Crystal Mountain Resort — Cascades’ Hidden Gem
If you like steeps, immense in-bounds backcountry terrain, massive powder dumps and kick-ass views, there’s one place you can go:
Just a quick glimpse at the trail map of Washington’s largest mountain resort shows a 2,600-acre playground full of chutes and bowls and trees and just about anything else you’d fancy at a ski hill.
“It’s a hidden gem,” says one long-time local. “There’s so much great backcountry-type skiing. … I can make any day a good day at Crystal.”
Double Diamonds Galore
Lookers’ right of the resort is the Northway lift, which provides access to a multitude of double-diamond terrain: bowls, chutes, trees, cliffs and glades. Because of the challenges it presents, the Northway lift is usually a quiet ride, with few people helping churn up the north-facing powder, generally more than 480 inches of it annually, that is found there. Suggested route: Take gondola to top, exit to right, follow ridge to Elk Pass, take 10-minute hike around Morning Glory Peak to Morning Glory Bowl, then pick your line all the down to Northways lift.
On the left side of the hill, is the 300-acre A Basin and Silver Basin complex that is another double-diamond playground of mostly open terrain, all of it hike-to. Suggested route: Take Chair 6, go left along ridge above Campbell Basin, take a 20-minute hike over the Throne to A Basin, pick a line to the near the bottom of the bowl, traverse right to SE Trees, then pick a line toward through the woods to Forest Queen Express lift.
And in the middle of the resort, between the gate-access-only terrain, are the runs that pay the bills, a generous mixture of green, blue and black trails, bowls and glades that will keep any skier or snowboarder satisfied for days on end. Suggested route: Take gondola to top, exit left, then take Lucky Strike down to the Rainier Express lift.
All of this is reachable by Crystal’s uphill lift system of 9 chairs — 4 of them of the high-speed variety — and a gondola, which takes passengers from the 4,400-foot elevation base area to the 6,872-foot-high summit.
And that’s where Crystal really shines.
The resort, which is located about 2 hours southeast of Seattle, butts up against Mt. Rainier National Park, and from Crystal’s summit ridge the highest point in the Cascade range stands out in its full glory, towering nearly 8,000 feet above you to southwest.
Perhaps the best way to appreciate the view is to grab lunch at the sit-down Summit House restaurant or score a chair at the outside bar when the weather cooperates. Other great gawking points are at the top of the gondola and the exit areas of the Northway, Chair 6, Green Valley Express and Rainier Express lifts.
The Apres Scene
And when the lifts stop spinning for the day — or sometimes night, as Crystal lights up the trails on three lower-mountain lifts (Discover, Gold Hills and Quicksilver chairs) on weekends and holidays — head over to the Snorting Elk, where you’ll find the locals hanging out around the big fireplace making a small dent in the pub’s large selection of wine and beer choices.
Overnight lodging is somewhat limited in the base area with handful of condo and suites properties available, but Enumclaw, a 45-minute drive down the access road, has more availability.
Or you can shack out at the legendary B parking lot, where families and dirt-baggers alike park their RVs, trailers, camper vans and the like and spend the weekend (or weeks, for that matter) fully immersed in the Crystal Mountain vibe.