Crystal Mountain: How to Have a Perfect Day Skiing

by Lauren Braden on January 15, 2012

in Trip Ideas

Planning an overnight ski trip near Seattle is a cinch with guest writer Joshua Johnson’s step-by-step guide.  Joshua is a travel blogger who specializes in social media content creation and promotion. His website is Travel Media Ninja

Crystal Mountain: How to Have a Perfect Day Skiing

Crack two eggs into the frying pan and toss some bread into the toaster. Check the pressure of your tires and the motor oil level . Make sure your iPod has plenty of charge. Oh, and pack up your ski gear, of course. Then, you’re out the door.

Leaving Seattle in the morning rush almost always means sucky traffic. But you’ve had a hot breakfast, you have hot coffee, and you’re on your way to go skiing at Crystal Mountain. The traffic suckiness is mitigated by vast quantities of impending awesome ahead.

The drive is actually pretty darn nice once you’re off the freeway. Once you’re through Enumclaw, head into the thick green canopy of the Federation Forest. Swing through Greenwater, the closest burger, espresso, beer, gas and ski rental location before Crystal Mountain. (click here for directions from Seattle to Crystal Mountain)

Grab a spot in the Crystal Mountain parking lot and hop on the shuttle with bundled families of skiers and snowboarders. Watch children waddle under the freight of their snow bibs and have fond memories of your own childhood–you used to be that kid! Once you get your lift ticket, don’t waste any time. Just climb onto the fire engine-red Mt. Rainier Gondola and make your way up to the summit.

Crystal Mountain: How to Have a Perfect Day Skiing

Crystal Mountain: How to Have a Perfect Day Skiing

The snow and trees and sunshine slide past on your way to the top of the mountain. The gondola is a straight shot to the massive views of Mt. Rainier that make Crystal so special. The gondola unloads at the foot of the Summit House restaurant and at the junction of several routes down the mountain. Take note, you will be having lunch here after you work up a grumbling tummy.

Before you hit the powder bowl, take a minute and bask in the 360 degrees of mountainous perfection. Rainier commands the horizon but a closer look reveals views of Mt. Adams, Baker, St. Helens and many other peaks. Take out your phone and tweet a picture to incite some harmless envy.

On this first run just feel the cold wind on your skin, let your legs awaken to the fact of a day of skiing. Take it easy, concentrate on the shifting of your weight and the feel of the happy skis beneath you.

There isn’t anything you would rather be doing. Now, how often can you say that?

There are few sensations that compare to the feeling of carving up the snowy flanks of a mountain. Even when the snow is a little old, a little icy, it is the perfect way to spend a mid-winter afternoon.

Ride the gondola back to the top. Along the ride, turn off your iPod to listen to the soft whooshing of the wind against the cable lines and dangling chairs. It is quiet.

When you are sufficiently hungry, tromp into the Summit House and order a beer and the BBQ pulled pork over polenta with broccolini. Oh-my-god that’s good, but don’t linger.

The lifts at Crystal close around 4pm so whether you are done skiing or not, you are done. That’s fine because the next step in a perfect day of skiing is to check into the Alta Crystal Resort, a scant 15 minutes from the ski area. This place is the epitome of cozy, right down to the steaming hot tub and the wood-burning fireplace. It’s perfect for the weary skier looking for respite after a day on the slopes.

Crystal Mountain: How to Have a Perfect Day Skiing

The pool is dialed in at 90 degrees and the recreation room is fully stocked with foosball and your favorite board games, all under the impressive woodwork dating from the 1920’s when this place was a horse coral. Certain touches have been preserved from this bygone era. Original hardwood floors and exposed beams don’t just give the building a rustic feel, they speak of a time when rustic wasn’t rustic, it just was.

But before you set fire to the cut kindling or dip your toes into the tub you gotta jump back in the car and head another 15 down the road to the Naches Tavern for a beer and burger, because it is dinner time.

Crystal Mountain: How to Have a Perfect Day Skiing

Naches Tavern is what a bar in these parts should be; full of locals, decked out with century-old mining memorabilia and serving up craft beer and greasy bar grub. Marty, a thumbelina sized bartender that sports a North Face down vest and beanie, is as amiable as a stranger could ask for, calling me by name when the opportunity arises. The bar glows faintly red around the edges as Marty slides your beer in front of you. You smell your bacon cheeseburger hit the grill.

After the beer or two head back to the hotel and change into your bathing suit and soak. Continue to soak. Then, when you fingers are shriveled, crunch through whatever frost has crystalized on the path back to your room and crumple up some newspaper to light a fire before you settle in for a movie or perhaps a quiet night in front of the crackling blaze.

What’s next? Well, perhaps another day of skiing or a morning exploring the snowshoe trails that begin on the Alta Crystal Resort property. There are also plenty of easily-accessible trails in the Federation Forest that wind through towering stands of conifer trees. If you head for the forest be sure to stop at Wapiti Woolies for a breakfast sandwich and to gear up for whatever snowy adventures await.

And that is the recipe for a perfect day of skiing. Feel free to season and salt to your taste. But always be sure to bring snow chains and an extra pair of wool socks.

All photos by Joshua Johnson.


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