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Ski Patrol Crystal Mountain Washington

So it Begins: Crystal to Open Tomorrow

Posted in Conditions, Photo of the Day, Weather

Today Patrol worked on preparing equipment and boundary rope lines for opening tomorrow, Monday.

Kim working on the boundary line.


Toboggans lined up at the summit


Crystal will have limited operations with the Gondola and Green Valley lifts running. We received a foot of snow this weekend, just enough to open Green Valley, which has the best coverage. My advice is to bring your rock skis and remember that the season is still young. The coverage is low and you will most likely find a few unmarked hazards. Enjoy the views and the smiling faces around you. Plus, remember that you’re the lucky ones–lapping up the snow instead of working in town. We look forward to seeing you on the slopes soon.

Meet the Crystal Mountain Avalanche Dogs

Posted in Events and Activities

Crystal Avalanche Dogs get in on the Airlift Northwest training

If you like dogs and you also enjoy beer, then join us this Saturday, November 15th at Elysian Fields Brewery. This event will feature an opportunity to meet some working dogs, purchase this season’s new dog shirt, as well as have a rare opportunity to get a pint of Elk Frost in the city!

We will also be featuring an Avalanche Awareness Demo led by Dallas Glass from International Mountain Guides at 5:00.

There will also be a silent auction held to benefit the Avalanche Rescue Dog Program. We will also be selling $1 raffle tickets and drawing great prizes. Cool swag include apparel from Outdoor Research, a Level I Avalanche Course, and much more.

Please join us for a fun night of bringing the Crystal stoke to Seattle to benefit our hard-working dogs!

Ski Patrol Prepares for Upcoming Season

Posted in Photo of the Day

Last week, the Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol gathered for our annual training. We are all looking forward to a great season. With all the recent improvements on the mountain and within the patrol, we can’t wait for the snow to fall. Here’s a few photos from the past week.

Chair 6 haul rope as of Sunday was half way around!

Bottom of Chair 6. Winter is just around the corner.


Crystal Avalanche dogs pose with Airlift Northwest helicopter


Thank you Airlift Northwest for taking part in our ongoing first aid training.

Snow Safety Director, Chet, demonstrated of our new Gazex exploders in Powder Bowl.

Lisa P. models one of the patrol’s new BCA Float airbags.


Chair evacuation training



Kala and Christina getting cozy during training.

It was a bonding experience as always.

We woke to a layer of fresh snow Monday morning!

Backcountry Research Project Wants To Track Your Ski Tours

Posted in Avalanche Hazard, Events and Activities


The Snow and Avalanche Lab at Montana State University wants to track your ski tours. While not all readers here are heading into the backcountry, many of you like to spice it up by earning your turns on occasion. If so, you could be a part of some exciting research simply by using an app on your phone.

Led by MSU faculty Dr. Jordy Hendrikx, the project aims to collect GPS location information and survey responses from backcountry skiers and riders to better understand what types of terrain decision we make. Their focus is on backcountry skiers and riders of all abilities and experience. You need not be an expert backcountry skier to participate in this research.

Every track submitted will go into the draw for some great prizes kindly donated by Black Diamond Equipment. The more tracks you submit the more chances you have at winning a prize!


At the Northwest Snow and Avalanche Workshop in Seattle this weekend, Jordy presented the data gleaned from last season. He had tracks from Utah to Norway with information about the steepness of terrain travelled, the avalanche conditions and the dynamics of the group.

Surprisingly, however, there wasn’t a single track from the state of Washington. Jordy mused that perhaps skiers and riders in Washington just don’t venture out into the backcountry. Or perhaps, and this seems more likely to me, folks around here like to keep their stashes a secret.

Why They Need Your Help

Whatever the case, you need not worry. Jordy isn’t sharing your goods with the world. Instead, he and his team of snow science graduate students are looking for decision making patterns in the backcountry.

