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Crystal Mountain

''This article is for the ski area near Seattle, Washington. For the identically-named ski area near Kelowna, British Columbia, see Crystal Mountain (British Columbia).

Crystal Mountain is a ski area in the Cascade Range of Washington, the largest ski resort in the state. Primarily a day-use area, drawing skiers from the nearby Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area, Crystal Mountain has limited slopeside lodging in the form of two hotels and several rental cabins.

Mountain statistics

Elevation

  • Base (lowest: Lower Northway shuttle stop) - 3912 feet (1192 m)
  • Base (main: lift-served) - 4400 feet (1341 m)
  • Summit (maximum: Silver King) - 7012 feet (2137 m)
  • Summit (lift-served: Silver Queen) - 7002 feet (2134 m)
  • Vertical drop (maximum) - 3100 feet (945 m)
  • Vertical drop (lift-served) - 2602 feet (793 m)

Terrain

  • Advanced/expert - 30%
  • Intermediate - 57%
  • Beginner - 13%
  • Longest run: Northway - 2.5 miles (4 km)

Lifts

  • Lift capacity: 20,310 passengers per hour
  • 2 high speed six-passenger
  • 2 high speed quads
  • 2 triple chairs
  • 4 double chairs
  • 1 children's surface lift

History

The Crystal Mountain Ski Area opened in December 1962, forged after some dedicated Tacoma skiers were unable to start a resort within the boundaries of Mount Rainier National Park. The new ski area was established just outside the park's northeastern corner.

The following summer (1963), Crystal bought its first three Riblet double chairlifts: Miners' Basin, Green Valley, and Iceberg Ridge.

In 1965, Crystal Mountain hosted the U.S. Alpine Ski Championships, which included famous skiers such as Olympic medalists Jimmy Heuga and Billy Kidd, and future triple gold medalist Jean-Claude Killy of France. For the next few decades, Crystal Mountain expanded its boundaries to include areas such as Campbell Basin and the opening of Crystal’s backcountry areas.

Two weeks after the Olympics in late February 1972, Crystal hosted the FIS World Cup tour with two downhills for both men and women, with the start above Campbell Basin. Weather forced a low start; the winning times were under 90 seconds. Newly-crowned Olympic downhill champion Bernhard Russi of Switzerland won the Saturday race and took second on Sunday.

In 1984, Crystal added its first triple chairlifts, the Rendezvous (C-9) and Gold Hills (C-7) lifts. Washington’s first high-speed detachable quad chairlift, the "Rainier Express" (C-10), was installed in the summer of 1988. This new lift, nicknamed "Rex," had a vertical rise of 1700 feet (518 m) and replaced the Iceberg Ridge double chair (C-2), which had connected the top of the Miner's Basin lift (C-1) to the Summit House (6872 ft). The Rainier Express caused a reconfiguration of the Campbell Basin chairlift (C-5), which connected the main base area to Campbell Basin, the loading point for the High Campbell chair (C-6). The lower portion of the Campbell Basin chairlift was replaced with the Midway Shuttle (C-11), a fixed grip quad. The upper portion of the Campbell Basin lift remained (for nine more years), its loading area was just southeast of the Rainier Express base. It rose 1000 vertical feet (305 m) up the "K-2 Face" run, and was removed in the summer of 1997. During the mid-1990s, the owners of Crystal Mountain became deeply in debt; unable to pay for important improvements such as new lifts and lodges, they sold the area to Boyne Resorts in March 1997. The deal directed Boyne to spend at least $15 million in capital improvements during the first ten years. After three years, Boyne had already completed more than half of the improvements with the installation of the Northwest’s only high speed six-passenger chairlifts, the Chinook and Forest Queen Express lifts. The Forest Queen replaced the Rendezvous triple chair (& Campbell Basin double) in the summer of 1997, and the Chinook replaced the Midway Shuttle in the summer of 1998. Boyne also made other improvements such as a new rental facility, paved parking lots, and five new Bombardier snowcat grooming machines. The Green Valley double chairlift (C-3) was replaced with a high-speed quad in the summer of 2000.

