So I never got around to posting this TR last season - but I was just backing up some photos and was looking at these again, so here it is.
I had an opportunity to pull this off in route to a work trip, as two quick in and outs over one weekend at both these places in the form of redeye flights, some sleeping in rental cars, and just making it for closing day in AK, all while showing up for work Monday, on time, thousands of miles away from home in NJ...
**Trying to write this in between diaper changes and other baby care, TR in progress! Might show up in pieces so I don't lose what I write - sorry bout that in advance**
So, I had around 72 hours to pull this off. Being that it was closing weekend, the purpose of the trip was to check out new places, conditions were not important.
Day .5, Friday: Early flight from NJ to Seattle...get rental car and head out of Seattle as quick as possible to check out as much as I can in the mountains outside the city before heading to hotel Friday nite...head up Snowqualmie Pass to see what its like up there and scope out Alpental for future trip. Hit up random brewery at top of pass as well as WA State Ski and Snowboard Museum next to said brewery. Swing by Alpental (closed for season) just to scope it out. Pouring rain...get concerned about what's going on in the next pass for my ski day tomorrow (Crystal). Figure it's April 20th...so what if it is rained on snow. Temps looking favorable for spring skiing anyways. Stop at Snowqualmie Falls on way down the pass...pretty cool.
Day 1, Saturday: Stayed in Snowqualmie cause I had some hotel points and it just worked out there was a spot there to use them. Woke up extra early to make hour or so drive up to Crystal. Nice morning drive from Snowqualmie down to Enumclaw then up 410 to Crystal. Extra bonus getting AWD minivan for economy car rental price. Didn't need AWD this day, but the extra room made parking lot changing pre and post skiing pretty nice, plus not having ski bag spanning the whole car onto the dash!
This was going to be the day before closing day at Crystal, which I also learned would be the annual Bikini Downhill race and post-party sponsored by some beer company. Nice! Plan was to ski all day, hang out for some "apres", then drive straight to the airport for an overnight flight to AK. Got there early and scored a close up spot in the lot, perfect for stashing my hotel "free breakfast" seconds, aka Lunch. Would plan to supplement with resort priced brews for extra energy!
What I really liked about Crystal was how it was mostly no frills, despite being a pretty big name "resort". The lack of base amenities and development was perfect, just a couple small hotels and a base lodge. The place really has a deep in feel despite being pretty close to Seattle, just that once you get on 410 the only road in and out, you don't see much aside from forest which is nice.
The day started out pretty socked in, but forecast was for clearing skies, so was banking on the afternoon being better for pics. Pretty stiff start to the day, as it was below freezing, so stuck to groomers. I had heard the term "Crustal" thrown around on TGR forums...guess this was a Crustal morning. All good tho, it was April 20th!
Sun started to poke thru and while it wasn't overly warm out (maybe 35-40), snow started to soften up into some nice spring conditions.
Looking back at that line...
Worked my way around, trying to sweep the whole place and see all the different aspects of the mtn. The peak in the background looked to be pretty accessible from the resort as side country, you could see that it had been skied. Looks like some sweet lines in there.
Views finally starting to come out
First look at Rainier barely poking thru the clouds
Great PNW views around here
There seemed to be a line of clouds blocking a full view of Rainier off the backside of Crystal all day long, I was really hoping to get that shot, but it was Bikini Downhill time! Skied my way thru some nice chutes to get to the base, featuring wet slides, and very wet soft snow at this point it was around 2pm.
A couple more runs and one more attempt at getting a good photo off the backside...never quite got the cloud free shot I was hoping for...but still, not too shabby of a view...
Called it a day, and headed down for the Eleysian Brewing sponsored party on the patio w/band, then over to the Snorting Elk, cause I had to check that out of course.
Crystal was such a cool place, with great terrain and non-commercialized/overbuilt vibe. Would love to get back there on a pow day. Hope to make it part of a larger PNW tour in the future.
Finally got a clear view as I popped back into town off 410.
Off to the airport for a overnight flight to AK...
Day 2, Sunday: Caught a redeye flight from Seattle to Anchorage, putting me in AK around 2am. This would be my first time in Anchorage, which wasn't my final work destination, but close enough to be within an hour flight of where I needed to end up by Monday. Since it was already 2am, and even later by the time I got my rental car, I did what seemed like the most logical thing, and slept in the car until 5:30am or so in a parking lot of a major hotel chain I frequent. It was a little cold, but since it was April, bearable and semi-glamping in relation to winter camping. Awoke from a half sleep, and in true glamping fashion, headed down the street to be the first customer of the day at Starbucks and catch some free wifi.
Aleyeska is about an hour outside of Anchorage, the road to get there follows the Turnagain Arm which spills out into the Gulf of Alaska. Weather was socked in and rainy, and it would be Aleyeska's closing day. The hope was for it to be just cold enough to be snow at elevation, or at least just not rain. The place gots over 600" a year, and is right along the coast, so pretty much juts right up from sea level.