He’s already drawn some interesting conclusions from last season. One that I found particularly illuminating was the effect that women have on decision making. Groups of all-guy backcountry users tend to get into riskier situations. Jordy and his team can track this by comparing the steepness of the terrain entered with the avalanche hazard rating for that time and location. Add one gal to the mix and the riskiness stays about the same. But add two or three ladies to the group and the levels of risk-taking start to go down. All-women groups are the most risk-averse of backcountry users.

The Three Shivas were also in attendance at NSAW on Sunday, giving our version of the Chair 6 Avalanche story. I’m here to tell you, if you want to be sure to have a safe backcountry experience, just bring one of us along. Once you’ve seen a slope go big, you never forget it.

How to Sign Up

Click on the image below to sign up. Jordy needs some Washington backcountry users to broaden his study. Just think of it as your way of “giving back.”


Snow Guardians: Documentary on Ski Patrolling

Posted in Avalanche Hazard, Employment, Skier/Snowboarder Stories

Ever wonder what it’s like to be a professional ski patroller? Perhaps you have wondered about the lives of avalanche forecasters, or you have considered joining a Search and Rescue group.

The film Snow Guardians documents the lives and work of patrollers and rescuers. Based in Montana and focusing on Bridger Bowl Ski Patrol, with footage from Yellowstone Club and Big Sky Resort, Snow Guardians depicts an accurate portrait of patrol life.

This is no small feat.

A documentary on ski patrolling seems like a no brainer. Of course viewers would find explosive control and snow-related emergencies interesting. Saving lives and throwing bombs? Why wouldn’t today’s viewers lap that up? Well, of course there’s more to it than that.

Camera crews often clamber for access to our lives. At Crystal a few years ago, reality television crews followed some of us around, hoping to capture the daily ups and downs of the job. Their task proved difficult. Few members of that camera crew were strong enough skiers and riders to truly “shadow” us. Plus, they were carrying an extra hundred pounds in camera gear.

Most ski patrols aren’t too keen on having a camera crew join them on their avalanche control missions. The use of explosives in the mountains is tightly regulated, and adding in anything extraneous would seem unnecessary and maybe dangerous. By the looks of it, the makers of Snow Guardians do an excellent job of showcasing avalanche control without getting in the way. No doubt the videographers were highly skilled themselves and able to get great footage without endangering anyone. As a ski patroller, I have a keen appreciation for how hard it must have been to film this documentary.

Add to that the nature of the job, when emergencies happen at the most inopportune moments, and you can begin to see how challenging a task this is. Furthermore, ski patrollers tend not to be attention-seekers. We aren’t the sharing type, by nature. It helps that the producers of this film had friends on the Bridger Patrol, which no doubt opened some doors.

What makes Snow Guardians so good is the level of access they had to the inner workings of the Bridger Bowl Patrol. Billed as a documentary that teaches the importance of backcountry knowledge and skills, I see it as a clear glimpse into our world. Snow Guardians is for sale. It’s about the price of a hard cover book, and it’s worth the money. Check out the trailer below.

Mark your Calendars – Winter Wag Event

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

Photo by Cembalski Photography


Please join the Crystal Mountain Avalanche Dogs for an Elysian Brewing-hosted fundraiser. This event will feature an opportunity to meet some working dogs, purchase this season’s new dog shirt, as well as have a rare opportunity to get a pint of Elk Frost in the city!

We will also be featuring an Avalanche Awareness Demo led by Dallas Glass from International Mountain Guides at 5:00.

There will also be a silent auction held to benefit the Avalanche Rescue Dog Program. Cool swag at this auction include apparel from Outdoor Research, a Level I Avalanche Course, and much more.

Please join us for a fun night of bringing the Crystal stoke to Seattle to benefit our hard-working dogs!

