Pacific Northwest Ski blog (and a few other places!)

Lots or reports from skiing around the Pacific Northwest, with some East Coast excursions thrown in for good measure

Tag Archives: Washington State skiing

2017-18 Ski Season Kick-off at Crystal Mountain

Big mid-November storms seem to happen every 3 or so years in the Pacific Northwest. This year brought excellent early season cover enabling most of the Cascades ski hills to open. We hit Crystal, ‘coz it’s close and, well,  great.

The weather cooperated too. It’s always nice to be able to see while warming up the legs and body. Steady winds also loaded north facing slopes for most of the weekend, making for some tasty turns, especially in Green Valley.

We took it easy and cruised the groomers off the Forest Queen, and played in the bumps and trees in Green Valley.  It was plenty for our opening weekend.

Next stop Whistler for ThxGiving. The forecast express delivery of pineapples should have blown through by then. At least they have good cover already 🙂

Lots of pics on Google Photos.

Saturday 7200m, Sunday 7300m vert

Season Totals: 2 Days, 14,500m vert

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April Riding in the Washington Cascades

Deep snow. No crowds. Generally good weather. Spring skiing in the Cascades in mid-April can be majestic.

Crystal skied beautifully all weekend on their penultimate weekend of the season. There had been lots of snow on the Friday and the remnants were plentiful all over the mountain on Saturday. Sunday a crazy wind hit the high ridges until lunchtime. Crazy as in ‘almost impossible to push off Rex and head down the hill’ crazy. The groomers everywhere were great though, soft and perfect for laying down long carving turns. By noon when the wind dropped, the wind blown off the Green Valley chairs was epic.

A great weekend of steeps and quality snow and groomers.

Mission didn’t disappoint the following weekend either. Sunny clear-ish weather meant for cold nights and warmer days. This delivered classic Spring corn snow by noon. The highlights were laps of The Castle on both afternoons. Perfect corn on a majestic Spring ski weekend.

That wrapped up another superb season at Mission for us. Just 14 days. But with included free days at 49 Degrees and Snoqualmie Pass, that adds up to 20 days on a ~$400 season pass.

We have purchased again for next year 🙂

 

Crystal 10,900m, 8000m vert

Mission Ridge 8000m, 6700m vert

60 days, 496,800m vert, 16 powder days

Steeps and Spring at Stevens Pass

On our occasional visits to Stevens, I’ve always contemplated the ribbon of snow that plunges through the trees from the top of Big Chief Mountain. On this trip I finally discovered its name – Wild Katz. The conditions were good, especially on Sunday. A first descent down the 1400ft vertical Wild Katz was a must.

Wild Kat

A pre-lunch Sunday ride down neighboring Double Diamond confirmed the overnight freeze was softening. Double Diamond is steep, but not scary steep, and apart from a little frozen mid run rubble, it was fine.

About 1.30pm I hopped off the Southern Cross chair and pushed up to the entrance to Wild Katz. From the ridge, the snow and the first pitch looked tasty indeed.

It didn’t take long for the gradient to reach the sort of numbers that are common at Red Mountain. You know it’s steep when you stop to take a pic and your uphill hand touches the snow when down by your side (and I don’t have long arms. Maybe short legs ? :)).

As the run got steeper and narrower, I was quite delighted the snow stayed mostly soft and creamy. What looked like a small cliff band had enough snow on it to hop over easily with a couple of quick kick turns. The trees on the edge offered occasional relief from the fall line, and held tasty remnants of the inch or two of snow from the night before.

Wild Katz

The steepness was more or less unrelenting until the trees finally opened up near the bottom. Phew. What a great run. A Pacific Northwest classic.

The whole weekend held many other highlights. Saturday was weather-wise as weird as an interview with Marshawn Lynch. Calm and sunny one minute. Crazy and puking the next. About 2pm the off-groomed softened and we rollicked around on the back side, lapping the face under the power lines in perfect corn snow. Not a bad way to end a day.

