First Day, First Guest, First Run, First Tracks
Crystal Mountain Ski Area Opens 2008 Season with a Powder Day

CASCADE MOUNTAINS, WASH., Dec. 14, 2008 -- A foot and a half of new snow greeted me Saturday morning as I emerged from the Alpine Inn as the season's first guest to get first tracks off Forest Queen on the first run of Crystal Mountain's opening day.

Crystal Mountain kicked off the season by running only two lifts of note: Chinook Express and the Queen. The few open runs on Forest Queen soon got tracked out, so I trekked through the trees off Queens to the top of Quick Silver for more first tracks, a tactic that proved worthwhile to both avoid the crowds and ski fresh powder.

Until about 2 pm. That's when Crystal opened Raineer Express -- and, to everyone's surprise, the Green Valley chair. More first tracks down Green Valley bowl, Pro Course, and Lower Green Valley, all of which had good coverage.

By Saturday afternoon, the cold front that drifted over Raineer on Friday morning had dropped nearly two feet of light snow on the upper mountain, making the skiing feel more like early season at Snowbird than in the Cascades. Still hit my share of rocks and bush, though.

On Saturday night, after doing my mat work, I decided I better dig out my car before the 0 degree temperatures forecast for Sunday hit. On Friday night, the plow driver had some fun building a wall of snow around my car, which was one of only a few in the lot.

On Sunday morning, peaking out my window at the Alpine Inn, I gauged there to be couple more inches of new. The temperature was about 8 degrees at the bottom of the mountain; one degree at the top with wind that brought the wind chill to minus 22.

In the morning, I made a couple of quick warmup runs on Forest Queen and Chinook Express, taking advantage of the empty, freshly groomed slopes to make some Super-G turns at speed. Then I headed up Raineer Express to hit Green Valley again, this time riding down Upper Ferk's Run and then hiking up the cone to get some face shots through pristine light and dry snow as I dropped into Lower Green Valley.

Of course, I asked the Pro Patrol if they were thinking about opening High Campbell, but they said no, that it's all rock and gnarl on the top because of the sparse snowpack and the strong winds.

But about 2 pm, I noticed that High Campbell was spinning and that there were civilians on it.

At the top, freezing to death in the -22 wind chill, was a patroller. "Only Powder Bowl is open," she said, "and the right side is rocky, and the left side is chunky with avalanche debris." So hit the middle then? "Yeah."

I dropped in and angled left, got in about four turns in virtually untracked deep, light snow and then angled farther left, tip-toeing through the crux between the islands of rock to avoid the obvious rocks underfoot. Couldn't see anything and almost fell over from vertigo on a ridge of snow. Past the rocks, I tentatively started turning and my skis immediately crunched into what felt like rock. It was buried chunks of avalanche debris, bowling ball size, hidden under the white-out smooth surface. After two or three turns, the chunks let up and I opened it up through untracked, thigh deep snow to the bottom of the bowl.


Days No. 2 and 3 for the 2008-2009 ski season.

Trip Report by Steven Hoenisch. Published Dec. 15, 2008, in Seattle, Wash.