When:  Saturday, November 15 at 4:00pm – 9:00pm
Where: Elysian Fields, 542 1st Ave S, Seattle, Washington 98104

Ski Patrol Benefit Hosted by Two Beers Brewery

Posted in Events and Activities

UPDATE: The event is Saturday. Come join us at Two Beers Brewery for some pre-season fun, including an awesome raffle and DJ. All proceeds go to Crystal Ski Patrol.

Two Beers Brewery is hosting an event to benefit the Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol. They’re calling it “Snow Angels” (Ah shucks.) It looks like it’s going to be a fun night. Many of us will be there. Here’s more from their FB page:

You can’t miss this fundraising event for the Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol at Two Beers Brewery in SODO.

Join fellow skiers and boarders, loyal to Crystal Mountain and their ski patrol for an evening of fun, friends, beers, raffles and silent auction. Ski patrol members will attend, as well as our sponsors from PNW organizations, to talk about all things cold and snowy as the season revs up!

Bring your cash! Items from sponsors will be raffled and auctioned throughout the night, with all proceeds from the night benefiting the Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol. Items include skis, boots, poles, goggles, and helmets from K2, snowboards from LibTech and GNU, ABS backpacks, avalanche beacons, probes, shovels, and backpacks from BCA, Deuter/Ortovox/Darn Tough Socks, and Mamuut, and shells, gloves, and hats from Outdoor Research. Many sponsors will be available to talk gear.

A portion of the proceeds from each pint of “Chair 6 Amber” or a glass of “Boondoggle Cider” goes directly to Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol.

Hallavah Falafel will be dishing up their famous Falafel and Shawarma.

Representatives of the Northwest Avalanche Center will attend, as well as the “Grand Poobah” of Powder, Larry Schick. Celebrities everywhere.

Come on out and get your head back in the hills.

What’s the latest?

Posted in News, Photo of the Day

Gazex exploders are in and completed

Three Gazex exploders line the skiers’ left side of Powder Bowl.

The unload ramp has been widened both behind the bullwheel and to the skiers left side of the unload area.  As you can see in this picture, the patrol/lift shack is undergoing a major remodel both inside and out.

Bottom of new Chair 6


Today the last of the towers were set on both Chair 6 and Quicksilver lifts.

Top of the Quicksilver lift

Re-grading top of Quicksilver lift


The Witch’s Knoll is now gone and there has been major re-grading of this area making the terrain friendly for beginners wanting to make that their next step after the Discovery chair.

Why Crystal Mountain Needs Gazex

Posted in Avalanche Hazard, Events and Activities

First a Little History

One of the perks of managing a ski area is that it gives my husband and I an excuse to go on ski vacations. Why? To check out the competition, of course! (Because what’s better than seeing someone else’s sagging rope lines and knowing that it’s not your job to stop and fix it?) If you’ve ever worked as a ski patroller than you know what I’m talking about.

Gazex 2 and 3 in Powder Bowl

A few years ago, John and I visited the Les 3 Vallées in France. One of the largest skiing complexes in the world consisting of eight interconnecting resorts, Les 3 Vallées has no less than 258 Gazex Exploders. Skiing and riding in Europe is a little different than in the States. The Piste Services, which includes the ski patrol (Sécurite dé Pistes) and the cat crew, only manage the actual “pistes.” In Europe a piste is equivalent to a named (and often groomed) run. So imagine if at Crystal we only did avalanche control on named runs or the slopes that overhung named runs. Also picture if we only put out hazard markings and tower pads and caution signs on the groomed runs. Furthermore, imagine that the ski patrol only provided free first aid to those injured on the groomers. Elsewhere, you have to call for your own helicopter and/or pay extra for assistance.

In Les 3 Vallées, Piste Services focus their efforts on the pistes. However, since so much of these slopes are threatened from above by avalanche terrain, skiers also benefit from their extensive use of Gazex exploders. The off-piste in Les 3 Vallées is steep and challenging and very often blasted for avalanche mitigation.