Sunday was finally Spring. We went straight to the sunny back side, and by 10.30am everything was riding beautifully. Corona Bowl was a soft sugary luge run around big bad ass bumps. A run down Polaris Bowl and then into the steep, narrow creek bed that hugs the ski area boundary was truly spectacular.

And then there was Double Diamond and Wild Katz …

A great ski weekend! And another 2 days on our Max Pass. Shame Stevens isn’t on there next year. That’ll probably keep our visits even more occasional.

Saturday 8700m, Sunday 8000m vert

56 days, 463,200m vert, 16 powder days

 

 

 

Spring pow at 49 Degrees North

49 Degrees North is kind of a remarkable place. Here’s some reasons why:

  • Even with slow lifts, it’s by far the quietest  ‘main stream’ ski hill we’ve ever visited. Friday there was maybe a 100 people skiing. At most. Saturday was only a few more. And both were excellent powder days. Sunday almost felt busy in comparison. We skied straight on to every lift all weekend. It makes our regular mountain, Mission Ridge, seem like Vail!
  • The tree skiing is extensive, easily accessed and varies from wide open ‘blue-ish’ trees such as Stockholders to steep, tighter glades on the skiers right of chair 1. With so few peeps, there can be fresh turns in the trees for days after a storm.
  • They are seriously good at grooming. Sunday was a calm weather day after a Saturday warmup, and not a day for clunking around off groomed. But the groomers – manicured with almost Sun Valley-like precision – were as good as we have skied all season. High speed ripping at its very best.
  • The lodge may be unassuming but it serves as a good a burger as you will find on a ski hill. Perfectly cooked, thick and juicy. And there are few better bars to hang out after skiing, chat with friendly locals, and enjoy a local microbrew or two. It’s quirky for sure, but great fun.

On this trip, Friday was a storm day. There was a solid 6 inches in the parking lot at the end of the day. It was heavy stuff down low, but fluffy, getting ever deeper pow up high. The trees were the place to be, giving visibility amongst the storm clouds. And the snow was great.

Saturday morning was even better. Cool, clearing and 6-10 inches of freshies everywhere. We scored first tracks down Tombstone, second tracks down Peacemaker, and in Cy’s Glades there was pow all morning long. Several runs off Chair 4 were left ungroomed, providing soft buttery untracked snow to carve all afternoon as the sun slowly warmed up the mountain.

And on Sunday, there were those groomers ….

8800m, 9600m, 5500m vert

54 days, 446,500m vert, 16 powder days

 

 

 

 

 

Riding in the Washington Cascades Sunshine

January often brings ‘the doldrums’ to the Pacific Northwest. A period of high pressure gives sunshine in the mountains with little new snow for a week or two. This year, the last half of January is very doldrums-like. Still, the base is good and the occasional little top ups and cold temperatures keep the skiing kinda fine.

A Sunday at Snoqualmie was never going to be quiet. We started at the Summit East parking lot, and when we clipped in the bindings, the snow arrived. Good timing indeed. We explored Summit East quite extensively, and there is some good fall line, bumpy terrain there. By the end of the day, with a couple of inches new snow on top, these runs were ripping wonderfully. And East is not a busy spot.

We then skied from Summit East to Summit West, skirting smallish lines in Central – very respectable for a Sunday really. The killer runs were under the Wild Fire chair in West. Short but steep, bumpy, with trees to hop around and snow covered boulders to drop. And no wait at all.

The lines midweek at Alpental typically comprised the ticket checker and me. There were maybe 100 people there for a morning of high-speed frontside groomer and bump shredding. The bowl off chair 2 was pretty solid, so I avoided that, and after 20 laps of the quad, I was rolling back down the freeway to Seattle.

It wasn’t really a lot busier at Mission Ridge on the weekend. Lodges were packed with racers and families, but most chair rides required a 1 minute wait maximum. The mountain was still riding well despite having little new snow for a week. And the views were pretty darn awesome. The Pacific Northwest is a beautiful part of the world.