In the summer of 2004, Crystal built the Campbell Basin Lodge, a Cascade-style lodge serving pasta, pizza, soups, teriyaki, burgers, salads, Mexican food, etc. The construction of this upper mountain day lodge at 6200 feet (1890 m) was the final element of a development plan implemented in 1983.

In the summer of 2007, Crystal underwent a major expansion, increasing developed terrain by 70% to 2300 acres. The Northway chairlift (fixed-grip double) was installed in the former "North Backcountry." photos In addition, the Summit House restaurant was remodeled and the intermediate run "Lucky Shot" was regraded.

Mountain redevelopment

Following the acquisition by Boyne Resorts, Crystal Mountain submitted a Master Development Plan (MDP) to the USFS, which included six alternatives for redevelopment of the mountain. A draft environmental impact study was issued in 2001 and finalized in August 2004. John Phipps, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest Supervisor, selected Alternative Six with modifications from the Final Environmental Impact Statement. It approves new facilities including an aerial tram to the summit, a new chairlift in Northback, a surface lift, existing chairlift upgrades, base facility renovations, employee housing and wastewater facilities. The plan is the largest in Washington’s history, costing Boyne an estimated $40 million.

The new developments will include the expansion of the base area, including a new base area to be known as the Bullion Basin base area located at the north end of Parking Lot B. The new area is intended to relieve congestion of the current base and reduce walking distances from parking lots to the lifts. The new base area will include new lifts, as well as a lodge and parking structure.

New lifts include:

  • Summit Tram (T-1) will provide direct access from the current base area to the summit, which will provide a larger function during the summer months than during winter months, while allowing guests on foot summit access in winter (to meet demands for viewing Mt. Rainier while avoiding further development of Rainier National Park). The tram will be a European-style gondola lift and have only two intermediate towers. To facilitate the construction of the tram terminus, the top terminal of Rainier Express will be move downhill approximately 100 yards, discontinuing access to Snorting Elk bowl directly from Rex.
  • Kelly's Gap Express (C-13) will rise westwards from the new Bullion Base and terminating above and to the north of Green Valley Express.
  • Northway (C-12) opens up Northback with a double chairlift. In a press release, general manager John Kircher stated, "The new lift in the Northback is designed to provide access but keep the snow quality higher." [www.skicrystal.com/1729.html] Presumably this hopes to address concerns (mostly from expert skiers) that the backcountry of Crystal will be ruined by much higher traffic by limiting capacity. The new lift is a fixed-grip double chairlift from Doppelmayr CTEC, installed in the summer of 2007. It accesses terrain formerly in the North Backcountry and connects the Lower Northway run to the top of Northway Peak.
  • Bullion Basin Express (C15) would rise eastwards on the other side of valley from the Bullion Base to an area that previously had a lift abandoned in 1983 (the footprint of a lift and trails can be viewed from the top of Rex). This lift will also allow access to East Peak backcountry area for expert skiers. Rumors suggest that although this lift was included in the Record of Decision, the lift may not actually be built. As of July 2007, Crystal has received the former Millicent double chair from Brighton Ski Resort (Utah) to be installed as the Bullion Basin chair. This lift will not be high speed as previously announced.
  • Park N' Ride (C12) will provide access between the new Bullion Base and the current base area.
  • Two new surface tows at the old base area (Ptarmagin, S1) and new Bullion Base (Pika, S2)

The Quicksilver and Discovery chairs at the base area will be replaced by high-speed lifts, with no additional trail development. Despite requests to build lifts in both backcountry areas, the Forest Service refused permission to build lifts in Southback. Additional changes include expansion or new construction of hotels, rebuilding of the Summit House restaurant, and possible expansion of parking lots. Finalization of the current Master Plan is expected to be completed in the next 10-20 years.

