal, Photo of the Day

Picture was taken Sunday, April 12


How many days do you think Crystal has been open this year? Sunday was our 112th day open. Surprised? Another surprise is just how good the conditions have been. While it might have seemed more like spring (or even summer) in the base area, up in Green Valley it’s remained wintry and snowy. Keep in mind most east coast resorts have less acreage on their entire mountain than what we currently have open.

This past week had some of the best grooming and off piste conditions all season. Looking ahead to the coming week: another storm coming in today and tonight. Wednesday will remain cold and could be the last true wintry day of the season. Thursday ushers in warm temps and sun. Come play in our world before it’s gone!