Snoqualmie 5900m

Alpental 8300m

Mission Ridge 9200m, 7100m

Season totals 29 days,  236,300m vert, 8 powder days

Cold and Snowy at Mission Ridge

Wow it was cold at Mission Ridge on the first weekend in January. Really cold – like ‘-17C with wind chill’ cold. The skiing was rather tasty though. Despite frequent stops at Midway to warm up, we shredded silken groomers early and later played in the inch or two or new snow that fell from early afternoon. And we still got down to town in time to watch the Seahawks whip Detroit.

A little more snow fell Saturday night, and Sunday we had light snow most of the day. It was still cold, but not freeze the ‘nads off a polar bear cold like the day before. The top up of freshies made for mighty fine skiing.

With a tad of care on the drop-ins, all of Mission’s intriguing and fun tight tree lines were ready for exploration. These kinda hidden and unnamed tree shots are one of the joys of Mission Ridge. Once the lines fill in, there are numerous lightly tracked options, some genuinely steep and most a ski or two wide.

The variety this offers makes Mission such an appealing and enjoyable place to ride. Add the lack of crowds – no lines all weekend – and you know why we drive over the Cascades at weekends in midwinter!

Saturday 8800m, Sunday 8400m vert

Season totals 21 days,  162,300m vert, 8 powder days

Crystal Delivers Deep

Saturday at Crystal delivered the groomers that Whistler the previous weekend had denied. With plenty of opportunities to jump off piste and play in soft snow, it was a fine old ski day. It was fun to ride at high speed on Crystal’s great terrain.

Then about 5pm it started snowing. We retired to the Snorting Elk and watched the snow dump. There were no groomers to be found Sunday. Everything was buried under 18-24 inches of light blower pow. What a storm. What a ski day.

With so much snow, the upper mountain lifts were slow to start. With the sound of bombs ringing around the peaks, I hopped on the Chinook chair – singles line magic – before 9am and bolted to the Forest Queen to get in some quick laps. The terrain over there has flat spots which are challenging in knee deep snow, but the steeper pitches were truly amazing. It was powder cloud time. Every turn.

By 10.30 the upper mountain lifts opened and the line at REX (Mount Rainier Express) shrank to a couple of minutes. So we just lapped the bowl in Green Valley, the trees to the left of Middle Ferk, and the steeps down to the base. Wash, rise, repeat. There was so much deep untracked snow that short traverses delivered huge rewards.

There may not be many better days than Sunday this season. Although I said that about Whistler last Saturday. That was a great day. This was even better.

Saturday 9000m vert, Sunday 6100m vert

Season totals 5 days,  32,800m vert, 4 powder days

Closing down a wonderful season at Mission Ridge

All good things have to come to an end, and the 3rd weekend in April was the time for this wonderful season at Mission Ridge to shutdown. It was a festive weekend, full of costumes vaguely related to the flamingo theme, and, well, lots of people drinking. I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that Mission just uses skiing as a front to sell copious amounts of alcohol. Works for me 🙂 The skiing bit, that is.

The warm weather had damaged the sunny, Bomber side of the mountain, but the cover was excellent on the 2/3rds of the terrain that remained open. Saturday was warm and true Spring skiing. There were some fantastic soft, corned up bumps on runs like Lemolo, Johnsons, Tyee and Maggies. The groomers hung in too, helped by the 2pm closing.

Sunday was more late winter than Spring. An overnight freeze made everything off groomed pretty solid, and a cold wind was as welcome as a carton of beers at an AA meeting. We skied mostly groomed all morning, with the runs off Chair 3 particularly rocking and rolling. The sun finally worked its magic on the upper mountain bump runs by the afternoon, and by 2pm everything was starting to ride very sweetly. And then the lifts closed 😦

So that was 22 days this season at Mission. 22 very fine days. It’s a great place to call my home mountain.