Resort overview

Today, Crystal is considered a top ski area in Washington with 2300 acres (9.3 km²) of terrain. Crystal offers gently winding cruisers such as Queens Run for novice skiers and steep, narrow chutes in the 1000 acre (4 km²) backcountry for seasoned experts. The inbounds area of the ski area is divided into four major sections.

The main base area of the mountain includes the chairlifts Chinook Express, Gold Hills, Discovery, Miners' Basin, and Quicksilver. Chinook Express and Miners’ Basin are the main access to the mountain and get very crowded in the morning hours. Gold Hills accesses the chalets and hotels on the opposite side of the valley from the rest of the ski area. Quicksilver and Discovery Chairlifts offer mild, cruising runs for beginners.

The Rainier Express chairlift accesses Lucky Shot, Green Valley, Snorting Elk Bowl, and North Backcountry. At the top of Rex lies the Summit House Restaurant with views of Mount Rainier. The terrain is varied from well-groomed Lucky Shot, to steep, rocky Sunnyside.

The Green Valley area, with the Green Valley Express chairlift includes intermediate routes like Huckleberry and Green Valley Bowl. Experts enjoy ripping up Right Angle, Snorting Elk and other steep, rocky faces.

On the other side of the ski area lies the Forest Queen Express Chair. This area is truly an intermediate’s paradise. It features smooth, steep cruisers like Downhill, Mr. Magoo, and C.M.A.C. (Crystal Mountain Alpine Club). Beginners also enjoy it with long runs like Queens. The largest day lodge in the resort, the Campbell Basin Lodge is located at the top of the Forest Queen Chair.

The most advanced spot on the mountain is Silver Queen, accessed by the High Campbell double chair. At the top, skiers can either drop into Powder Bowl or take a long traverse into Campbell Basin or eventually into South Backcountry.

In addition to the main regions of the resort, Crystal has two Backcountry areas which are accessible only by hiking. It is extreme terrain and the ski patrol has some rules and restrictions for these areas. North Backcountry is mostly covered with thick trees, but some trails are cut through the trees. Areas of North Back include Northway, Niagras, BrandX, Morning Glory, and Gun Tower. South Backcountry is bigger and more wide-open with fewer trees and jagged peaks like Crystal's tallest peak, the 7002 foot (2134 m) Silver King. Silver King is famous for its lines such as Brain Damage and 47 degree Pinball. The bowls include Avalanche Basin and Silver Basin.

In the summer, Crystal runs the Chinook and Rainier Express chairlifts for mountain biking, chairlift rides, summer skiing in Green Valley, and dining at the Summit House Restaurant. For mountain bikers, there are 35 miles (56 km) of single-track trails rated from beginner to expert. The scenic chairlifts rise a total of 2500 vertical feet (760 m) to the top of the ridge. Along the way, sightseers can view fields of wildflowers and mountain springs. Once at the top, they can see the dominant volcanoes of the Cascade Range: Mt. Rainier, Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, and even Mt. Baker. Hikers wind through lush forests, alpine meadows, and high mountain streams. The Summit House, elevation 6872 feet (2095 m), serves an elegant brunch and dinner menu during the summer. (Summer operations were suspended in 2007 because of the Northway chairlift construction and Summit House remodeling. Following the remodel the Summit House during summer serves sit-down meals only to those who purchase a lift ticket; hikers and mountain bikers should pack their own food now that the Express window is closed during the off-season.)

Crystal Mountain has produced Olympic and World Cup ski racers. Scott Macartney of Redmond skied at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, where he raced in the Downhill at Snowbasin and finished 29th with a time of 1:41:86. Another Salt Lake Olympic competitor, Libby Ludlow of Bellevue, also grew up skiing at Crystal. Both were members of the Crystal Mountain Alpine Club (CMAC), known for producing talented and well-performing racers.

Crystal Mountain Resort hosts 400,000 skiers, riders and hikers every year, and hopes to triple that number in the next ten to twenty years. The owners hope to make Crystal a year-round destination resort.

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