When John and I visited Les 3 Vallées a former Crystal exchange patroller Klébert Silvestre ran the Piste Services in Val Thorens, one of the interconnected resorts there. Klébert was kind enough to show us around. John was most impressed by the Gazex exploders. Gazex is certainly expensive and a little obtrusive, and I wasn’t convinced these would work at Crystal.

The Problem of Powder Bowl

Crystal Local Nala Checks out Gazex 2

Powder Bowl is a steep bowl that overhangs a groomed run at Crystal. Snowcats use that run to access the upper mountain at night. Skiers and riders use the cat track below to access some of Crystal’s best terrain, including Lucky Shot and Bear Pits. After our trip to Les 3 Vallées John wanted to implement Gazex in Powder Bowl. Triggered remotely, exploders can mitigate avalanches even when the winds are too high to run the chairlift. Once I looked at Powder Bowl through his eyes, I understood his concern.

On a powder day at Crystal, we pride ourselves on opening the upper mountain (what we call our “in-area” terrain) by 9 am. While that’s not always possible, most mornings skiers and riders are enjoying fresh turns as soon as the lifts begin to spin. Many ski resorts with similar avalanche terrain suffer from chronic late openings of the best terrain. In the PNW, when a slight warmup can worsen the avalanche hazard, we want to get folks skiing and riding (and putting tracks in) that terrain ASAP. Even a slight delay can cause problems. The longer a slope sits unridden after we’ve thrown our explosives, the frownier we patrollers become.

Enter Gazex

This summer crews are installing three Gazex exploders (no, they are not called “boomers” or “pipes” or even really big “jibs”), in Powder Bowl. They will be called Gazex 1, 2, and 3. How’s that for originality? The first one is located in the Summit Chute and the other two are located to the skier’s left. In placing these exploders, we considered many factors. Most importantly, we placed them in the most effective avalanche starting zones. Since these exploders cannot be moved, we want to get the most “bang for the buck.” Also, we considered the traverse path to the left most chutes. These exploder locations are below that traverse, so they shouldn’t get in the way.

But Can I Jump off of it?

Funny thing how you build a big curving metal structure on a ski slope and the first question you get is, “can I jump it?” I suppose that’s possible. Just like jibbing off a chairlift tower is theoretically possible. The top of the structure isn’t exactly smooth. It contains ribs and tubes and various attachment points. So a clean rail slide probably isn’t going to happen. And then there’s the problem of the landing. These exploders are pretty far off the ground. With a little snow on the slope, they might feel a bit lower, but off course these exploders are there to blast the snow off the slope, so not sure how much snow will accumulate right below them. In short, I wouldn’t set my sites on jumping off these bad boys. It might be exciting to think about, but the logistics are pretty daunting.

Pretty Sketchy Landing on Gazex 2

What Next?

If Gazex in Powder Bowl works as well as we anticipate, our next exploder location will be Rock Face. Since Rock Face is permanently closed, it never gets any skier compaction. In the spring, the entire slope has ripped to the ground. Rock Face also hangs over a cat track. Skiers and riders might have noticed in the past few years seeing the “No stopping beyond this point” signs. That’s pretty sage advice.

Gazex will never replace explosive hand routes at Crystal (phew!). We have too many small pockets. Our mandate in the States is to manage all the terrain, not just the pistes. Therefore we will always need ski patrollers to help mitigate the slopes. But Gazex has it’s place, and I’m looking forward to seeing how well it works this season.

Now let’s all pray to Ullr that we get enough snow to really put our Gazex to the test.

Re-grading Improvements

Posted in News, Photo of the Day, Place Names

Ed’s link.  Nob removed between Queens Run (to the left) and Chappelle’s

So much is going on this summer, not only do we have two new lifts being built but there are several areas where the re-grading will improve your favorite runs.  Two areas here are located off the Forest Queen lift.

Looking across Broadway. ”Cutting the corner” between Side Burn and After Burn (bottom of Downhill) where it merges onto Broadway