6800m, 10,200m vert

Season Totals: 60 days, 483, 600m vert, 23 powder days

Spring Saturday, Winter Sunday at Crystal Mountain

Winter weekend crowds mean we avoid Crystal Mountain like a Donald Trump rally. Those Seattle-based hordes mean crowded everything all weekend long. But by mid March the crowds are playing baseball and golk, and on most years the skiing is still fabulous. This Saturday saw the 500 inches for the season broken – thanks El Nino!! There’s as much snow as I’ve seen at Crystal in 15 years.

Saturday was Spring. Great groomers, and some tasty remnants on north facing aspects from the previous day’s storm. Powder Bowl was excellent. So was Paradise Bowl and the steep-sometimes-groomed run into Snorting Elk ripped all weekend. Half way down Bear Pits was where winter snow turned to ball-y, solid crud. Those last few turns weren’t my favorites of the weekend.

It started drizzling late Saturday night but by Sunday morning it was snowing steadily to the base, with a couple of inches on out truck. Squalls moved in and out all day  topping up the excellent conditions. Sunday was as empty as I’ve seen Crystal for many years, which just meant more pow for us. First groomer pow off the Forest Queen. Then pow off the north facing lines that run back in to Green Valley and Snorting Elk Bowl.

Conditions warranted a couple of runs into Northway, where wind was constantly loading Paradise Bowl and serving up fantastic conditions. After lunch we timed a run down Powder Bowl in a cloud. White on white on a 50 degrees slope isn’t may favorite, but at least the snow quality was excellent.

Great ski hill. Great conditions. Absolutely fantastic weekend.

Saturday 10,100m, Sunday 8200m vert

Season Totals: 51 days, 407, 600m vert, 23 powder days

Late February Battles with El Nino in the Cascades

I guess it was inevitable that at some stage during this Godzilla El Nino season we’d experience some of the expected (and unwelcome!!) climatic effects. The temperatures started bouncing around just before President’s Weekend in mid February. This made for less than ideal conditions – warm, damp, gales – for the weekend. Ah well – first average ski weekend of season in mid Feb isn’t bad.

The week after was warm and damp early, but luckily the temperatures dropped and so did the snow. Saturday was a 6-8 inch Mission Ridge powder day under deep blue skies. A fabulous ski day.

The following week also saw oscillating temperatures and variable precipitation. Our plans to go farther afield (to Mt Bachelor) were scuppered by a warm wet southerly, so before it rolled in, we snagged a gorgeous day of exploration at Snoqualmie and Alpental. We started by revisiting some of the steep bumpy runs off Silver Fir and the triple in Summit Central. The snow was in surprisingly good condition – it was excellent ‘nearly Spring’ skiing – and the views were darn fine.

Around 11am we hopped on the 5 minute shuttle ride to Alpental, and entered a different world. Nestled at the end of the road with steep mountains rising on either side, you quickly forget the raging freeway a couple of minutes away. An express quad serves some excellent, wide and rolling terrain with traverses to challenging bump and tree runs. This was worthy of a few quick laps alone.

Above the Armstrong quad lies an ancient double chair. It’s so slow that loading feels like gently sitting on a nicely cushioned sofa. It does the job though, and opens up a world of bowls, chutes, cliffs, gullies and steep 1500ft descents back to the base. It’s an advanced riders paradise – almost like a mini version of Crystal’s epic Northback terrain. Alpental is certainly worthy of its reputation. And we live 45 minutes away 🙂

Luckily the dampness missed Mission Friday night. Saturday turned in to a very fun Spring ski day indeed, which made us very hoppy. And on Sunday, winter returned. Hopefully to stay for a good few weeks!

Mission 8100m, 8000m, 8600m vert

Snoqualmie/Alpental 6700m vert

Mission 10,400m, 7100m vert

Season Totals 38 days, 303,800m vert, 18 powder days