Crystal Mountain – A freerider’s wet dream

February 21st, 2012 by

There’s an old adage that says, “Don’t leave powder for powder.”

If that’s too complex a notion to decode, there’s also the common sense proposal that understands snow coming down at an inch per hour at 6pm will deposit 12 inches by the time you wake at 6am the next morning. If this were to happen for two days at 24 hours per day, well… you do the math.

With The North Face Masters event wrapping up last Friday afternoon, for all the talent those riders posses on a snowboard, curiously not that many were up on simple arithmetic and for one reason or another all left the resort just as the real “event” was about to get underway. One competitor, who shall remain nameless, actually told me, “It’s supposed to snow up at Baker.” I could only look outside at the silver dollar flakes stacking up and agree. Those that were savvy enough to remember elementary addition stuck around for the real reason Crystal Mountain rules – POW.

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Alex Yoder – cliff drop tail grab | Photo: Abe Blair 

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Honestly, this isn’t just one of the best freeride resorts in the Pacific Northwest, but one of the great ski hills anywhere on Earth. Rare is this kind of terrain that gets this kind of snowfall.

Honestly, this isn't just one of the best freeride resorts in the Pacific Northwest, but one of the great ski hills anywhere on Earth.

Located an easy two-hour drive for Sea-Tac Airport in Seattle, getting to Crystal is a breeze compared to many resorts. No gnarly mountain passes or crazy switchbacks here, just a lazy drive through the ‘burbs and into the deep green forest towards the righteous lord of the Cascades, Mt. Rainier.

However, the mellow ends when you get on the lifts and start looking around. Every where you peep you are drawn to a heaven of 20 foot cliffs, gullies divided by rideable spines and a general peppering of natural terrain that any freerider would sell their soul for. Yeah, in between is the general stuff most resorts would call their best terrain, with open bowls and gladed trees connecting the five or six distinctive ridgelines and peaks that define the ski area.

Places with comparable terrain like Jackson Hole and even Mt Baker are crawling with riders, their Go-Pro’s and fancy clothes, yet curiously the lack of shredders hitting any zone of interest was kind of baffling. Maybe because it’s big enough to spread ‘em all out or maybe it’s just one of those unexplained NW phenomenon like The Squatch – you know they’re out there but seeing one is highly unlikely.

When the snow beneath the chairlifts and the in bounds area starts to get chewed, the choice becomes either North or South – this refers to Crystal’s extensive lift accessed backcountry terrain. Heading North takes you to the Northway Notch and some seriously wild zones, which can dump you as far as 2,500 feet down to the road below where you catch a five-minute shuttle back to the base. Look for cliffs, natural rock diving boards and steeps that leave you steering through the waist deep snow with your back arm.

Cruising South first takes you to the Throne, a sick powder bowl in direct opposition to legendary Silver King Mountain, home to The North Face Masters. Ride the Throne or hike for 20 minutes up “The King” for one of the few big mountain snowboarding experiences accessible by lift in the lower 48. Or, traverse around “The King” into Silver Basin for more untouched glory that eventually spits you out right back at the base area.

After a few days of shredding Crystal Mountain with some of today’s top freeriders we came to the consensus that in the end, this is the kind of place where you could basically go anywhere and have a great run. In fact, we decided that at Crystal, the odds of accidentally finding yourself in the coveted “once in a lifetime” type of situation were better than anywhere we could remember.

At the risk of sounding technical, I think the math on that one is simple enough.

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http://www.crystalmountainresort.com

Tickets: $60

Lodging: http://www.crystalhotels.com

Apres: The Snorting Elk

Food: The Alpine Inn

Snowfall: 486 in

Terrain: 2600 acres

Vert: 3100 ft

Lifts: 11

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