I never had heard of Aleyeska before having to go to AK for work trips and looking into skiing options. I mostly knew Alaska from heli-skiing segments in ski films, but discovered that Aleyeska is really the only major ski resort in AK. Its situated in the famous Chugach Range, so while I wouldn't be skiing any big AK style lines from the heli, it was just such a great opportunity to be able to ski in the Chugach at all, it would be something I probably would have never experienced if it weren't for work travel up there. So stoked it's on my list of places I've been to now.
Pulled into the place with rain pouring, but a look at the radar on my phone indicated a flash of blue as the radar cycled around. It was going to be borderline, but I was skiing in whatever was going to fall.
Caught some breakfast, as I was super early, then headed to the tram, got ticket, and waiting for opening.
About halfway up the tram, things changed for the better. Rain turned into a complete nuking of snow, and stepping out of the tram house, it was obvious it was going to be quite the closing day of my season. Probably about a foot down, and just absolutely dumping.
After a couple hours, there must have been 2ft of fresh on the ground. Being that it was a late season storm, it was a bit heavy, but it is a coastal range as well.
F yeh. It was deep.
Visibility was horrendous, vertigo at times, so picture taking was tough. When clear the place has really cool views, according to the google images.
From halfway down you could just start to make out the Turnagain Arm and the town of Girdwood
Tramhouse and north side
Some really fun spaced trees to end the day
Then back to Girdwood to check out Girdwood Brewing, do a fly by of Chugach Powder Guides hangar down the street, and back to Anchorage before flying to work on Monday.
While at the airport I bumped into the family that owns Points North Heli. They had the hats on and I recognized the logo from ski vids I've seen. Chatted with the owner real quick, was pretty cool to meet them.
Was a hell of a way to go out on the 18/19 ski season, and a possible once in a lifetime experience to ski the Chugach.
Photos below show what I would have seen if the weather was clear. You can see the tram house/lodge I was taking some of the pictures from.
Looking forward to reading about your Crystal experience.
That said, Alpental is another great mountain. It’s to the Cascades as MRG is to the Green Mountains, or Plattekill is to the Catskills. The inbounds terrain is small but really good, the Back Bowls are off the hook, as is the accessible backcountry.
I’ve had numerous locals at several Cascades resorts tell me they think it’s great that I’ve travelled across the country to ski Alpental, but it’s worth it.
Paradise Bowl out Gate 4 into North was my son’s first experience with a 40 degree pitch. I wanted to take him out Gate 5 to the Horseshoe Cliffs area (to the right that feeds into the same bowl) to let him cut his teeth on 45 degrees, but we didn’t get to it. Lines to the right of that are 50 plus. North has a lot of fun terrain.
I’m assuming you didn’t get any laps in Southback, lest you’d have pictures. So much fun, and so beautiful, out there. You do have to get back for a proper trip and a powder day. Southback demands it. Make it a long enough trip to dedicate a day to the incredible Backcountry, right from the lot.
The Alpine Inn is great. If it had a hot tub it would be the absolute perfect ski destination. It’s pretty great as is. The Snorting Elk Cellar is legendary.
The photo you have with the accessible peak in the background, that had some tracks and sweet lines....that’s one of the peaks in the Southback area. From the top of the High Campbell Chair (Chair 6) you can hike/traverse out the ridge line over a series of peaks with multiple bowls. You can invest anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes of hiking, with the payoff of big untracked lines and open bowl skiing, that all holds powder turns for days after a storm.
Seattle Crystal skiers on TGR didn’t appreciate my take, but yes....the last three weekends Crystal has seen their lots fill by 9am, and they’ve had to turn people away. Basically, if you haven’t left Enumclaw (40 miles away) by 7:30 am they tell you not to bother or turn you away.
It’s not like issues on the access road and full parking lots are new this year, but it seems to be worse with Crystal on Ikon. Didn’t help that the season was shit until three weekends ago, so pent up demand, an epic storm, and a holiday weekend in succession has exacerbated the issues. Full lots and a morning lift rush, but other than that there are empty slopes and generally short lift lines, problems and all.
My take is that some of the Seattle-ites are whiny bitches who don’t deal well with change. They know the issues, and just need to sack up and get there early. Of course they’d rather blame Alterra, bemoan Ikon pass sales, and complain about the travesty of the citizenry being denied their rightful access to the public lands upon which Crystal sits.
It’s bit of a mess though.
Of course, Baker has also turned cars away this year. Being further from Seattle Baker doesn’t seem to get as crowded as Crystal. It’s a great mountain I want to get back to.
Alpental as well, and it’s the closest to Seattle at an hour. They have traffic issues at the pass there, as well. I hit Alpental for an epic storm last year and I heard a lot of complaining about the terrible lift lines on Chair 2. I never waited more than 15 minutes, reinforcing my belief that there is a contingent of Seattle-ites who just like to complain.